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In an exclusive with Telecom Review, Ooredoo Oman CEO Noor Al-Sulaiti brings a wealth of experience and expertise gained over 17 years of progressive and rotational roles in the telecoms industry.

Appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Ooredoo Oman in May 2021, Al-Sulaiti joined Ooredoo in 2004 and was most recently CEO of Starlink, a leading Ooredoo Group retail chain and IT service provider in Qatar. During her time as CEO of Starlink, Noor made a considerable impact on the market by rebranding and expanding the portfolio and capability of the company, enabling it to compete in e-Commerce, retail and ICT. Previously, she was also the General Manager of Phono and Fasttelco in Kuwait.

Al-Sulaiti holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Qatar and a Master's degree in Business Administration – Strategic Management from the University of Plymouth.

Ooredoo Group, of which Ooredoo Oman is a key operating market, is off to a good start in 2022. Can you bring us up to speed with the Group's footprint and strategic vision for the rest of the year?

Ooredoo Group has been on a digital transformational journey for years now; investing in networks, technology and people so that we can, in turn, deliver transformational digital experiences for our customers, wherever they want them online.

The Group has, at its core, a robust strategy designed to ensure the organization is future-proof and well-placed to leverage our technology, experience and partnerships, creating an unrivalled customer experience. With so many aspects of people’s lives now online – and demand for fast, reliable networks ever increasing – the role of a quality connectivity provider has never been more important, and we shoulder this responsibility with pride.

Ooredoo Group will continue its digital-first strategy into 2022. We will stay focused on being agile and adaptable, and on maintaining a culture of innovation within both our organizations and in our many partnerships with world-leading technology providers.

Ooredoo Oman embodies the vision of Ooredoo Group in all aspects of its operations. As we move into the second half of 2022, we will – in alignment with the Group’s strategy – continue to innovate with our products and services; improving our mobile and fixed line services, further expanding our network to provide superior connectivity across the entire Sultanate, and increasing our investment in a 5G-empowered Oman.

We will also continue to support Oman’s economic growth as a new era of competition dawns, and remain committed to our customers by offering them a seamless, unrivalled digital experience.

How does Ooredoo Oman work in line with the Group's vision and what is the company's role in Oman's society being an important tech and communications hub in the Middle East?

The Ooredoo Group strategy and vision fuel Ooredoo Oman’s drive to deliver a transformational and differentiated digital experience, and give customers, businesses and government access to the best digital connectivity solutions. Our role in society is to give our customers an awesome, digital-first, customer experience, by tailoring our products and services to the specific needs of individuals and businesses in a way that is flexible and unique to them, but in a responsive and agile way.

The demands of customers are always changing and so too is the experience we provide. Customers are at the heart of what drives our innovation and services and we aim to please.

Crucial to the customer experience is addressing customers’ needs and expectations so that we can influence and fine-tune the customer journey. It is also important for helping us understand our customers better and create an emotional connection with them, thus ensuring greater satisfaction and loyalty. It is also important to target all segments of the Omani market. Our experience must appeal to everybody, whether a mobile prepaid customer or a large organization, but perhaps our biggest focus is on our largest market – the youth. Oman has a very young, tech-savvy population and through our digital channels, we are able to reach them in a way that is both meaningful and desirable.

Our industry is also a key driver of digital transformation, which aligns with Oman’s Vision 2040’s aim to be a digitally-advanced economy. We are leveraging the power of communications and global successes across Ooredoo’s network to stimulate economic and social development, while positioning ourselves to thrive in the future.

While Oman as a market has unique demands and a ‘one-size fits all’ approach would not work, as a telecommunications operator, we are connected globally and play a critical role in society by connecting everyone. We must traverse both the global market and the local market by offering the latest technology, remaining competitive and facilitating cross-border communications, while also ensuring that a strong and stable network serves isolated areas of Oman because we understand that people living in these communities rely on connectivity for education, business and trade.

Staying on the forefront when it comes to innovation and collaboration is therefore important, and the strength of Ooredoo Group is integral to this, by both adopting and adapting successful strategies from elsewhere and moving the industry forward by sharing success stories from Oman.

Some of our success stories have been the rollout of 5G at the height of the pandemic and the continued development of transformative technologies such as cloud services and IoT. In addition, our three state-of-the-art data centers keep businesses and customers connected, safely and securely, helping to power the country’s economic growth and providing contingencies in emergency situations or if natural disasters occur. Indeed, we are ultimately supporting Oman to keep pace with global technological and industrial trends, which is integrated into the world’s economy.

Moreover, we play a part in nurturing the development of Oman’s people and enterprises, through a range of entrepreneurial training and skill-boosting programmes. We also care for and support the communities in which we operate, by providing both sustainable support and much-needed resources.

How does Ooredoo Oman carry out its position as one of the 5G experience leaders in the market? What would this entail in the long run?

We believe that as a connectivity and digital leader in Oman, we carry a big responsibility towards digital enablement. Our job is to connect the world, and ever since Ooredoo arrived in Oman as the alternative provider, we have thrived on delivering a great experience, standing out from the competition and becoming the provider of choice for the communications and technological needs of our customers.

