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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, stc Kuwait CEO Eng. Maziad Alharbi expounded on stc’s role in Kuwait’s digital economy evolution and shared insights on the company’s initiatives to fulfill consumer, B2B and public sector demands, as well as their sustainability agenda, among other topical matters.

The Kuwait telecom market has historically been one of the most advanced in the region. How do you see the evolution of the market moving forward and the level at which it is keeping up with the latest trends (AI, ICT services, etc.)?

The telecom industry in Kuwait has consistently maintained a pioneering position in both regional and global markets. Kuwait was among the first nations to introduce innovative telecom and digital solutions, which in turn initiated a competitive market landscape. Additionally, the early adoption of 5G technology introduced a range of capabilities that further positioned the country as a global leader. This strong foundation of robust connectivity services has played a pivotal role in driving the adoption and expansion of digital solutions across the country, and it continues to be a driving force enabling digital transformation in line with Kuwait’s Vision 2035.

Due to its robust foundational capabilities, Kuwait is well-equipped to usher in the next phase of industrial evolution. Prominent hyperscalers, such as Google and Oracle, among others, have already pledged or announced their intentions to launch their cloud services and extend their operations within Kuwait's market. More recently, the Kuwaiti government signed with Google Cloud to manage their digital workloads. The agreement will leverage Google Cloud’s know-how and capabilities to increase the level of efficiency within the government sector, digitize the country’s operations, ease the sharing of data between various governmental institutions and execute other programs that can empower the economy.

Within the private sector, local entities, such as stc, are investing significantly in the ICT sector with the aim of introducing substantial technological solutions that aim to benefit both governmental bodies and the private sector. Furthermore, Kuwait has made considerable progress in the realm of AI, with notable entities like Kuwait News recently unveiling innovative concepts like virtual news presenters. Taken together, these developments suggest that Kuwait will persist in its role as a regional leader in technological advancements.

In terms of 5G deployment, Kuwait’s nationwide coverage is an embodiment of the country's readiness for the future, with stc at the forefront of this transformation, ensuring robust solutions and proper systems are firmly set in place. This ultra-fast, high-bandwidth technology has not only reintroduced how people interact with digital platforms but also catalyzed the government's digital transformation strategy. As part of this transformation, the government aims to introduce comprehensive platforms that will digitally streamline the broad range of public services for citizens seamlessly and with great ease of access. Smart cities have also been introduced under the government’s digital transformation strategy, which will be based on a comprehensive and integrated plan in line with Kuwait’s 2035 vision.

stc has been very active in the Kuwait market historically, with a number of acquisitions and big investments and by supporting digitization efforts in the country. How will stc help to continue the evolution of the Kuwaiti digital economy and its telecom and ICT sectors?

stc is highly committed to driving the evolution of Kuwait's digital economy through a comprehensive and versatile strategy. Our initial priority lies in the relentless enhancement of our connectivity services, with the aim of delivering an unparalleled experience to users throughout the nation. We appreciate that superior connectivity underpins the digital economy, and as such, we tirelessly endeavor to uphold high network availability and offer a premier service of the highest quality for our customers in Kuwait. Given the investment we made early on to build a solid 5G infrastructure, we are fully equipped to provide nationwide 5G coverage, reinforcing our leadership in fiber and DSL connectivity through strategic ISP acquisitions. This has supported our journey in delivering comprehensive coverage and connectivity to our customers, demonstrating our position as a technology-agnostic connectivity leader.

Our strategic approach is further emphasized by the alignment of our investments in the broader ecosystem. Companies under stc Kuwait's umbrella are market leaders passionately dedicated to assisting both the public and private sectors in satisfying their varied service needs. Their proficiencies cover a broad spectrum of offerings, extending from essential cloud and ICT services such as data centers and secure private networks to sophisticated applications encompassing cybersecurity and digital transformation.

