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Aligned with the objectives of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and the rapid pace of digital transformation, Ahmed Al Anqari, CEO of Salam, provided Telecom Review with exclusive insights into the intricacies of Salam's ascent. In the interview, he delved into the future prospects and details how the industry leader is propelling the concept of the 'digital lifestyle' forward.

In accordance with the digital transformation initiatives outlined in the Kingdom's Vision 2030, what steps is Salam taking to foster the development of a digital society?

Saudi Arabia’s vision is to be the most connected and digitized nation by 2030. As one of the leading telecom providers, with one of the region’s most extensive telecom networks, Salam is strongly positioned to provide next-gen ICT solutions that this future requires.

Thanks to the government’s aggressive digital transformation initiative and cloud-first policy, demand for more capacity to host data is rising exponentially. That’s why we are pre-provisioning assets and mapping out investments in more cloud and data center capacity and have expanded fixed and wireless infrastructure to support the Kingdom’s goals.

Today, we also offer the fastest fiber connections to the home; and mobile services that are making the always-on, always-connected lifestyle accessible for everyone. We are also growing our own 5G network. We’re playing an active part in making 5G widely available to enable emerging technologies like AI and IoT which is powering transformation in many smart cities being built today, and in the industrial, manufacturing, logistics, ecommerce and security space.

With its new brand, Salam transformed itself from a B2B telco to a ‘full service, human-centered technology company that seamlessly connects not only businesses, but also people and things’. Can you elaborate on the new company’s vision and mission?

Since 2005, Salam, formerly known as Integrated Telecom (ITC), has built a reputation as one of the Kingdom’s leading B2B telecom providers, building one of the region’s most extensive telecoms and IT infrastructures. Our owned infrastructure eventually positioned us to penetrate homes and digital lifestyles, helping Salam enter the B2C market and become one of the key growth leaders and innovation drivers in the Kingdom’s ICT market.

Our new brand – Salam – was established to clearly signal our transformation from a B2B telco to a full service, human-centered technology company. Our new corporate theme, “Where you connect,” reflects our commitment to seamlessly connect not only businesses, but also people and things. We are no longer just a telecoms company: we are a technology services company offering a full breadth of telecoms and technology solutions to connect people and businesses, enabling an infinitely connected world.

Salam has one of the region’s most extensive telecom networks. How does this underlying strength differentiate you in the telecommunications sector?

Salam is a unique Saudi success story. We are a locally-founded Saudi company with our own high-capacity 19,000-km fiber network (Saudi National Fiber Network, SNFN) connecting all major cities in the Kingdom, as well as terrestrial gateways to key neighboring markets like Jordan, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq and submarine cable landing stations in Al Khobar and Jeddah connecting us to the rest of the world.

We also operate several internationally certified data centers enabling us and our partners to provide performant hosted and managed voice and data services. We have also built last-mile infrastructures enabling us to bring our services to homes and organizations everywhere including fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and 5G fixed wireless services. And recently, we just launched Saudi Arabia’s newest mobile carrier service, Salam Mobile. All these uniquely position us to grow our services and bring them closer to more customers in support of the Kingdom’s digital transformation journey and Vision 2030 goals.

Salam is pioneering the first and only 1GBps fiber connection in Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us more about this? Why is Salam so far ahead when it comes to fiber connectivity?

Our extensive network uniquely positions Salam to bring the fastest connection to neighborhoods virtually everywhere, allowing us to offer the first and only 1 GBps fiber optic connection to homes in Saudi Arabia. That’s twice the speed that our competitors can offer, but it’s not just about speed. With our new managed experience approach, we’re setting our customers free to experience a richer digital life without limits. And we’re working to add more layers of digital experiences and services on top for gamers, streamers, and families everywhere.

Salam recently launched Saudi Arabia’s newest mobile carrier service, Salam Mobile. How will it change the mobile experience in Saudi Arabia?

The launch of Salam Mobile fulfills our transformation from a telecoms company for business to a full telecoms and technology company with the full breadth of consumer telecom and digital lifestyle services. Salam Mobile is a new kind of mobile service aiming to change the Kingdom’s mobile experience with simple plug-and-play plans, fair deals and an experience-led, human centered approach. Unlike our other MVNO competitors, Salam Mobile will benefit from Salam’s extensive underlying network and Mawarid Group’s vast entertainment, communication and technology ecosystem, giving customers an ever-growing palette of experiences to enrich their digital lifestyle. It is already our fastest-growing service.

How does Salam help businesses operate smarter, more digitally, more integrated, and more secure? What specific services and solutions have you recently launched in the market?

Salam has built a reputation for making the business of our clients, our business, with highly trained specialists in every sector. Organizations have come to trust Salam to help them improve business operation, reduce cost, and enhance performance.

