In the run up to Total Telecom Congress 2018, we spoke with Vodafone Qatar’s CTO, Ramy Boctor, to discuss the challenges and opportunities around rolling out 5G services in the Gulf State
Tell us a little about your plans to launch 5G in Qatar?
Vodafone Qatar is building on the country’s significant progress towards becoming a leading knowledge-based economy, backed by cutting-edge digital infrastructure. Launching 5G in Qatar was a milestone that was preceded by several investments that we were committed to making in the country. One of these was upgrading our network and that included increasing the 4G bandwidth on more than 80% of our network and expanding our 4G coverage to 98% of our outdoor mobile sites, out of which 90% are on 4G+.
In August, we switched on our first live 5G network, and roll out is well underway across key locations in the country. Soon after, we connected our first trial enterprise customer – Gulf Bridge International – which experienced 5G’s incredibly fast speeds. Our ultimate goal is to create Gigabit Qatar – a nation where people will enjoy ultra-fast-speed connection crossing one gigabit per second on the move and everywhere.
What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
Delivering a technology at its very early stages comes with its own challenges. First is Interoperability with other Network & IT systems, and we found creative ways to address any potential implementation challenges with Civil Works and site backhauling capacity.
By focusing on problems one by one you always find a solution, for example with Civil Works readiness we created a roll out strategy to minimise dependence on tower structure.
How will full fibre, gigabit capable fixed line services help to transform Qatar and the other GCC nations?
With converged services, soon 5G and fibre enabled customers will enjoy gigabit speeds everywhere. Gigabit connectivity is key enabler in transforming any nation, not only GCC nations, towards digital smart nations. Qatar National Vision 2030 emphasises the importance of high speed internet, Vodafone Qatar also focused on enabling the nation with appropriate up to date technologies.
For businesses, fixed line services will deliver enormous benefits including great calling rates, international locations, superfast broadband and smarter business solutions. This will increase productivity, thus improving business outcomes and contributing to a more diversified economy.
We are working with several important Qatar-based entities to roll out our fixed line services and this includes our recently announced partnership with Msheireb Properties, the world’s first smart and sustainable downtown regeneration project, Hamad Port – the region’s largest port – as well as Lusail City and the Pearl – two iconic projects that the government is focused on.
How does Qatar position itself within the GCC? Is it a technology innovator and leader or a fast follower in terms of next generation technological deployment?
Qatar is a leader in the region, the country has been providing world class mobile internet speeds and always ranks amongst the top countries in the world on that front. This, coupled with the fact that the country has a young, tech-savvy population, which has the support of various government initiatives meant to support innovation, makes it a bourgeoning hub for creativity.
One such initiative is the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), a hub that focuses on nurturing innovative ideas meant to disrupt the status quo in the region and beyond. Recently, they launched the Arab Innovation Academy (AIA) – the first and largest tech entrepreneurship program in the pan-Arab region, in collaboration with European Innovation Academy (EIA). Other initiatives include the Qatar Business Incubation Centre and Qatar Development Bank – all of which work together with a vision to create an ecosystem that pioneers.
Tell us a little about your long-term vision for connectivity in Qatar and the Middle East?
The Qatar National Vision 2030 stresses the importance of developing a competitive and diversified economy capable of meeting the needs of, and securing a high standard of living for, all its people both now and in the future. Vodafone Qatar’s 5G network roll out is part of ambitious plans to bring our customers lighting speeds and innovative solutions that will enhance their lives and drive economic growth and productivity in Qatar. Qatar’s development will set new standards of connectivity in the region, making it a case study that will support digital innovations across the MENA region.
How will next generation networks (5G and FTTH) help to transform businesses in Qatar and underpin the evolution of the country’s digital economy?
5G is essential for coping with growth in demand for ever-higher speeds, capacity and reliability. And importantly, the technology has ultra-low latency, eliminating the lag that’s experienced with current technologies. Being ready for the enormous machines that are going to be connected is the biggest focus for Vodafone Qatar 5G & FTTH strategy.
Virtually every industry in Qatar will be impacted by the innovative technology. As a result, ‘futuristic applications’ including connected homes, connected robotics, driverless cars, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are set to become commonplace, enhancing quality of life and driving economic growth. 5G also has the potential to transform industries including medical and automotive by supporting real time surgeries and smart technologies.
With the speeds that will become available over mobile, we’ll start to see applications and ideas develop that simply would not have been possible with 3G and 4G – ranging from healthcare and government services, to logistics and transportation. It’s an incredible time to be alive and we are excited to be a part of it.