Spearheading the Digital Transformation

Andrew Kvålseth, Ooredoo’s Group Chief Commercial Officer, provides insights to Channel Post MEA on Ooredoo’s role in driving forward digital transformation across its global footprint.

Andrew Kvålseth, Ooredoo’s Group Chief Commercial Officer.

How would you describe the journey for Ooredoo over the years?
Ooredoo has come a long way since it was founded as Qtel in Qatar in 1987. Today, Ooredoo Group – as we are now called – provides mobile telecommunications and internet services to over 121 million customers in 10 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia.

In recent years we have been rapidly transitioning into a digital telco, working to empower our customers across our global footprint to enjoy the best of the internet through mobile broadband and the provision of a range of digital services.

In 2018, Ooredoo Qatar was the first company in the world to launch a commercial 5G network. We rapidly followed this with the roll-out in many of our other operating markets including Oman, Kuwait and Maldives, with Indonesia next on the list. Today, Qatar leads the world with the highest fibre penetration per household globally.

Across our global footprint, we are setting new standards in telecommunications; in Algeria, Ooredoo was the first company to offer 4G services across all 48 provinces, and we have also invested in bringing 3G services to underserved communities in Palestine.

Today, we are a leading international digital telecoms company offering consumer and business customers across the world seamless connectivity to meet their growing digital needs.

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your business and how have you supported your customers since the pandemic started?
Ooredoo has responded well to the challenges created by the pandemic. Throughout, we have continued to support our customers as they have had to adapt to online ways of working, learning and accessing products and services.

Across our footprint, Ooredoo engineers worked tirelessly to enhance network performance. This ensured we could meet the surge in demand for data seen during the pandemic, as home and business customers became more reliant on fast, reliable internet connections.

The pandemic has also accelerated Ooredoo’s digital transformation strategy. Through digitalisation Ooredoo has been improving its customer journey and experience, making it quicker and easier for customers to find, buy, and use our services online.

Notably, we are adopting more modern, efficient and agile ways of working and conducting business that are empowered by digital technologies. Digital marketing techniques are being used to inform and excite our customers about new products and services. While, online sales and customer engagement platforms, like our My Ooredoo app, are helping to make the customer’s experience as simple and hassle-free as possible.

To enable our digital strategy, we have been hiring new digital talents. We are also leveraging new digital technologies and platforms, such as data analytics, that can help us better understand our customers and give them a more personalised experience and tailored product offerings that better meet their needs.

The new normal has forced every business to evolve faster and introduce new innovations. For Ooredoo, what new products and digital solutions have you added to your portfolio and in which markets are they available?
Today we aim to offer our customers a wide range of the best consumer and business value-added digital services, from financial services and TV content to business data centre, IoT and connectivity.

Notably, the pandemic has hastened the shift towards on-demand online access to entertainment at home. Ooredoo’s network has enabled this shift and we have also sought out content partners like Netflix, BeIN, OSN Streaming App and Disney+ to deliver new media services and bundles.

For businesses that required employees to work from home, Ooredoo networks provided a vital lifeline to ensure business continuity and ensure employees remain productive and engaged. Similarly, for schools and universities, Ooredoo launched new services across our global footprint to enable education to continue online.

Access to retail stores across many of our markets was restricted during the pandemic. Ooredoo has adapted to this by enhancing its mobile customer care apps and adding new features, products, and services to provide a comprehensive, convenient and safe alternative to a physical store visit.

What has been the response to these new products and solutions?
We have seen an excellent response from our consumer and business customers to our mobile customer care applications. These applications typically offer end-to-end digital customer experience, including mobile self-care, mobile financial services, e-commerce, entertainment and other services.

In Qatar, we launched Shahry Me, a new app-managed plan, that enables complete personalisation of a customer’s monthly plan with the precise allocation of data and calling services across family members. Updates to the Ooredoo App mean customers can carry out more key functions digitally, with just few taps, without visiting a physical store.

In Kuwait, Ooredoo has implemented a strategy to enrich people’s digital lives by providing all-digital, individually customised mobile products via the My Ooredoo App, through its ANA digital plan.

In Palestine, we are increasingly engaging with our customers through our new Hesabi app, which manages all services remotely, without the need to visit a physical store. The Fawry application was developed and launched to digitise Ooredoo Palestine’s sales channels and provided the foundation for continued retail activity.

Demand for our entertainment services also increased dramatically and we have modified many of our fixed and mobile service plans to offer more entertainment options. For example, Ooredoo Oman has offered new and existing customers 12 months of complimentary access to the OSN Streaming app.

Ooredoo has made major investments in 5G; how do you think it is going to benefit both the company and customers?
Ooredoo was the first telco in the world to launch a commercial 5G network in Qatar in 2018 and we continue to lead the way as we roll out 5G across our global footprint.

To date, Ooredoo has upgraded more than 90% of outdoor macro sites with 5G in Qatar, covering over 90% of the population. We have also started to deploy 5G networks in Kuwait, Oman and the Maldives. Indosat Ooredoo is also preparing to implement 5G in Indonesia and has trialled a number of 5G use-cases.

5G is around 100 times faster than 4G. It offers ultra-low latency, which will dramatically improve wireless video, video games, virtual reality and other technology applications. 5G internet has a far greater capacity to meet the growing demand for digital content and services over mobile networks like Ooredoo mobile broadband.

We have already tested several 5G use cases, including driverless aerial taxis, 5G services in a moving vehicle, remote medical services and much more.

I expect 5G and its myriad use cases to remain a key driver of Ooredoo’s growth in the future. Data already accounts for around 55% of our global revenue and this percentage is only expected to rise.

Now with a set of products and solutions as well as 5G rolled out, in which direction is the company heading?
In 2021, Ooredoo Group announced a revised strategy that incorporates a shift towards a more asset-light model and an increasing focus on our core mission of delivering outstanding digital and enterprise services to our customer base.

Our new strategy was recently exemplified by the announcement of a sale and leaseback agreement for more than 4,200 telecommunications towers in Indonesia. This deal was valued at around USD750 million, making it one of the largest transactions of its kind in Asia. Through this deal we have unlocked significant capital to support further improvements to our network and the launch of innovative new digital solutions to enhance the customer experience.

Looking ahead I expect this strategy to continue, with Ooredoo becoming more asset-light and extracting optimal value from our infrastructure by executing more network sharing and infrastructure deals.

Ooredoo will continue its journey towards digitalisation, offering compelling digital services, and making it easier for our customers to find, buy, and use our products online in order to attract and retain customers at a lower cost.

Going forward, what are your growth plans and where do you see the company in the next 12 months?
We are currently reworking Ooredoo’s channel mix, enhancing online customer services and promoting digitalisation. Through these steps we aim to simplify our cost structures, while simultaneously improving the customer experience.

We are also in active discussions over several infrastructure agreements that will further reduce costs.

From a consumer perspective, we are seeing a growing demand for content, entertainment services, faster broadband and larger mobile bundles, which we expect to continue for some time. To meet this growing demand, we are actively pursuing partnerships with major providers; already, we work with Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV, and will continue to expand our partnership network with other such leading providers.

Looking forward, we will continue to implement our new strategy and build on our growth momentum as we lead the way in digital transformation across our global footprint.