Q&A: Mahdi Yahya, managing director, SAMA

Mahdi Yahya, managing director at SAMA, discusses the company’s operations in the Middle East and the growing opportunity in Iraq.

What are your strategic priorities in Eurasia over the next 12 months?


SAMA Telecom has a large operation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, so the main priorities are to expand our business in the region and secure similar projects in neighbouring countries. At the moment, we're also looking at expanding into data services, like LTE.

Which markets are opening up in and around the Eurasia region and what potential do they offer telcos?


The whole region is now opening up. The political and media focus is on the desperate situation in Syria, which makes it easy to forget that the vast majority of countries in the Middle East are stable and open for business - for telecoms companies and others. Even in conflict zones such as Syria it is still possible to continue to operate - and in my view it's vital that we do, for the sake of the people still living there. You just need the technical expertise to work around the problems.


The main market that has started to open up recently is Iran and we see this as a very exciting opportunity for SAMA. We have been working for a number of years to secure strategic alliances and partnerships in Iran in order to be one of the very first private companies to operate large-scale projects there once the market is fully open for business. The opportunities for telcos in Iran, in terms of infrastructure projects to consumer services, both in data and voice, are simply huge.


Can you tell us about some of the latest projects you are working on in the region and some of the lessons learnt operating there?


We are currently working with the government in Iraq on a project to enhance the country's data infrastructure, unifying the data gateway and bringing top-of-the-line services to consumers in the country. Operating in Iraq teaches you a lot. It can be a tough country to work in. Regulations are onerous and innovation is not necessarily welcomed. Nothing is entirely straightforward but, as a country, it rewards perseverance and there is a huge appetite for connectivity in Iraq.


Working on large-scale projects in conflict zones like Iraq teaches you how to be flexible, and that makes it much easier for us to operate any project in a more stable country. Flexibility is incredibly important, and I believe that's the best lesson we learnt as a team - to know that whatever plan you start with isn't going to last. You need to work with the situation as you find it. You're not going to succeed if you try to impose rigid solutions. But it's incredibly rewarding. Once you achieve something in Iraq, looking back at the difficulties you went through to get where you are gives you a great feeling.


What do you hope to achieve by attending Capacity Eurasia 2015?


Capacity Eurasia is an outstanding event - it really is the place to be. It's a great place to showcase SAMA's strengths and demonstrate our skills to all the right people, as well as share best practice with the rest of the industry. As a growing company, we're always on the lookout for new partners - and new projects. So I'm going to be doing a great deal of networking.

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