Bringing over 30 years of international business experience across the Middle East, Africa, North America and Europe, and gaining a proven track record of success in managing large businesses in complex and challenging environments, in an interview with Telecom Review, Ahmad Farroukh, CEO, Mobily KSA, discussed his significant role in bringing Mobily back on the right track despite the challenges, along with the company's role in dealing with cyber security and their plan for IoT infrastructure and 5G.
You came to KSA with a highly experienced background and started managing a good brand with lots of complications, how did you manage over the year to reposition Mobily on the right track among other giant competitors?
It's almost a year and two months now of going through a challenging journey. Mobily was a preferred brand: very young, dynamic and innovative. Going through challenging times has actually shocked the stakeholders; by stakeholders I mean the shareholders, employees and subscribers and this has definitely impacted the brand negatively. However, in one year we were able to reposition Mobily in a better place. At least now we know where we are, being placed in the middle position, and what we want to do and how we can proceed in the challenging market where we have big operators such as STC and others.
This year is considered as a discovery journey for me to understand the dynamics and what was happening. I am hoping to reposition Mobily at a higher place although we are going through some obstacles. Now, I can say that we have an economical outlook that we have to adapt to; thus, looking forward to 2017.
As telecommunications continue to merge with IT and with new updated technologies, how is Mobily benefitting from this and what are the main pillars of Mobily's strategy?
This is one of the challenges that we have. The Saudi market is a very dynamic market where 50 percent of the population's age is between 25 and 30. This means that 13 million are below the age of 30. Moreover, the Saudi market is very unique by its consumption of data. Beyond any doubts, the Saudi market is the highest in the world in consuming data per individual subscriber.
We are ranked number one as the country with the highest clicks on YouTube: one hundred million clicks of YouTube per day, an average 10 clicks per individual.
This means that data income is increasing rapidly in Mobily?
Not necessarily. The other sad part of the story is that the offering of data, Mobily being part of it, has not been studied well in order to benefit the consumer and to be able to invest more as operators, giving them the utmost experience they want from speed and coverage and at the same time the pricing. I think the balance has started to take place. On this front, Mobily, in my opinion, was a pioneer, knowing that during 2014 and 2015 we backed out of it. Therefore, what we would like to do in this data usage is that we need to get the most out of it for our subscribers and our company. However, the trick is how we are going to transform ourselves from a pipe competing on price into the market to a data that is monetized and that can give us the appropriate return that satisfies our investment and our future investment to make it a good experience for our subscribers.
As a company based in a country with an economy reliant upon oil revenue, how has the global drop in oil prices affected Mobily?
There are many dynamics changing in the Saudi Economy, which bring the economy to a better position. However, such changes have its impact on the total disposal income that the individuals have and that they are spending. This is among the countries with the higher GDP. Therefore, the impact will be an average between the high and low value subscribers, but certainly it will impact the ability of the purchasing powers of a certain segment in our base. This might have an impact on our top line.
As for next year's perspective, the impact will be generally more obvious not just in telecom.
In what ways is Mobily innovating to develop Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, which can be a new revenue stream for operators?
In my opinion the model can be a revenue stream; it depends on the operators' competition in prices. When it comes to IoT, we still need to materialize it more in a way to simplify the concept for the consumers to adapt to this new technology. It will obviously take some time to implement it. As we can see, IoT involves everything except human; it's about things that need to be part of specifically what the Kingdom has started on for its transformation. We definitely love to be part of it and we are working to be part of it. Therefore, in this transformation and vision 2030 and the declaration of starting real implementation of smart cities this is where things will enhance and we as operators will start to have a share out of it in the IoT.
Saudi is a highly targeted country for cyber-attacks. In what ways is Mobily working towards creating cyber safety for its customers?
We do have our security unit, and as I have previously mentioned, the Kingdom is targeted to cyber attacks; however, we pay a specific attention for this international cyber crime whether for people to get information or to educate the customers how to prevent it. It's worth mentioning that the Saudi government is taking the necessary actions and has its advanced cyber protection unit where we coordinate with them directly. Internally, we always have awareness towards our staff about their security especially when it comes to their data privacy exposure, passwords, USB usage, suspicious emails, etc. It is an ongoing exercise that we go through continuously.
How do you guarantee the cloud security of data for your important enterprise customers? Do you have any special protection for them?
Our special protection is through our data centers and our cloud solutions that are tested and approved before we work with them.
Can you share your vision and plan for 5G, and offer any estimates as to when Saudi Arabia will likely begin implementing the technology?
It is already there, we signed MOU with Ericsson to jointly develop and test selected 5G use-cases and deployment scenarios in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the agreement covers technical cooperation and field demonstrations as well as 4G to 5G evolution.
What would you say are some of Mobily's strongest offerings at the moment in comparison to your competitors in the region?
According to me, what's happening currently in the telecom sector is that no one has anything specific anymore. What we are seeing across the telecoms these days is that when one launches one proposition that is working, the other will improve it to launch it the following day. It's worth mentioning that what's essential now is not the network since everybody got a good network, but mostly the reach and the product that you give to subscribers that makes your offer quite unique. As Mobily, we are working towards distinguishing ourselves through a better customer experience. It's a long and difficult journey.
What are some of the major challenges you have faced this year, and how do you communicate with your customers to make sure you are providing them with the best services?
We can't judge ourselves as having the best services; it's up for the customers to decide. Therefore, we are always aware and willing to listen to our customers and know about their experiences and level of satisfaction. As you know, no one can fully satisfy his entire base, we deal with entire systems and complications and we all compete on prices in this market, making the Saudi market a price and quantity driven market. This is where operators find themselves lacking innovation.
Being part of Etisalat Group, when it comes to the data, the connectivity and capacity, is this considered as a benefit for you?
Mobily by itself has submarine cables, and the amount of data that we move and the amount of the international traffic are significantly huge. We have definitely benefitted from the landing stations in Fujeirah. But again, if we look at the map to connect Fujeirah from this road, you have to come through the mighty Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so we have also a big share out of these.
Can you share a glimpse of what projects and solutions we might expect from Mobily in 2017?
Hopefully, with the issuance of our new license and fiber to the home we will be able to offer a triple play on fixed data connectivity. The dynamics will shift more towards the fixed connection because it provides good speed, capacity and unlimited usage. As Mobily, we want to provide something to the young population that they can attribute themselves to and hopefully if this works, we'll be in very good position.