For Ooredoo Oman, digital leadership is evidenced by a number of things. Our multi-award winning App, with over 1 million downloads to date, stands out over competition and was a pioneering app for the sector. We have also collaborated with National Bank of Oman to launch pay+, Oman’s first telecoms driven mobile wallet and even our social media was groundbreaking for telecoms in Oman; with us quickly establishing leadership across many social channels.

We have also been recognized for data analytics in Oman, with our new data center. Opened in 2021, the 7,000 square meter facility represents a major breakthrough for hosting and data processing in Oman, allowing us to further develop our infrastructure, invest in technologies, and support the unique needs of consumer and business customers.

We were thrilled to launch 5G in 2020, starting with our excellent value 5G Home Internet and a few months later, our 5G B2B plans; both of which are available to an ever-expanding number of locations across the country. We followed this with our launch of 5G for mobile and our coverage is expanding fast.

We are also currently working hand-in-hand with our partners and vendors to allocate a 5G service which will support and uplift the industry to the next level of digital transformation. 

Indeed, it has been shown that broadband speed will impact the growth of the economy and will positively contribute to the country’s GDP. Doubling the connectivity speed for an economy will result in increasing GDP by 3%.

Working towards this, the next five years will see us constructing and installing a further 2,200 5G stations across the country. And we’re not stopping there, as we continue to upgrade, enhance and extend our network reach across Oman.

In the long run, 5G improves connection speed, boosts mobile capacity and data rates. But, it’s so much more than that. The technology holds the key to shaping the future of practically every industry. From manufacturing facilities maintained by connected robots to cars that self-drive and even self-diagnose, 5G is set to become the basis for all things connected.

The future of 5G is something we’re very excited to be a part of, as it will bring about a truly connected world and massive IoT across almost all industries. It will reshape our digital experience, and although it requires a complete overhaul of infrastructure to deploy it, the benefits will greatly outweigh the challenges of implementation.

The company is also known to be centered on supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs. Can you elaborate further on the initiatives on this matter?

SMEs are a huge focus for Oman and we have an important role in enabling and supporting them to grow their businesses, thereby boosting the economy overall. Ooredoo’s support for SMEs includes a number of training and entrepreneurship programmes aimed at championing leadership and innovation. As part of our world-class CSR programme, Ooredoo Goodwill, we help fill the gaps in the job market, and prepare young start-ups to take on the digital world and contribute to economic growth; in line with His Majesty’s Vision 2040 of becoming a technologically-advanced and knowledge-based economy.

As an active member of the Omani society, we are very much in touch with how the country is changing and developing and we are proud to play our part in supporting this development.

Our CSR programmes revolve around current issues and needs, but they are always developed with the long-term impact in mind. Our youth-led initiatives, like FURSA and our Business Opportunity Platform, have been designed to promote entrepreneurship in young people and help them fulfil their ambitions and be a part of Oman’s future.

On the other hand, our women’s empowerment programmes, such as our incubators and Springboard, have also been developed with the idea that, for our society to continue to prosper, women need to be capable of fully participating in economic development. This is something that His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said promoted, and that His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik has reinforced. Since its launch in 2015, Springboard has graduated over 2,000 women and is about to enter its 21st wave.

Sitting alongside Springboard is Spring Forward. Open to both men and women, the course aims to help young Omanis reach their full potential, while addressing the current needs of the market with the long-term impact in mind.

Of course, we also provide a number of solutions for SoHos and SMEs, which are scalable and flexible, allowing them to grow and develop with the company.

Our advancements in ICT capabilities have also allowed us to provide the safest and most up-to-date cloud storage solutions, through our subsidiary, data2cloud. Our award-winning state-of-the-art data centre, which represents a major breakthrough in hosting and data processing within the country, means that we are ahead of the game for business solutions, contingency and hosting. In fact, it is the only Tier 4 data centre in Oman, guaranteeing around 99.98%+ uptime, according to an internationally-recognized framework.

In your perspective, what is the key to the success and competitiveness of telcos in the fast-paced digital economy? How is Ooredoo Oman manifesting this into reality?

Success in a fast-paced and constantly changing sector is ultimately driven by innovation and technology. Our appetite to be able to do everything online and instantly is continually increasing, and we are more aware of the possibilities of technology and that sets up the expectations we have for it. We want to be able to do more, and now! Maintaining leadership and competitiveness in this industry relies on innovation and technology to drive the digital experience forward. And we have to keep in mind that competition is definitely heating up, with the recent launch of the third mobile operator. We’ve got to be on the forefront when it comes to maintaining market share and retaining customers, so the pressure is on.

Telcos connect the world and we have a remarkable role in society to connect everyone. It's more evident in a country like Oman, where we have remote communities that need connectivity to enable education, business, commerce, and even entertainment. We are at the cutting edge of this market and the ongoing digital transformation has the power to inspire and drive the changes we can envision, as well as those we haven’t imagined yet. So much progress has been made in the last five years and it is difficult to predict where the industry will be in the next five years, but our goal is to make sure we are in tune with what customers, businesses and the economy need and want and to be ready to deliver it. The way an operator – indeed, a society – harnesses new, successful ways of operating determine the speed at which an economy grows, and with Oman’s Vision 2040 objectives in mind, it is vital that we continue to make progress towards these goals.

