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Following his recent appointment as Group Regional CEO of Ooredoo, Ahmad Al-Neama highlighted in an exclusive interview with Telecom Review the solid performance that the Group achieved in 2021 and the positive outcome of the merger deal with CK Hutchison in Indonesia.

Ooredoo announced its financial results for 2021. How do you describe the Group’s overall performance? What are the goals that you set for 2022?

2021 was a year of success, progress and growth for Ooredoo. It was a year of hard work and dedication across our global footprint. COVID had a significant impact on everyone; we had to work remotely and in the field to fulfill our mission and continue to enrich our customers’ digital life.

We recorded strong results in 2021, thanks to our digital strategy and transformation programme.

We achieved substantial growth and accelerated our commercial momentum, which resulted in a 4% increase in revenues in 2021 compared to 2020 and our customer base exceeded 121 million. It also resulted in improved cash reserves and a healthy EBITDA.

In addition to the strong financial performance, Ooredoo had a robust operational performance in 2021. We were able to optimize our company's portfolio by merging Indosat Ooredoo with CK Hutchison. Another landmark achievement for the company was the sale and leaseback agreement for more than 4,200 telecoms towers valued at USD 750 million, which was considered one of the largest deals of its kind in Asia.

We enhanced our networks and accelerated 5G in all telecom markets in Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Maldives and Indonesia and we extended our 4G footprint in Algeria and Iraq.

In terms of digital services, we have sealed partnerships with major fintech players such as Mastercard and VISA, and partnerships with premium entertainment service providers including Netflix, Disney+, HBO, beIN and OSN. We have also partnered with gaming leaders like PUBG, FreeFire and Quest and have signed new direct carrier billing partnerships with Google, Apple and Huawei. This, in addition to our partnerships with music providers Anghami and Spotify.

Last but not least, we delivered operational efficiencies through our company-wide transformation programme that was put in place and that contributed to achieving those results.

We are confident that our updated strategy, enhanced ways of working and skilled team position us for continued success in 2022.

Which one of the markets you operate in has performed best? Why?

All Ooredoo companies are doing a great work and are contributing to the Group’s overall success.

We have achieved a very strong performance in our home market of Qatar, as well as in Indonesia and Tunisia. Group EBITDA was 13.3 billion, driven by growth in Indonesia, Kuwait and Algeria. Our consolidated customer base exceeded 121 million thanks to our operations in Indonesia, Oman, Algeria and Iraq in particular.

All in all, Ooredoo delivered a positive performance in all of the markets where it operates.

Tell us more about the deal with CK Hutchison in Asia. Do you plan on replicating the same in other regions?

On January 4th, Ooredoo Group sealed a deal with CK Hutchison and we announced the completion of our proposed merger of our telecoms services with them. Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison (IOH) will be the strong n.2 operator in Indonesia and we are projecting a revenue of 3 billion$.

We are a world class digital company in Indonesia providing telecom services and we are well positioned in Asia market now. This merger will further enhance our digital influence in Indonesia and as a company, we are open to drive shareholder value through in-market consolidations.

As a company, we are open for all sorts of opportunities but for the time being we don’t have any visibility on a similar partnership in other regions. Our aim now is to strengthen IOH’s position in Indonesia in order to drive digital transformation in the country. We never know what the future holds, but for now, there are no plans in the horizon.

What are your expectations for the telecoms market in the MEA region?

The telecoms market in the MEA region will still be centered on mobile services.

We have seen an increased reliance on broadband, converged offers and non-core services (value-added services, IoT, ICT, etc.) to grow revenue over the past years and I believe this trend will continue.

The telecommunications sector in the region proved to be very resilient during the pandemic and actually achieved growth due to the increased demand on broadband and mobile services.

5G speeds and enhanced network quality will be at the center of the competition in the region. 5G service take up will definitely accelerate with new 5G plans and 5G devices being launched.

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