Moreover, our dedication to persistent investment in refining our offerings and solutions is unwavering. With several strategic acquisitions, such as QualityNet and E-Portal Holdings, we managed to provide a range of innovative and new-to-market services that cater to corporates through our specialized business arm, solutions by stc. These initiatives, as well as others, embody stc Kuwait's strategic vision, allowing us to utilize our vast capabilities to create synergies and integrate our various solutions. We believe that this, in return, will support and fortify the growth ambitions of the Kuwaiti economy, positioning it for success in the evolving digital era.

What role should the Kuwaiti government and the different sector players in the market assume to help continue the evolution of the sector?

The Kuwaiti government has played a pivotal role as a strong catalyst for the growth and development of the sector. As pioneers in implementing privatization initiatives, they have fostered a highly competitive market environment that encourages innovative concepts. This proactive approach has not only attracted investors but has also been instrumental in driving the historical evolution of the sector. The government has also initiated its digital transformation strategy, which will trickle across various entities within both the public and private sectors. The announced eGovernment platforms will integrate features that will ease numerous activities on behalf of citizens, provide instant validation and ease the shift from traditional methods to a digitized world.

Looking ahead, the government can continue to serve as an enabler by ensuring the establishment of effective regulatory frameworks that can align the objectives of various providers with the Kuwait 2035 vision. This will create an environment that is conducive to attracting foreign investment to the country and encouraging local companies to expand their operations in a dynamic way. Promising signs of progress in this direction have already surfaced, especially following the recent ICT announcements mentioned earlier. To sustain and amplify these positive developments, a structured approach is the optimal way to move forward. This involves not only attracting regional and international conglomerates but also empowering local players to broaden their operations by providing them with the necessary framework and resources to operate efficiently. By achieving the right balance, the government can further enhance the sector's growth trajectory and solidify Kuwait's position as an attractive destination for both domestic and foreign investment opportunities.

Consumer demand for connectivity and digital services is at its peak. How will stc act to keep up with this demand, and what strategic projects are you aiming to deliver? Are there any initiatives involving 5G and IoT that will help lift up the core business?

Consumer demand for superior connectivity and innovative digital services has indeed reached an all-time high. stc is strategically positioned to meet this demand increase with an unwavering focus on delivering an unrivaled connectivity experience to our customers. Well-known for their technological savviness and elevated expectations concerning network quality, Kuwait customers have set high expectations for an optimum online experience, and we are wholeheartedly committed to meeting these demands. These expectations have been a driving force in our introduction of various connectivity solutions that are pegged to be the leading in the region. To manage these pioneering network upgrades, stc has been consistently investing in maintaining and developing its infrastructure and related systems. Our position as innovators in the region is well established; we pioneered the introduction of 5G standalone technology in Kuwait, allowing users to experience exceptional download speeds and superior service quality.

Moreover, we have been at the forefront of offering innovative IoT solutions, including our collaboration with General Motors to provide in-vehicle connectivity for its OnStar emergency service. This partnership has allowed us to deliver IoT applications for vehicle management and infotainment subscription services, thus further enhancing the connected experience for Kuwaiti consumers. We have also partnered with various local players and start-ups to introduce new-to-market concepts that leverage our experience and know-how. These initiatives build on and contribute to the company’s commitment to continuously offer the latest solutions available in the modern digital world to assist corporate customers in achieving higher levels of operational and productivity efficiency. As an integral step in empowering businesses to take their visions forward, we actively invest in R&D to discover and design innovative solutions that solve real-world problems.

Giving customers the best-in-class digital experience is proving to be one of the critical elements of any successful telecom operator. How is stc evolving its digital customer experience?

We have recently introduced a new facelift and upgrade to the mystc Kuwait app and web experience, enhancing the digital journey for our customers. Our app serves as the central hub for our customers' integrated experience, offering an array of cutting-edge features and functionalities.