The sector must continue to embrace the goal of a becoming a fully digital society, and a key component of this is digitalizing retail and government services. We must move and adapt quickly to not just follow, but lead the way.

Within this remit sits the growth of web 2.0 applications and social media platforms, which have evolved and converged with web 3.0 through the growth of AI, IoT, and virtual reality, augmented reality, fintech and blockchain. In fact, blockchain validation has become the next way for telcos to participate in web 3.0. The telco industry can use their data centres to ensure blockchain validation is not amassed by central authorities – the very thing that web 3.0 is designed to remove. So perhaps becoming a validation ‘hub’ is a way for telcos to have a greater future role as web 3.0 becomes more prevalent.

Lastly, we must not forget technology leadership; the most recent evidence of which is our investment in a state-of-the-art carrier neutral data centre in Salalah, to host the 2Africa Submarine Cable System. This is one of the largest subsea projects in the world, connecting 23 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The data centre will provide co-location and cross-connection facilities with global connectivity. It will also elevate Oman’s global standing in providing best-in-class hosting and co-location services to hyperscalers and other content providers, to establish a regional node for traffic flow between the West and East – to Africa and the Gulf.

How does the company approach customer experience and what makes the Ooredoo experience unique?

The customer experience is central to maintaining competitiveness. Every touchpoint must be considered and made available for customers to obtain products and services, raise queries, obtain information and come along on a journey with us; from their very first interaction. We want to provide them with a unique experience that exceeds their expectations and turns our customers into brand ambassadors.

How do we do this? Through a seamless omni-channel experience that includes not only face-to-face store interactions. Our multi-award winning App, with over 1 million downloads, can do just about anything and everything. Our social media channels, the contact centre and our online AI chatbots are there to solve issues, allow customers to change and amend their service, apply for new products, send data to other users, and even enjoy winning prizes and redeeming rewards.

The customer experience is now completely intertwined with the use of technology and has improved access to everything we offer. This trend is equally prominent across the ICT landscape, whether it is in financial services, healthcare, retail, social media, and entertainment, and effectively implementing and leading the way with innovation and translating that into a great customer experience will see telcos thrive, both now and in an increasingly-digital future.

Being sustainable is one of the highlights among telcos. What ESG initiatives do Ooredoo Oman have to remain socially responsible for stakeholders and customers?

Group-wide, Ooredoo is committed to the highest standards of environmental protection. Throughout the network, we work to reduce our ecological impact by sourcing sustainable materials and products, reducing emissions through the use of energy efficient technology, and supporting customers to reduce their impact on the environment by enhancing and encouraging the use of digital products.

In 2015, Ooredoo pledged its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and every innovation we have made since – and will make in the years to come – is in line with this promise to deliver a sustainable legacy.

We have made a firm commitment to leverage our expertise across the company’s international footprint to bring about positive social and economic change. The cornerstone of this pledge is the Ooredoo Goodwill Journey, which has travelled the country every year since 2005 to support under-served communities, families in need, the youth, the elderly, people with disabilities and female-driven businesses. These contributions and donations have helped thousands of people to reach their potential and have made a real difference in the communities we serve. In total, in both 2020 and 2021, we recorded 900 volunteer hours each year in support of community initiatives. Given the prevailing circumstances, this is an achievement we are very proud of.

Throughout the network, Ooredoo is overseen by the most stringent governance which ensures that all decisions are taken with the company’s vision in mind. Ooredoo has developed Guidelines for Ethical Conduct and Fair Practices which reaffirms the company’s zero-tolerance policy for any form of bribery and corruption. All actions and decisions are independently audited and reported to maintain the utmost transparency to build bonds between stakeholders and customers.

An Environmental, Social and Governance Review is also published annually, detailing the progress towards agreed targets and reinforcing Ooredoo’s commitment to the United Nations SDGs across all Ooredoo operators.

Ooredoo Oman’s support for the community in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Shaheen are prime examples of how the company has stepped up to support nationwide relief efforts and proven its ability to respond to crises quickly and effectively. Indeed, when cyclone Shaheen hit, the company ensured sustainable operations and managed to keep its network up and running, as well as provided support to impacted people in different areas. This kind of response and resilience very much align with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of promoting good health and well-being.

The external audit also confirmed that implementation of 5G Intelligent Scheduling for Power Saving (NR) resulted in an increase in energy efficiency of 5.5%. The Intelligent Scheduling allowed the base station to adjust to power demands and increase or decrease energy consumption rather than running at full power unnecessarily.

We are determined to make a positive difference to our customers in Oman and play an important role in national sustainability efforts by reducing emissions, conserving energy and providing extra value to customers and the country at every turn. Being able to operate sustainably and ethically remains a long-term priority for Ooredoo in every market and an area of constant innovation.

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