Our expanding range of next-generation solutions, continuous capacity expansion and non-stop investment in infrastructure, is helping customers meet rising backbone connectivity and international capacity needs as they tap into new opportunities. Expect more voice and international roaming traffic capacity, more competitive data sales to and from Saudi Arabia, more flexibility to adapt and scale data ecosystems, more international reach and connectivity and seamless peering with content, OTT and gaming networks around the world— all essential ingredients for today’s new technology platforms, new digital lifestyles, smart cities, other Vision 2030 initiatives and the Kingdom’s digital transformation journey towards 2030 and beyond.

Growth in connectivity demand and cloud and hosted data means expanded threats. Salam has secured a niche in the market as a provider of essential cybersecurity services with its Security Device Management offering, a comprehensive solution covering design, implementation, monitoring, administration and support for firewalls, UTM and IPDS devices, email security, VAPT and Anti-DDoS services. Salam’s cybersecurity services are designed to help organizations manage and optimize security technology infrastructure by reducing their overall risk, allowing them respond to threats more quickly, thus lowering overhead costs and improving operational efficiency by freeing up security staff to focus on other critical matters. This aspect of Salam’s service offering will help us reach our objective of being an industry-leading operator enabling the Kingdom’s digital transformation journey.

In addition, Salam also offers Security Information & Event Management (SIEM) solutions designed to help organizations collect, analyze and identify potential risks round-the-clock in real time. Salam provides advanced defence technologies, global threat intelligence, threat hunting, in-depth malware analysis and forensics, periodic cyberwar games and other incident response techniques and continuous vulnerability assessments of infrastructure, data, applications and users.

Historically, Salam has retained a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. What are your thoughts on the country's evolving business landscape and its potential for growth and development?

We are excited about the developments and potential in the sector powered by Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation. The Kingdom’s technology market is worth over USD 40 billion, the largest in the region. The Kingdom is spending USD 1.2 billion to improve the digital skills of 100,000 Saudi youth by 2030 with a focus on programming, AI, cybersecurity and gaming. Indeed, the Kingdom is in the best position to achieve its goal to be the most connected and digitized nation by 2030, and at Salam, we’re eager to play our part. We are expanding our portfolio, expanding our network, working with leading global technology partners and our own innovation teams, to open new frontiers in telecommunications and smart systems that we need today and tomorrow.

Could you provide some insights into Salam's growth strategy? Which business sectors are presently the focus of your expansion efforts and growth strategies in the market?

We believe that we are not just in the telecommunications business. We are in the digital lifestyle business. Our core mission is to make these emerging digital lifestyle choices more accessible for everyone, every day. Our customers don’t really understand technology and don’t care. All they want is to be able to connect with everything and everyone they love seamlessly, affordably, on any of their devices. That’s why we’re focused on bringing all the technology, network and content we offer into one converged Salam experience that is so simple, so seamless, our customers no longer see the technology, just the richer digital life they can enjoy— with all its possibilities.

That’s why we’re constantly working to make life easier with simple, affordable, easy-to-choose plans curated with features and add-ons to match every digital lifestyle. And we want our customers to enjoy these new experiences and solutions not only in the distant future, but today. We are already rolling out new, fully-curated products as we speak, with more coming soon.

In addition, together with strategic partners like Rakuten and Oracle, we have activated a future-ready digital strategy which dramatically extends our digital capabilities and gives us the agility to launch, orchestrate and scale new offerings as market expectations and technology evolves— all while delivering excellent customer experience. It’s all part of our goal to be at the center of today’s digital transformation and place our customers at the heart of a seamlessly connected world.

In the background, we are also making fundamental changes so we can focus even more on anticipating what our customers need. As part of our strategic transformation into a more customer-centric and experience-rich company, we have started streamlining our core operations. We have just moved all our underlying infrastructure to a dedicated sister company within the Mawarid Group, which will be focused on managing, strengthening and expanding our underlying network, such as growing and deploying our 5G network. Today, this is allowing us to be truly you-centric, freeing us to focus more on our customers and serve them with even greater agility, higher availability, deeper collaboration and more innovative products.

Salam just launched the G4M3R_PCK, the Kingdom’s first dedicated gamer pack with the potential to transform the gaming experience in Saudi Arabia. Can you elaborate on the potential of this segment?

Explosive growth in video gaming, coupled with changing dynamics in traditional revenue and ARPU for telcos, is putting a focus on gamers as a new growth frontier. Today, some 65% of the Kingdom’s population can be considered gamers, a vast segment straddling various age groups who play every day. With our underlying network, Salam is best positioned to deliver true, real-time, low latency gaming. That’s why our new gamer pack is literally a game changer. It’s the first and only dedicated gamer package in the Kingdom with a free professional grade Nighthawk Netgear router (used by hard core gamers), 300 Mbps speeds, a dedicated port for each gamer at the back-end, a free YouTube Premium subscription, plus, dedicated 24-hour gamer support— all part of our goal to deliver fully-managed and richer experiences and not just high-speed connectivity like our competitors.

