Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom
|Wednesday, 20 May 2009 01:00|
According to the INSEAD and the World Economic Forum information communication technology (ICT) has proven instrumental for enabling developing and middle income economies to leapfrog into higher stages of development and foster economic and social transformation. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and how has ICT changed Bahrain?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: I agree very much with this statement. ICT is crucial to the development of a country like Bahrain especially where it is moving to offering advanced services, financial services, and tourism, ICT is critical because these kinds of services rely on a sharing of and access to information and the financial services require advanced broadband communications. As far as Bahrain is concerned, although it has the highest concentration of broadband communication in the region it is still low compared with countries in Western Europe and the United States it has a long way to go to accelerate the penetration and get to the level needed for development of these services.
What are the challenges of the local telecom market?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Challenges include prices, quality of service, and easy access to broadband communication. Easy access and affordability are critical for the people.
How do you see prospects for ICT development in Bahrain in light of constant arguments between the incumbent, BATELCO and the telecommunication regulatory authority, is the legislation moving ahead?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: I think its a very healthy argument and BATELCO is a dominant operator in Bahrain and TRA is trying to ensure there is competition here because competition is important and I know that a lot of companies like MENA to grow need competition in the market and this will allow for better quality of service to customers, better value, and more services- for example, higher speed. What TRA is doing is important to development to the telecom development in Bahrain.
The director general of TRA, Alan Horne, said that a good regulator promotes competition to force down prices and is not afraid to flex its muscles when required. What is your perception of the regulatory environment in Bahrain and what areas or domains could be further improved to facilitate your operations?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: I think that the regulation in Bahrain is probably the most advanced in the region. I think what TRA has been is to enable a lot of new companies and innovative service to come into Bahrain. For example, the WiMAX license that we competed for and earned about two years ago has allowed for new broadband services to come to Bahrain. This is one of the first in the region. When we launched WiMAX here it was the first in the GCC counties and this allowed us to offer more advanced services to the citizens of Bahrain and allows for a better quality of service as well. I think the TRA has a long way to go in terms of allowing more competition into the market as well as access to international traffic, which is important in the telecom market. TRA has made a very good start but there is still a long way to go to get to the same level as in other countries.
When you compare regulations in Bahrain compared to other GCC countries, are those in Bahrain the most advanced?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Yes they are. In terms of the licensing law, in terms of the regulation that the dominant provider has to comply with, they definitely are.
Mena Telecom set up the “world's first end-to-end WiMAX operation center, assuring that users will enjoy the clearest, fastest, most secure and most convenient internet connection available in the region today.” WiMAX is a relatively new service, so how are you selling this concept or does it sell by itself? Do people know about it?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: It doesn’t sell by itself. There is a demand for broadband and people in Bahrain have an option of where to go for broadband with many broadband provides. I think where WiMAX comes in is allowing people to have flexibility and choices in terms of how they want to use broadband. Our vision at Mena is allowing people to use personal broadband; everyone has their own broadband to access info and to use it for personal use. We are trying to increase the penetration of broadband and also to increase the market for broadband in general for personal use, similar to what happened with the mobile. The mobile started when people just had a telephone line at home and everyone was happy with one shared telephone but now everyone is using their own personal mobile and now relying on the one phone at home. We expect similar things to happen with broadband and people to have it at home and to have it at work.
How do you quantify the potential market for this new technology?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Very high. For two reasons. One, the penetration is low, only about 7 to 10% in Bahrain so we expect this to reach the same percent as the mobile at least to 100%. The mobile here has reached 130% penetration so people will have multiple devices requiring broadband as well. The potential is high and we expect that to happen as more devices become available and more affordable and prices for broadband become more competitive. An example is the PC market; The notebook use is increasing at a fast rate globally. As these prices come down, we expect higher penetration and people in families having more access to PCs people will have their own computers and their own broadband anywhere they go.
With such high potential in the market, the competition will certainly intensify in the future, is this a cause of concern for you?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Competition is good and forces people to offer better quality of service and more liberty of offering services and it also offers the potential for higher penetration in the market. When there are many competitors in the market, education about the technology becomes more available and people understand what the benefits of broadband are. For us, competition is part of our business model and something we expect to happen so no, it does not concern me.
How do you compete with the incumbent operator?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: First of all we offer a unique customer experience where they get broadband almost immediately. The devices we have are attractive and they can take them wherever they want and they are much more affordable and much more tailored to their needs. When the customer deals with me he can get offered more services than available with our competitors and he is getting a better experience related to the broadband from to buying it to actually using it.