The app boasts an extensive range of capabilities, empowering users to manage their subscriptions, add or remove services, handle roaming settings, pay bills, recharge prepaid lines and access our self-service platforms. Additionally, it seamlessly integrates with our Qitaf loyalty program, enabling users to earn and redeem points across stc services and our network of partners. To enhance convenience, we have incorporated our eStore within the app, allowing customers to effortlessly purchase the latest devices and accessories, which are conveniently delivered directly to their doorstep.

The enhancement of the mystc app is an ongoing process where we will be introducing new features and services to further elevate the customer experience. Our goal is to ensure that the app remains at the forefront of our innovative business model, providing our customers with an exceptional digital journey.

Our home connectivity solutions, baity fiber and baity 5G, offer customers an immersive in-home experience with faster downloads, steady speeds at low latency, exceptional coverage and enhanced gaming capabilities. stc’s baity 5G utilizes the best outdoor router to capture the best 5G signal, which is then distributed across the user’s home using a mesh wi-fi system, providing users with the best connection speed and stability across their home. And baity fiber guarantees users the optimal gaming and streaming experience through the best latency/ping and unlimited capacity download and upload speeds.

In terms of upgrading the digital customer experience through connectivity, stc launched its 5G standalone technology, dubbed “FULL 5G,” providing better speeds, lower latency and improved coverage. The technology allows our customers to enjoy the full gaming experience with lower pings and better latency. The exclusive solution also improves indoor coverage so that stc customers can stream their favorite movies or TV shows from wherever they are with download and upload speeds synched to perfection. Providing this one-of-a-kind connectivity solution builds on our longstanding commitment to progressively enhance and develop our range of offerings while enabling digital transformation, an approach that aligns with the objectives under Kuwait’s 2035 vision.

The B2B and public sectors are big areas of importance for telecom operators. We have already seen stc execute a number of acquisitions in this space in Kuwait and in the region as a whole. What are the long-term objectives, and how will stc serve this segment in the future?

The B2B and public sectors hold significant strategic importance for telecom operators, with their potential to stimulate the economy and serve the community in multiple facets. Recognizing this potential, stc has prioritized establishing a strong presence within these sectors, as evidenced by our proactive acquisitions and service expansions. With the ever-evolving digital world, we believe that it is key to introduce innovative technologies that can accommodate the growth trajectories within each sector.

As early as 2019, stc began to offer mobility services and undertook two major acquisitions to build a comprehensive and integrated portfolio. The successful acquisition of Qualitynet, a leading ISP and fixed services provider, allowed us to further consolidate our position within the B2B and public sector services domains. After rebranding Qualitynet to solutions by stc in early 2020, we continued our growth strategy by acquiring e-Portal Holding, a renowned ICT services provider, along with its subsidiaries, including JMT and CDN, in 2022. These strategic moves have solidified our standing as one of the top B2B and ICT providers in Kuwait.

We provide a comprehensive range of services specifically tailored to B2B and public sector organizations. From fundamental connectivity and system integration to advanced cybersecurity, digital transformation, and managed services, our goal is to become a one-stop shop with integrated solutions. Our primary objective is to provide a complete experience, serving as a trusted partner for large enterprises, public sector clients, and mega projects alike. Our dedicated team brings expertise in delivering customized solutions to meet specific customer needs.

In addition, we recognize the vibrant SME community's pivotal role within the country. We are committed to offering standardized ICT services that align with their dynamic needs, having already launched a variety of services targeting this sector with plans for continued expansion in the future. Our strategic vision is centered around delivering comprehensive solutions within the sectors we serve. By integrating our capabilities, providing customized solutions to large enterprises and public entities, and supporting the growth of SMEs, we are confidently positioned to shape the future of ICT services in Kuwait.

What role will stc Kuwait play in different ICT infrastructure services such as data centers, hosting, colocation and cloud-based services? Are there any plans to partner or work with hyperscalers to serve different customer segments and verticals?

