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OMAN - Telecoms & IT

Bader Al Zidi

CEO, Vodafone Oman

Bio

Bader Al Zidi was appointed CEO of Vodafone in Oman in October 2021, with almost two decades of experience working in ICT. His business and strategic acumen, coupled with a forward-thinking digital perspective, helped him navigate the successful set-up and launch of the third telecoms operator in the Sultanate of Oman. Al Zidi holds a bachelor of applied science and a master’s in business administration and management from the University of Strathclyde, UK. In addition, he has a certification in corporate finance and strategy from London School of Economics, UK, and a master of program management from George Washington University, US.

"We are adopting machine learning and AI in cybersecurity to a large extent."

Bader Al Zidi, CEO of Vodafone Oman, talks to TBY about entering the Omani market and the changes the firm has brought to the telecoms landscape.

Vodafone entered the Omani market, just over a year and a half ago. In your first two years of operations, you exceeded your revenue targets and secured approximately 10% market share. In a market dominated by two operators, what was behind these achievements.

The telecoms market in Oman had been a duopoly for almost 20 years and the government felt the need to introduce a new player that will disrupt the telecom landscape. This was accomplished by the introduction of 5G technology and addressing customer demands for better and more competitive data roaming packages to avoid bill shocks. From the onset, the government realized the need to bring in a global tier-one operator, such as Vodafone, and to build a fully green and digital operation. Today, Vodafone Oman has become a pioneer and a driver of digitalization. By “being fully digital,” we mean that everything, starting with customer onboarding to bill and package management, is done through the My Vodafone App within minutes. We have face recognition integrated with Royal Oman Police, whereby verifications are completed instantly. Second, we addressed the complaint of hefty phone bills, especially when people travel abroad. Customers can enjoy our plans in more than 29 countries just as if they were in Oman. These countries represent the highest travel destinations for Omanis including the GCC. Our packages are competitive and transparent; simple.

What are your plans to acquire further market share?

We are mindful that people will remain loyal to their operators for certain segments, and yet we are counting on the youth segment because they are tech savvy. 65% of Oman’s population is 35 year and younger, so we have tailored our content and communication to address this key segment. With that said, and with the feature of TQ home telecom, we are now also looking at business segments. In 2024, our plans will include catering to the enterprise segment as well. We believe that, as a challenger, we grow value in the market by introducing products and services that differentiate themselves. Our communications, our approach to the market, and the way we provide services, is always about differentiating elements. Otherwise, as a challenger, we wouldn’t stand a chance. This is why we expect to maintain our subscriber double-digit growth.

With the Voice and SMS business having declined steadily over past years in favor of VoIP, where do you see your future growth coming from? Are you looking to introduce services like mobile money within your app, or extra value-added services to compensate for the decline in voice and SMS?

We are blessed not to rely on voice and SMS. We have been building ourselves from day one knowing that these two services will not be driving our revenue. SMS has converted from being profitable for the consumer to the enterprise segment, as a result of certain sector regulations that triggered a larger demand for bulk SMS. As for voice, it is indeed a declining business yielding importance to apps such as WhatsApp, which is why we were the first to introduce chat through WhatsApp. Part of our mission and vision is to digitalize people’s lives. That’s why we added the car park paying service last year through our app, which does not even require the input of a plate number. And, if you are a student subscribed to Vodafone, you get your high school results on your app. We are also looking to provide content. In fact, we have already signed an agreement with several international content providers and are in the process of integrating these services into our offering to be able to provide gaming and video streaming. Fintech will also be catered to at a later stage. We are already in talks with a number of potential partners on that front, and hopefully will be able to provide new services.

What are Vodafone’s primary applications of emerging technologies in Oman?

We are adopting machine learning and AI in cybersecurity to a large extent. Our IT architecture is designed in such a way that we have data warehouse for big data and are able to gather vast information on how customers are using the app. This big data can then be monetized down the line. Our use of AI in cybersecurity is a driver, because it is crucial for us to protect the end-user as well as our entire infrastructure. Our approach is to leverage technology in a way that allows us to grow the business, while always remaining mindful of what makes a difference in people’s daily lives.

What is your outlook for Vodafone in 2024?

This is our second year since the commercial launch, and it is the year when we complete our build-up stage as a new operator. Our plans include fast-tracking our 5G Next Level network expansion to cover 90% of the population across Oman by end of year. We will also realize the full portfolio of our services in the mobile market, the mobile portal, as well as introduce value-added services such as content to cater to new customer demographics. This will ultimately enable us to continue our double-digit subscriber base growth.

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