The company has recently announced a strategic collaboration with Oracle: can you shed some light on the nature of this cooperation? How will it enable Salam’s business efficiency while empowering new growth opportunities?

Having powerful, next-generation applications that enable us to operate more efficiently and tap new growth opportunities swiftly is critical. That’s why we have formed a strategic partnership with Oracle, the world’s largest software and cloud infrastructure company.

With Oracle’s market-leading monetization and unified operations solutions, combined with Oracle CRM Sales, we will have a future-ready digital strategy which dramatically extends our digital capabilities and gives us the agility to launch, orchestrate and monetize new offerings as market opportunities arise— all while delivering an excellent customer experience.

It’s all part of our goal to be at the center of today’s digital transformation and place our customers at the heart of a seamlessly connected world.

What notable partnerships does Salam currently engage in to strengthen its operations and digital infrastructure?

We have recently forged a strategic alliance with Rakuten Symphony. This is a partnership with huge potential, not only for Salam but for our customers. Our partnership with Rakuten will power Salam’s ambition to significantly transform our mobile offering with richer experiences across every category. It will enable us to open new possibilities for Saudi Arabia’s digital generation and place Salam at the forefront of the Kingdom’s digital transformation.

As you know, Open RAN (Open Radio Access Network) is a more open and flexible way to build mobile networks. This partnership will lay the foundation for Salam to have access to Rakuten Symphony’s state-of-the-art software, hardware, service delivery platforms and managed services especially in strategic Salam growth areas including e-commerce, Fintech, gaming, streaming, digital content, OTT platforms, the metaverse, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. This will allow us to benefit from Rakuten Symphony’s expertise and services, which will ultimately support our growth ambitions not only within our home Saudi market but across the wider GCC region. The possibilities and potential that this opens for us are truly immense and far-reaching.

Salam has a strong focus on customer satisfaction. What strategies and practices does the company employ to ensure that customers receive the best possible experience?

We have made a strategic shift from network/resource-centric operations to a more customer-centric model. As part of our strategic transformation into a more customer-centric and experience-rich company, we have streamlined our core operations. For example, we have moved the management and development of our underlying infrastructure to a dedicated sister company. This allows us to be truly you-centric, freeing us to focus more on our customers and serve them with even greater agility, higher availability, deeper collaboration and more innovative products.

We have also launched the Customer Excellence Program, a new data-driven and coordinated approach to deliver superior customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. Meanwhile, the Customer Experience Management Program was also launched as a dedicated program to manage every customer relationship, from onboarding to service delivery to total customer care and retention.

The Saudi telecoms sector is growing rapidly as new players enter the region’s largest telecoms market. What differentiates Salam?

Many new players are entering the Saudi market, all of them foreign brands, which again makes Salam truly unique and proudly inspiring. Unlike our direct competitors, we are a true home-grown Saudi success story, built on years of heritage, strong network foundations, and deep local roots. We are testament of what an innovative local company can achieve in this market. We are proud of this heritage and the rapidly growing role we play in Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation— and we are here to stay.

What are Salam's key priorities for 2024?

This year, we aim to fully complete our transition to a human-centered B2B and B2C company. For B2B, we will continue our transformation from a telco to a full technology company, increasing our capabilities in cybersecurity, cloud computing and IoT as we continue to be a partner in the Kingdom’s digital transformation journey. For B2C, we continue to redefine home connectivity, redesigning our products to add even further layers of features and experiences. On the mobile service side, we will continue to grow our offering to provide attractive alternatives to our existing as well as other innovation-focused customers. Together, these steps will enable us to fulfil our mission to establish Salam as one of Saudi Arabia’s leading full-service ICT players.

Ahmed Al Anqari has more than 20 years of experience in the Saudi technology and telecommunications sector. Al Anqari began his career in the power sector as a computer engineer for the Saudi Electric Company (SEC) and as a network expert with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC). In 2006, he was appointed Vice President for Engineering of Integrated Telecom (ITC), joining a leadership team which transformed ITC from a telecommunications start-up to an industry leader in Saudi Arabia by developing one of the region’s most established networks. In 2020, he was appointed Chief Technology Officer of ITC as the company expanded its fast-growing consumer business. ITC rebranded in 2021 as Salam and launched the Kingdom’s newest mobile carrier service. In the same year, Ahmed Al Anqari was appointed CEO of Salam, launching a new era of an already distinguished 16-year journey for the tech veteran.

Under Al Anqari’s leadership, Salam continues to surge and is poised to advance further by championing digital transformation in a market rife with opportunities.

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