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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Talal Bin Saeed Bin Marhoon Al Mamari, CEO of Omantel, shares the company’s roadmap and strategies for transforming Oman into a digital hotspot.

Omantel recently adopted its new corporate strategy, “Shift Gear,” to spearhead the digital transformation journey in Oman. How has the progress in this effort been so far in developing customized solutions for your clients? What are the target sectors under the strategy?

Our “Shift Gear” strategy is designed to drive us towards a transformative future.  The strategy hinges on value creation, digital transformation, customer experience and efficiencies, on one hand, and building an ecosystem of innovation around us on the other. It has been crafted to help us navigate through the ever-changing market landscape.

It is vital to have strategies like Shift Gear because the market is becoming increasingly competitive with the entry of a third mobile operator during an economically challenging period. But at the same time, the market is presenting new opportunities, especially in the Enterprise, Government, and ICT markets, as well as potential growth driven by the improving economic situation. In addition, our investment in Zain continues to provide us with less exposure to the risk of operating in a single market and further improves our resiliency.

Omantel is a pioneer in advancing the power of cloud technology in Oman. Please tell us about your key initiatives that are enabling large corporates and enterprises to stay competitive in the Omani Cloud Market.

Omantel has distinguished itself in the cloud tech era by being the first mover in the market through its subsidiary, Oman Data Park (ODP), which empowers organizations in Oman, from the SMEs all the way to the big enterprises — to migrate to the cloud. ODP facilitates Co-Location, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Backup as a Service (BaaS), Security as a Service, File Cloud and many other solutions.

We are covering diverse sectors, including the financial sector (Al Izz Bank and Bank Nizwa) and government entities such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, Ministry of Interior and the Governor’s Office of Musandam. Software as Service is currently implemented at several organizations, such as Nama Poultry for its Meet management, the Ministry of Interior for the eVoting System, CRM for Invest in Oman, Student Information System for the National University for Science and the Technology and Taxation System for the Taxation Authority.

Omantel’s strength lies in its ability to offer multiple cloud services to cater to customers’ needs. Besides Oman Data Park, Omantel offers its customers Microsoft Azure Stack, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), AWS Outpost and AWS Local Zone. Omantel thus continues to drive the cloud business in Oman and help organizations transform and accelerate their digital transformation journey in alignment with Oman Vision 2040 and with the National Digital Transformation Plan initiated and announced by the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and Information Technology.

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken the technology industry by storm in recent months. How is Omantel positioning itself for the adoption of this new technology as a telecom operator? What are the challenges and opportunities?

Omantel introduced its ICT Department in 2016, aiming to be the trusted technology partner in Oman. Throughout this department, Omantel has managed to implement different AI Solutions with enterprise customers and will continue to do so. Omantel is aligning with Oman’s National Digital Transformation Plan, which supports and promotes the use of AI in our day-to-day work. Omantel is also aligned with Oman Vision 2040 and the recent initiative managed by the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and Information Technology towards the Digital economy and raising its contribution to Oman’s GDP up to 10% by 2040. One of the cases we managed to implement was the AI-based CCTV for several enterprise customers with different use cases. For example, one of the ports uses these cameras to detect authorized access, check compliance with HSE requirements and inspect the trucks going in and coming out. Other organizations used these cameras to count the number of visitors to exhibitions. Some used it for the attendance system.

Another example is that we have teamed up with Hutchison Ports Sohar to deploy AI that will allow real-time surveillance of many parts of the port’s operations, such as white/blacklist recognition, intrusion detection/loitering, crowd density and 4K monitoring. The Smart Surveillance with “AI” will allow real-time surveillance of the port’s loading and unloading transport area, monitor the sea tide, enhance ship container video surveillance, make “AI-based” intelligent video analysis, allow for “AI-enabled” unmanned detection and generate an automatic alarm in real time.

We have witnessed a huge demand in the market for AI, specifically after the COVID-19 Pandemic, where organizations have realized the importance of keeping their businesses running and reducing the cost of their operations, along with ensuring the continuity of their business, and AI is one the main solutions that can help them achieve such objectives. However, we can still see some challenges with some customers and their resistance to implementing AI due to several reasons, such as: Cloud Adaptation, Security concerns, lack of knowledge about AI and its benefits, the fear of losing jobs and other reasons; we are working with them as consultants to help them overcome these concerns and drive them on a roadmap towards implementing AI.

