Following BNET’s remarkable achievement in infrastructure deployment, Ahmed Aldoseri, CEO of BNET, shared insights about the company’s journey, its proactive initiatives, and the future of Bahrain’s telecommunication sector in 2024, among other topics, in an exclusive interview with Telecom Review.
Can you provide an overview of BNET's significant milestones, achievements, and journey in the year 2023?
2023 was a significant year for the company. It was the year in which we achieved the government mandate by covering 95.4% of inhabited residences in Bahrain and achieving 100% coverage in businesses. We were able to provide citizens in Bahrain with a much better experience at the same cost. It was also a year in which we fully engaged with the local community, ensuring that we contributed to the growth of young engineers, whether in civil work or telecommunications. This year marked a significant push forward that enabled us to collaborate with the government in planning for the next three years.
BNET's efforts to improve Bahrain's telecommunications infrastructure and make it more affordable have positioned Bahrain as the country with the most robust fiber foundation and the lowest fiber broadband tariff among the GCC countries in the Middle East. Can you tell us more about these efforts?
Last year, I asked the company a question: Why do we provide an asymmetric connection speed? This practice was adopted a long time ago due to technological restrictions. In the current age, where we have a content creation generation, they care just as much about the upload speed as they do about the download speed.
We quickly shifted our thinking and significantly increased the upload speeds in Bahrain, sometimes exceeding 200%, and at a minimum, ensuring each broadband package granted 50% of the download speed as the upload speed. From technological, transmission, and deployment perspectives, we ensured that our costs were minimized to maximize efficiency. This meant that people could enjoy much higher speeds while paying the same amounts. This achievement is very dear to my heart.
How have the proactive initiatives undertaken by BNET in the past year, resulting in a 100% increase in Bahrain's entry FBB speed and a 4-percentage-point rise in FBB penetration, played a role in achieving the lowest Fiber broadband prices in the GCC and ensuring universal access to internet services?
There are several factors that contributed to that. Among them is trusting that the people you have are capable of much more, but you need to enable them and provide them with the trust so they can achieve their tasks. For us, ensuring that we have close control over our fixed costs meant that we could introduce much higher speeds at the same rate. In some cases, it slightly impacted our topline, but these areas we were able to absorb the impact by providing a superior experience to consumers and increased penetration. This meant there was a higher uptake of fiber broadband packages and greater distribution in terms of penetration around the country. By putting these factors together and working with our technology partners, we were able to push the speed up significantly, and we have plans to go even beyond that.
How did BNET, a newcomer to the industry, manage to succeed in NBN operations, positioning Bahrain as a leader in Next Generation Network (NGN) development? What effects has this had on the country's competitiveness and global acknowledgment?
It starts with the belief that when entrusted with such an exclusive role in the country, we are not just a telecommunications operator; We are an engine for the competitive growth of the country.
Bahrain, as a hub for ICT, relies directly on the accessibility of broadband and the quality of such a network. We immediately reached out to other countries, looking for significant work that had been done in the past. Running a pure-play infrastructure operator is unique. We signed MOUs with different countries to exchange experiences on how things are done elsewhere. We compare ourselves against our own past and our counterparts to build our practices. The belief in the role of BNET in pushing Bahrain forward is evident in the company's staff, who carry the conviction that we are truly providing and enabling prosperity for others in Bahrain.
What is your outlook on the future of Bahrain's telecommunications sector in 2024, specifically concerning fixed broadband networks?
Based on the current penetration rise, we only see things going up. The impact and pressure on all broadband connections requires an increase in bandwidth concentration. With households having an average size of around 5.5 people and a significant number of devices online, there is increasing pressure on broadband availability. The focus is shifting towards ensuring equal access throughout residences, ensuring a consistent experience regardless of the location in the residence.
As a pioneer of NGN, BNET is providing a different reference experience for the world communications industry. What are BNET's plans for technological innovation and business innovation in the future? How will BNET accelerate the development of the digital economy?
In 2023, we formulated a plan for the next few years called 'Prosperity 2026,' aiming to empower the country, serve customers, and play a role in the local economy. Bahrain's attractiveness to hyperscalers and the expected growth in content creation are key drivers. Being a pure-play infrastructure provider, we are entering areas adjacent to infrastructure, which might be uneconomical for other operators. This strategy aims to provide better value not only to the operators but for the customers’ and our community.
BNET has produced remarkable achievements in a very short time. As a newly established company, does BNET have a long-term plan for digitalization and intelligence of its operations?
We absolutely do. We are currently looking at the integration of AI in our operations for the optimization of operations and efficient service delivery. Investment in the development of our people, from engineers to chief levels, is a primary focus to create an empowered, encouraged, and supported environment, which significantly increases the potential and output of everyone involved in the operation.
Despite all the challenges, you have achieved a global award for the 'Best Fiber Infrastructure Deployment.' What is the next milestone or accomplishment you are aiming for in 2024?
We're honored to be recognized as a global leader in fiber deployment. Now, our focus is on leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience. We achieved a major milestone in 2023 with the successful launch of the 'Network Modernization Project,' significantly boosting minimum speeds in Bahrain from 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps. While our next target is a minimum of 1 Gbps, and the new national telecom plan ambitiously aims for a minimum of 10 Gbps for businesses. Achieving this while maintaining shareholder value is our next challenge, and we're ready to tackle it.