What role does the TRA play in the overall development of Oman’s telecommunication sector?
AL RAWAHI: As a regulator, we implement all the policies set by the government for the telecommunications sector. We promote investment in the sector and follow 3 main principles, that is, neutrality, non-discrimination, and transparency. Thus, we ensure a fair field among all the players in the sector.
How would you describe Oman’s current telecommunication infrastructure? What investments is the Government making in this capacity?
AL RAWAHI: Oman commenced its journey into the infrastructure of telecommunication in 1974, from the days of Cable and Wireless. However, at the moment, Oman is one of the leading countries in terms of telecom infrastructure. We have a reasonably high level of broadband and wireless penetration. We are achieving around 160% mobile penetration. There are 2 main operators in the country, but we also have some mobile resellers. Thus, the basic telecom infrastructure is good and growing, and the potential for further demand is coming up. Broadband, high speed Internet, cloud computing, and content, are areas of development that have been addressed at the moment. I believe that these are the facilities that will create opportunities for investors, the Government, and the different players in the telecommunication sector.
How has regulatory intervention helped facilitate competition and liberalization throughout the ICT sector? What actions is the TRA taking to encourage intellectual property creation and development?
AL RAWAHI: Oman is a signatory to the WTO and has signed an FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the US. Thus, there are certain guidelines and regulations set for competition in general, and in the telecommunication sector in particular. Based on these agreements, I think there is enough room for all the players in the market. We issue the guidelines and the rules for competition, and we allow the players to come into the market as long as they are willing to invest into this market. With the current players in the market, and the potential players coming in the future, I think we are moving in the right direction.
H.E. Ahmed bin Mohammed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, has recently stated that 60% of Oman should have access to broadband services by 2017. What key challenges is the country facing with regards to expanding its broadband network? What role is the TRA playing in addressing these challenges?
AL RAWAHI: First of all, the terrain of the country, which is a complex terrain compared to other countries, is a challenge. Oman is a mountainous area with plenty of villages in the rural areas, which are not covered at the moment. So this is quite a challenge for the telecommunication sector. Secondly, with the evolution of broadband and high speed Internet, the expectations of the people are very high, while the reality is different. So, bridging the gap between the expectations of the people and the supply of services still proves to be a challenge. However, we are working on that with the Government. The Government has now announced the broadband company, which can contribute to increase the penetration of broadband services in the country. TRA has worked closely with the Government with regards to broadband issues. We are also working closely with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, as well as the broadband companies. We are working on the guidelines for passive infrastructure, allowing any players in the future to make use of broadband facilities. TRA has also introduced, in conjunction with the Government, some spectrum for wireless broadband, which will greatly help in the development of the broadband services in the country.
How successful has the TRA been in promoting Oman’s telecommunication sector globally? What programs or incentives is the TRA implementing in order to further attract FDI to Oman’s ICT sector?
Oman is a signatory to the WTO and has signed an FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the US. Thus, there are certain guidelines and regulations set for competition in general, and in the telecommunication sector in particular. Based on these agreements, I think there is enough room for all the players in the market.
AL RAWAHI: As a regulator, we are not different to other regulators in other countries. There are sets of regulations to establish any new licenses coming up in the market. Competition is one of the main topics of discussion in the pipeline, with many related studies, which we believe can attract future investors in Oman. We are currently reviewing our license regime, our Telecommunication Act, and the regulations on competition. With all these tools, hopefully we will be able to attract foreign investors to come to Oman. I think that the availability of the spectrum and the broadband, either fixed or wireless, will create an optimum situation for Oman.
Which segments throughout the industry present the best opportunities for growth and development? How do you see this evolving over the next 2-5 years?
AL RAWAHI: In the area of telecommunication services, I think that broadband and high speed Internet, including the issues of content, apps, and cloud computing, are the areas which most of the people are concentrating on at the moment. Attracting businesses to host their services in Oman is one of the key goals of the country at the moment. Secondly, the area of education and skills development, which will allow people to contribute to the evolution of the country, will be a major factor. There is an initiative of the TRA in conjunction with the licensed operators to connect the unconnected villages of Oman. At the moment, we have announced 200 sites. That is, we are going to connect around 250 villages in all the regions of Oman. This is in conjunction with the operators with whom certain negotiations have been stipulated. I think that thanks to this initiative, the usage of broadband facilities will expand, creating a good opportunity for the development of the telecom sector.
What is your general outlook for the telecommunications sector in 2013?
AL RAWAHI: With the increase of broadband capability in Oman, together with high speed Internet, cloud computing, applications, and with the efforts being done by the ITA (Information Technology Authority), the TRA, and the Government, I think Oman will have a better chance of achieving the knowledge society in the future.