Omantel boasts a leading position in the evolution of 5G in Oman. Given the rapid introduction of new technologies to provide innovative solutions to its customers — and with a third player now entering the market — how is Omantel collaborating with global players to keep up with the competition?

5G plays a very important role in how individuals, businesses and economies function, and Omantel offers a comprehensive solutions suite to meet customers’ needs. We have deployed 5G-based solutions in sectors like shipping and logistics, oil & gas, banking and energy, which are among the most important economic growth drivers.  We are working on expanding our application portfolio, which includes ultra-high-speed internet, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, MPLS, 5G video surveillance, smart banking, smart farming, smart power grids, 5G-enabled pagers, RT automation and monitoring, critical communication, and digital supply chain.

Omantel is the first telecom operator in the Sultanate to commercially launch the 5G network at the end of 2019, through which customers can get ultra-high-speed internet services at their homes with speeds up to 1 Gbps. Customers can enjoy various lifestyle offers, including basic home, gaming, entertainment, and premium connectivity.

We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Korean mobile network operator, LG Uplus Corporation, to enhance collaboration and knowledge exchange on 5G specialized services provided by LG. The expansive scope of the MoU included Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Multiview, Timeslice solution and any potential business cooperation opportunities on XR platforms.

Businesses in Oman are positive about 5G’s prospects for improving security, customer experience and operational efficiency. For example, blockchain is being piloted in the logistics sector as supply chains become more complex. Oman’s airports and seaports are at the forefront of embracing digital dependence through 5G, robotics, drones and other technologies, with technical support from Omantel, which is playing an empowering and leading national role in this direction with continued reinvention, rethinking and investment for every sector. 

In addition, businesses see 5G not just as a technology, but as a roadmap to growth. Faster speeds, lower latency, and improved device capacity will mobilize automated and intelligent technologies that will drive better business outcomes that were not possible earlier. The flexibility that 5G offers by interlinking manpower and enterprise applications with cloud and mobiles, among others, enables vertical-specific and highly responsive solutions for a business organization. 

Please share with us Omantel's roadmap for its commitment to providing a smart future for Oman in the midst of economic recovery and growing market opportunities.

Following the recovery from the pandemic, the ICT market in Oman — and the Middle East region in general — is expected to grow after witnessing recent movements in the market. The higher allocation of budget for ICT in state-owned entities and semi-government and private organizations, as well as the efforts taken specifically by government agencies in Oman for both nationwide digital transformation and the enterprises’ digital maturation, will drive the growth and demand for ICT solutions.

Omantel will continue to play a vital role in developing a digitally capable society with its innovative propositions focused across consumer, government, private and SMB segments.

We recently acquired a new company specializing in [the] Smart City, and we called it “Tadoom,” which means sustainability, reflecting Omantel’s current vision towards implementing Smart Cities initiatives with enterprise customers. We have started at our current HQ to draw an example of sustainability and how smart cities can save on the cost of utilities, for example, and reduce carbon emissions. We have also implemented one of the smart cities initiatives utilizing 5G Network coverage with Muscat Municipality to monitor the traffic lights in Muscat. Another smart city use case was implemented in one of the leading banks — in their Data Center — using IOT to monitor the temperature and humidity. Moreover, we are in discussion with two factories to implement Smart Cities, initiatives, which we will announce soon.

We are fully committed and aligned with Oman’s 2040 vision and look forward to extending the required support needed through Omantel’s comprehensive ICT and digital solutions. This will enable government entities and enterprises to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives.

The Omantel Innovation Lab leverages Omantel’s expertise, partnerships, reach and access to technology to contribute to Oman’s Vision 2040 and promote innovation and entrepreneurship in new and emerging technologies: 5G, Internet of Things, Cybersecurity, Customer Experience technology and Big Data.

The Omantel Innovation Oasis, a showcase of uses of 5G technology and other frontier technologies, complements the Omantel Innovation Labs as a place where incubated tech start-ups can potentially showcase their innovations in the future.

E-Dukaan, which is powered by Artificial Intelligence and IoT, brings a queue-free, cashless, grab-and-go shopping experience. Shoppers can walk out with their items, without having to get their purchases scanned for prices or deal with physical money or bank cards.

The biggest growth potential continues to be in the ICT domain: both Enterprises and Government are on a continuous digital transformation journey, and Omantel is very well positioned to provide innovative solutions and services to meet this increasing demand. We also continue to leverage the position of Oman and our investments in the subsea cable systems and data centers to attract the major hyperscalers to the country and bolster Oman’s position as a strategic hub for the region.

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