Qatar’s initiatives sending strong signals on ICT front

October 18, 2012

Khaleej Times

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Qatar will be one of the most connected countries in the world by 2015 as the government is making a huge investment in advanced technologies, according to Mohammed Ali Al Mannai, chief executive officer of the Qatar National Broadband Network, or Qnbn.

The Qnbn is a central pillar in Qatar ICT Strategy 2015, building a sustainable digital future, improving connectivity throughout the nation, boosting capacity and fostering economic development, as well as enhancing public service delivery to provide benefits for all.

“Broadband is very important for Qatar as the country sees broadband not only as a commercial benefit but also it sees a strategic benefit for the country and its people,” the chief executive told         Khaleej Times in an interview at ITU Telecom World 2012 in Dubai.

Giving examples, he said fiber will have a dramatic effect on economic and social development in Qatar, opening up a new world of Internet media and information, and delivering better online government, health and education services to the nation — all at the speed of light. Fiber-to-the-home will make Qatar the best connected country in the GCC — and one of the most connected in the world, he said, adding that this is because fiber can enable huge film, image and sound downloads at the fastest speeds. Thus it will underline the Qnbn’s contribution to Qatar’s continuous spirit of innovation and be seen as an essential platform of Qatar’s 2030 Vision.

Talking about its benefits to small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, he said: “Actually we will be building the infrastructure and leasing it to licensed operators in the country. We won’t go to consumers directly.”

Generally speaking, he said, SMEs in this part of the world are not getting the benefits of ICT technology because it hasn’t been made so easy for them and it hasn’t been made cost effective to them. People should think about new things and new ideas rather than investing in infrastructure, this is our business model in the country.

Responding to a question on why the Qatari government started this initiative and not telecom operators, he said that the government started this, but it will go to private sector.

“We see in broadband today there are three different models for investment. There is a purely public model and then a public and private partnership model and finally a private model. We didn’t go the purely public model, what we have done is go with the public-private model. We are in discussion with other operators and we are welcoming them to come and be a shareholder, so they will also bring investment,” he said. “They should innovate and compete in other sectors like network and services rather than be in competition in infrastructure,” he said, adding that the Qnbn will focus solely on the deployment of network infrastructure, providing equal and open access to operators to promote competition and innovation and to offer choice for the end-user, efficiently leveraging existing and new infrastructure in Qatar.

Regarding the value of the project, he said: It changes dramatically. Initial investment of half a billion dollars was announced as a capital for the project, but it might increase or decrease, depending on the cooperation of other entities in the country. We have signed agreements with telecom operators in the country and we see more cooperation from others.”

The Qnbn has been given the task to achieve 95 per cent coverage across the country with the fiber-optic network. It is also planning to ink significant agreements with international technology leaders at the cutting edge of fiber optic network technology, according to Al Mannai. As a pilot project nearly 6,000 units in Barwa City are now connected with FTTH infrastructure delivered by the Qnbn, ahead of schedule, he said. “It should mean around 80,000 units to be covered by the end of next year,” he said, when asked about next year’s target.