Big Interview

Yousuf Al Kubaisi, Ooredoo: Global Transformation

Ooredoo has big plans for wholesale. Alex Hawkes talks to the company's chief wholesale and international officer, Yousuf Al Kubaisi.

Qatar is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Its successful bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup marks the beginning of a major expansion affecting every aspect of the country's economy.

Over $200 billion of investment is expected to be poured into infrastructure over the coming ten years as the country looks to handle the influx of 400,000 football fans, as well as help position itself as a major commercial hub in the Middle East.

A remarkable transformation is also occurring at the country's former incumbent telco. Qatar Telecom changed its brand to Ooredoo in early 2013, in a bid to heighten its global profile and support its diverse regional customer base, following a major international expansion plan that began in 2006.

Since then, the company has extended into Asia, in Indonesia, the Maldives and Myanmar, as well as aggressively targeted opportunities across the MENA region: Oman, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq and Palestine. This gives it a presence in 16 countries, handling 4.55 billion voice minutes globally.

"Matching this global growth has been a focus on the customer experience," says Yousuf Al Kubaisi, chief wholesale and international officer, Ooredoo. "The aim of the new brand is to reflect the hopes and aspirations of our customers who – across all our emerging markets – are young, ambitious and eager to use technology to improve their lives."

Global ambitions
Kubaisi has exclusively revealed to Capacity that transforming the company into Ooredoo was just stage one. The company is now looking to launch a new entity designed to support its increasingly global footprint, hoping to "unleash hidden value through consolidation", as well as deliver new services and products to its operating companies, strategic partners and third-party players.

The ever-changing competitive and regulatory landscape is increasingly putting pressure on margins across all geographies, says Kubaisi. He believes that by consolidating the company's wholesale business, it will be able to exploit operational efficiencies while delivering maximum value to Ooredoo Group and its customers.

This is a familiar strategy for major US and European Tier-1 carriers, but it is unchartered territory for their Middle Eastern equivalents.

"With such strong organic growth, we see positive potential in launching Ooredoo Global Services as a consolidated standalone business, with the mission of focussing on and targeting carriers. The MENA region is continuing to grow and demand for wholesale is rising. We also see significant opportunities across our markets in south east Asia. Ooredoo Global Services will focus exclusively on enhancing customer experience," says Kubaisi.

Innovating in the Middle East

Ooredoo Global Services will be charged with exploring new service areas in wholesale, with Kubaisi identifying the potential of areas such as CDNs, service delivery platforms, M2M and mobile financial services.

Like other carriers in the market, Ooredoo views the innovation of new service areas as crucial in competing with the increasing influence of OTT players.

"The impact of OTT services on wholesale continues to be huge. Revenues are being marginalised, and that was one of the key drivers for us to start contemplating this new entity. We have the last-mile access and the customers, but we have to make the strategic decision whether to develop a service of our own or explore partnership models with the OTTs," says Kubaisi.

Like many of the rapidly developing cities across the Gulf, Qatar's capital Doha is in possession of an imposing futuristic skyline. The city, however, has also been careful to preserve its roots, developing a modern heritage site where traditional Arabic souks, mosques and museums are given an elegant contemporary touch.

The same can be said of Ooredoo. Kubaisi has been at the company since he graduated in electrical engineering from Western Michigan University in 1985. Described by Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani, CEO Ooredoo Qatar, as a "stalwart member of the Ooredoo family for more than 25 years", Kubaisi has held managerial roles across the company's international infrastructure, business services and regulatory units.

A family man, Kubaisi likes to enjoy as much of his spare time as he can with his wife and five children, while also enjoying the occasional weekend camping with his friends in the desert. 

Inspiring times
Downtime will be essential when he assumes his new role as head of Ooredoo Global Services. Among many of the exciting challenges facing him, Kubaisi identifies the company's operations in Myanmar as being one of the most "inspiring".

Fending off competition from some of the world's largest carriers, Ooredoo last year secured one of two mobile licences from the Myanmar government, giving it access to a population of 60 million with a mobile penetration of under 10%. This, says Kubaisi, is in line with Ooredoo's objective of tapping global untapped markets.

"Such is our confidence that we can make a genuine difference and support the economic and social development of the country, we have announced our intention to launch with 3G services, offering the people the opportunity to go online via their mobile for the first times in their lives," he says. "We believe that communications enrich people's lives and stimulate human growth. The social impact of our work is truly exciting at the moment."

The expansion into Myanmar – combined with its "thriving" operations in Indonesia – is said to provide Ooredoo with significant scale for its Asian operations. The new entity is said to open the potential to supply existing operations in Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore and the Maldives with wholesale and international services.

"Combined with its MENA footprint, Ooredoo now has significant capacity in some of the world's most dynamic regions," says Kubaisi.

Taking the initiative

The arrival of Ooredoo Global Services also comes on the back of the company's involvement in the Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1) subsea cable. Announced this January, the 15,000km system will run from south east Asia to Africa and Europe through Egypt, connecting Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Oman, the UAE, Djibouti, Qatar, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy and France.

The project looks to be a perfect fit for Ooredoo. It will provide a direct link to a number of its key markets, most notably Myanmar, while also helping to significantly enhance the connectivity of Qatar.

He admits to the initiative being "very well thought out around the new wholesale entity" and hints the company could explore similar initiatives moving forward.

With 16 other international carriers also involved in the project, it is one of the largest consortium cables of its kind, and Kubaisi believes it crowns a new era for carrier partnership.

"As Middle East carriers continue to forge new partnerships with regional and global leaders to provide a higher level of service and better experience for all our customers, the launch of the AAE-1 subsea cable further enhances our objective of providing a solid foundation for enhanced connectivity and the delivery of advanced business services," he says.

The system will be deployed with 100Gbps technology and a design capacity of over 40 terabits.

With three existing international cables in Qatar (FALCON, TGI and GBI) and two regional cables (FOG and Das-Halul), AAE-1 looks set to bring much-needed capacity and redundancy to the nation when it goes live in 2016.

"It will provide an important upgrade for international networks, enhancing internet speeds, enabling high-quality voice services and improving resilience," Kubaisi says.

"The AAE-1 cable will provide people across the world with access to new, high-speed global routing that will encourage the expansion of broadband penetration, internet usage and enterprise applications. It will also deliver faster and more reliable bandwidth and business-critical capacity for broadband data and high-quality voice services into the countries along its route," he adds.

Prepare for action
AAE-1 will also help with the huge connectivity requirements for the World Cup in 2022. Preparation is already underway, with Kubaisi having recently met officials from the 2022 committee to discuss its telecoms strategy.

The primary focus, he says, will be on supplying enough capacity to accommodate future technologies: "Nobody knows what the technology might be then. Will it be LTE-Advanced or 5G? On the broadcasting side, will it be Ultra-HD or 3D?"

With Qatar's World Cup just eight years away, the country and Ooredoo look set to embark on a sustained and rapid period of growth. Expect plenty of headlines from both in the interim years.

"Our aim is to hold a leadership position within the coming years. Our location, experience and understanding of our customers' needs, plus our unmatched knowledge of communication needs in emerging markets gives us the confidence to launch Ooredoo Global Services," says Kubaisi.

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