Could you give us a brief overview of the charted growth of Mena Telecom and share some key figure of your growth?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Mena Telecom started around 2003 as a wholesaler in the wholesale and pre-paid calling card market and termination. In 2006 we got the WiMAX license in Bahrain and in 2008 we started the WiMAX service in November. We have been using WiMAX for the last six months and we also have calling card service in Bahrain for which we are one of the leading providers and of course, termination traffic. WiMAX success for us has been tremendous and we have experienced very fast growth that even surprised us. It has been a very short period of time so its difficult to give a very solid track record but its been pretty good. We have achieved fairly significant market shares within a few months.
At the same time, can you become the victim of your own success or are you ready for this high demand?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: We constantly have to watch out because success can bread a sense where you think you have done everything and there is not much to do in terms of watching out for our services and what kind of new services we have to offer. For example, over the next 2-3 week we will launch new services for our customers to allow them greater capabilities, easier use, and more services on top of that.
Can you give us a brief overview about Mena Telecom’s latest technology and product you are going to launch in 2009-2010?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Our intention is to go for full mobility so our license in 2010 will allow for is to be fully mobile. What we intend to do there is to exploit the mobility fully with the kinds of devices that are going to be available. In 2009 we are going to be a lot more broadband and we are going to broaden the portfolio we have for both consumers and for enterprise customers. We are going to offer more speed, more devices, and more convenient devices. Next week are are going to start with more services, in fact.
You mentioned that you are going to capture a greater market share. To what extent have you been able to accomplish this?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: The market share that we have achieved has certainly been significant. What I mean by that is we expect to capture 15 to 20% of the market within five to six months and this is due to two things. First, the investment that we put into the technology. I think that the regulatory environment is improving constantly and that second, allows us to compete. Although we are happy, there still is a long wait to go but it still allows us to compete better in this market.
How do you characterize Mena Telecom’s strategy over the next three years?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Mena Telecom is to expand the penetration of personal broadband. We really want to make sure that broadband is available and affordable to every person in Bahrain. Again, our strategy is similar to what happened to the mobile.
In a more global view we like to deliver an award to the most “green” company in terms of sustainable development, environment that will put this comp in front of the others. What is your policy toward sustainable development and what is your strategy, is this one of your concerns?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: I think it is something that is important. We are at the moment at the start up and our focus as a small company at the moment is to make sure we achieve initial success. But certainly in terms of sustainable development related to being environmentally friendly with the amount of sites we develop, with the power we use, with the devices we have in the market, and the site we acquire is definitely in our minds. However, this is still in the early stages and I think we will have a better focus next year once we get out of the initial frantic stage of launching a company and obtaining market share. Broadband can enable people to work from home and avoid the commute which is good for the environment and also video conferencing reduces air traffic. Broadband enables people to use the technology to allow for these things to happen. The energy used for what we do and the devices all have an impact on the environment.
What is your main challenge?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: We have to stay competitive. It we stay as we are it doesn't mean we will be competitive in three months time or six months time so this is about evolving our offer and improving our offer constantly. This is a market where you can’t stand still for every long. So its about how do we improve ourselves to customers and how do we innovate new services? And of course there are a lot of other technologies coming down the road that will allow for more competition here and really lastly its the environment here, how do you make it more competitive? We are constant fighting on the regulatory front, the innovation, and improving our services here in the country.
To finalize the interview, what is your long term vision and dream for Mena Telecom?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: As I said earlier, the vision here is to enable personal broadband for every citizen of this country and on top of that to offer advanced services especially to the business community here. Were working on two fronts to enable higher penetration levels and to also to bring advanced broadband services to foster the service industry. If it’s going to become a hub for financial services it will require a lot more innovative services especially when related to broadband. Our vision is very much advanced services on this front and to bridge what they called the “digital divide” to help people who can’t access or cant afford these services and don't have internet. One of the critical things is access to information- access to information centers and libraries can mostly be done through broadband. To do that will enable a lot of families and individuals access to information otherwise they will have no access to it here and that is important. Its a win-win situation for both us and people here.
In terms of your dreams and vision for the country itself and the development of Bahrain, what is your vision?
Mena Telecom Bahrain Telecom, CEO of Mena Telecom, Dr. Laith Sadiq: Bahrain has a vision of 2030 for developing its infrastructure and being a hub for various advanced services and we are contributing to that through broadband, the personal broadband and the wireless broadband we offer will enable a lot of these services to happen. Without it it’s not going to happen. This is a critical part of the services Bahrain wants to develop by 2030.