We are highly committed to our strategic vision of ensuring the availability of comprehensive ICT infrastructure services in the Kuwaiti market. Presently, our value proposition includes a wide spectrum of hosting, colocation and cloud-based services, which will be significantly bolstered in the near future. Our objective is to become the preferred ICT provider in Kuwait, catering to the diverse needs of our growing customer base, which operates in various sectors.

Our ambitious plan to fortify our ICT infrastructure capabilities includes an expansion of our own data center facilities. This expansion will offer greater capacity and reliability to meet the ever-evolving demands of our customers. Beyond infrastructure, we aim to enhance our digital capabilities. For instance, we are investing in state-of-the-art technologies like chatbots and robotics, which will provide more efficient, streamlined customer interactions, and we are integrating e-payment solutions across our services to improve customer convenience.

Additionally, we are actively establishing alliances with our esteemed regional and global partners, with plans to launch an extended portfolio of cloud-based services. With these strategic partnerships, we will leverage the expertise and resources of our partners to deliver tailor-made solutions addressing the specific needs of the Kuwaiti market. These collaborations will not only amplify our service portfolio but also ensure seamless integration and interoperability with global cloud ecosystems.

The successful acquisitions we have completed have helped us establish robust capabilities in both software and hardware. This, in turn, enabled us to deliver flexible, scalable cloud services to our customers more efficiently. As a leading provider of comprehensive and innovative ICT services, we have solidified our position in the market, complemented by our extensive product line and strategic partnerships with some of the most well-known hyperscalers around the world. By merging our in-house advancements with the power of our partnerships, we remain steadfast in our commitment to driving the digital transformation agenda in Kuwait and delivering unrivaled value to our customers.

What steps is stc Kuwait taking towards driving an agenda around sustainability?

Sustainability is at the core of stc's corporate strategy and is deeply embedded into our operations and initiatives. In line with our objectives, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Kuwait's 2035 vision, we have outlined an ambitious three-year strategy to drive our sustainability agenda forward.

Earlier this year, we launched a comprehensive sustainability program that promotes sustainable practices and values both within and outside our organization. A dedicated awareness campaign, integral to this program, is aimed at educating and informing stakeholders about our sustainable efforts. Initiatives focused on creating sustainable environments, waste and water management, and energy conservation have been launched. We are also exploring the implementation of a paperless workplace as part of our digital transformation, contributing not only to efficiency but also to environmental preservation. Our commitment to building a green-friendly environment extends to our data centers, where we aim to incorporate sustainable infrastructure.

Social responsibility is another critical aspect of our strategy. We are fostering a cultural transformation internally, promoting the empowerment of ideas and the continual investment in talent. Externally, we have been actively involved in several sponsorships and ventures, particularly those focused on youth, sports, education, health and entrepreneurship. Our extensive CSR framework includes a diverse range of events, programs and activities that aim to empower the community we serve while making a lasting impact on the younger generation. A majority of these initiatives have been organized in collaboration with local entities and institutions.

Governance is another key pillar of our sustainability agenda. We continue to maintain our ISO certifications and have enhanced our operational model to further improve cyber and data privacy. Our “Purple Code” and ethics campaigns further ensure that we operate according to the highest ethical standards. In our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are taking steps to ensure equal opportunities and fair representation across all levels of our organization. Moreover, we are proud of our continuous efforts to earn international awards and recognitions, as they reflect our dedication to maintaining excellence in all aspects of our operations.

Finally, as a testament to our unflagging dedication to transparency and social responsibility, we are pleased to announce that stc will publish its first standalone Sustainability Report in 2024. This report will underscore our commitment to our customers, investors, employees, retailers and other stakeholders, offering detailed insights into our sustainability efforts and achievements.

In addition to stc group’s Sustainability Report, we are pleased to announce that stc Kuwait will publish its standalone Sustainability Report in 2024, as a testament to our unflagging dedication to transparency and social responsibility. This report will underscore our commitment to our customers, investors, employees, retailers and other stakeholders, offering detailed insights into our sustainability efforts and achievements.

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