Muscat: Vodafone Oman says its 5G enabled telecom network will cover much of the Sultanate of Oman by the fourth quarter of 2023 – a commendable feat for a company that commenced operations less than a year ago.
Vodafone CEO Bader Al Zidi said the rollout of 5G sites continues apace, with populous parts of the country currently being prioritised.
“To date, we have managed to cover the whole of Muscat Governorate all the way to Qurayyat with our own fully 5G network. In 2023, we will complete North Al Batinah, Dhofar and the Duqm Special Economic Zone,” the CEO stated.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Al Zidi noted that the phased rollout of Vodafone’s 5G-enabled telecom networks will also pave the way for the introduction of new products and services in the coming years. This will primarily depend on the penetration of 5G-enabled handsets, which is currently limited to urban areas like Muscat, and that too, in modest percentages.
Vodafone has planned an array of initiatives in the coming years as the company seeks to monetise its considerable investment in new 5G-enabled networks.
An immediate goal is to provide 5G-enabled digital services to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), said Al Zidi. This is in line with the brand’s commitment to supporting the Omani government’s digital transformation strategy, he noted.
“Vodafone is a global player in the digital solutions space. The brand has been named a leader in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Managed IoT Connectivity Services for the 8th consecutive year. Our aim is to bring these capabilities to Oman for the benefit of our SME and enterprise customers within the next couple of years.”
Significantly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being harnessed by Vodafone Oman to provide highly-customised digital solutions to its subscribers – a feature that also comes in handy in addressing customer complaints and network failures, according to the CEO.
“We are a step ahead of conventional telecom operators. For example, in a traditional setup, a customer with a complaint typically calls the call centre, which creates a ticket and starts the rectification process. At Vodafone, the AI-enabled networks sense something is amiss, automatically analyses failures through data analysis, and creates tickets for dispatch to the network operation centre. This saves a lot of time for affected customers.”
He further added: “Also, with our 5G networks provided by Ericsson, we are able to analyse call patterns and optimise the customer experience rapidly – something we wish to offer our enterprise customers in the future. We also plan to leverage Big Data and Machine Learning to provide a superior experience for our customer base.”
But it’s Vodafone commitment to localisation and In-Country Value (ICV) creation that is a source of much pride for the company, Al Zidi points out.
“ICV is in our heart – it’s what makes us different. While any telecom operator would need to make massive investments in the required infrastructure, we have managed to achieve this by creating local partnerships amounting to over RO 60 million since the time of our launch. For example, instead of building our own telecom towers, we have leased tower capacity from Oman Tower Company, a local company. Likewise, fibre connecting our sites has been leased from Oman Broadband, another state-owned company.”
Furthermore, instead of investing in its own data center, Vodafone has signed an agreement with ODB, a local data center in addition to Equinix, an international company operating data centres in Oman. Cyber-security services, while being managed by Vodafone, in coordination with an international entity, many of its support services are outsourced to an Omani partner. Similarly, delivery services are handled by Asyad Express, while marketing and communications are led by local Omani SMEs.
As for the services of a call centre, Vodafone decided to set up an academy for want of an independent call centre operation in Oman.
“We decided to build our own call centre locally through a programme called Vodafone Academy. From a total of 17,600 applicants, we selected 145 Omani fresh graduates and trained them. This is an example of the ICV we have created through our operations here in Oman,” the CEO stressed.
Furthermore, in keeping with its positioning as an innovation-driven telecom company, Vodafone offers car-parking payment options through its app.
The facility, integrated with Muscat Municipality’s offerings, enables car owners to pay parking fees anywhere in the capital region. There are plans for the feature to be extended to include parking options in Nizwa and other locations in the future. Also on the horizon are plans for the rollout of Vodafone’s eCommerce platform, which will be launched tentatively towards the end of 2023.
Besides, in line with parent company Vodafone’s commitment to its Net Zero goal, the Omani outfit is also set to make its own contributions, says the CEO. This is demonstrated in its promotion of eSiMs, which enables customers to access their electronic SIMs without the need to visit the brand’s retail stores. Additionally, the company has opted to go green by using electric vehicles and reduce its carbon footprint.
More product rollouts are envisioned in tandem with the growth of Vodafone’s subscriber base, according to the CEO. “Our focus right now is to have the main fundamentals in place, comprising our subscriber base, the network itself, app stability, and the unique service offerings. Then it’s easy to build on top of these building blocks as we move forward,” he added in conclusion.
Looking back at the company’s performance as it prepares to celebrate one year of successful operations, Al Zidi is gratified that the new brand has been well received in an otherwise fiercely competitive marketplace.
“In terms of market share, the targets we had envisioned at the one-year mark may be surpassed. It’s quite an achievement for us because it has taken a while to educate the market about the strengths and value offerings associated with our brand. We also wanted to strike the right balance between creating our own network and depending on the other host networks with a view to maximising revenue growth from our own networks. So our goal has been not to simply increase our customer base, but also to ensure that this growth contributes first and foremost to our revenues, and not to our host networks. In light of the current dynamics of the market, we are targeting a market share of about 30% within the next 10 years.”
Al Zidi said: “At Vodafone, our purpose globally is to connect for a better future and our expertise and global scale gives us a unique opportunity to drive positive change in society. In Oman, we promised to be different, digital and simple. I believe within our first year we have transformed the industry with a series of big firsts such as a state-of-the-art app, a complete cloud-based network (one of 3 globally), 5G with the best in class latency and eliminating bill shocks while roaming in favourite destinations. We have also seen our entry shaking up the industry with more and more companies looking to transform their own businesses and follow our lead in digitalising services, products and processes. We have achieved all this with a workforce that is over 90% Omani and one that supports local SMEs first and foremost. We have been overwhelmed by the talent we have found in our country. We now even showcase our local Omani talent to the worldwide Vodafone community.”