In this interview with The Worldfolio, Eng. Ulaiyan Al Wetaid speaks about how VIVA Bahrain, since they launched their operations in 2010, has played a major role in reshaping Bahrain’s telecommunication sector and how they have been able to position themselves as a market leader in one of the world’s most competitive markets.
During the last ten years, the telecommunication market in the region has enjoyed a penetration growth and profitability far above the global average and in the case of Bahrain it has had an annual growth rate of almost 4.5% in the last year. How would you describe the level of competitiveness in the telecom sector in Bahrain in comparison to other countries in the region?
Evolving as the region’s ICT powerhouse, Bahrain is known as the most competitive and productive telecommunications market in the region which has respectively helped it gain global recognition. It is a three-layer market that has been aggressively deploying the latest technologies to ensure customers can access and experience the world’s emerging ICT developments and take part in the digital evolution.
As a telecommunications company, we have been key enablers of this wave of technological developments. When we launched our operations in 2010, our strategy was to position the company from third entrant to market leader. We wanted to transform customer experience, drive further competition under a level playing field and push the entire industry to the top by fostering new collaborations and introducing the latest innovations, impacting not only consumers, but also enterprises and the business sector. With a commitment to deliver products and services of global standards, VIVA has eventually positioned itself at the forefront of technology. So we stand today, with a vision that sparked seven years ago, as Bahrain’s market leader boasting the largest market and revenue shares.
Backed by unrivalled experience, knowledge and vision and the unparalleled support of the Saudi Telecom Company, one of the largest telecom companies in the Middle East, VIVA experienced phenomenal growth in record breaking time. The company’s upward trajectory was also made possible with the great wisdom demonstrated by the government’s forward-thinking regulatory framework, progressive policymaking and liberal, supportive business environment. The leaders of Bahrain have positioned the country as the Middle East’s most liberal information, communications and technology (ICT) market, making it the perfect business environment that offers a strategic geographic position at the heart of the gulf. We pride ourselves at VIVA Bahrain for being an example of a successful business that identified the opportunities in Bahrain’s market as we penetrated the market in 2010 and paved our way as leaders of our sector.
Furthermore, Bahrain’s commitment to maintaining the region's most liberal business environment increases competition and reflects well on the customers’ interest. It helps strengthen the country’s regional and global presence and ensures Bahrain is at the top of global development indexes.
Enjoying one of the most liberalised telecom markets in the region, how has VIVA Bahrain contributed to the development of the Telecom sector in Bahrain?
We have played a major role in reshaping Bahrain’s telecommunication sector and excelled in providing connectivity and communication services that elevate Bahrain’s international presence. We are committed to the industry as we recognize the important role we play in helping the country grow its foothold and secure high rankings in global development indexes.
For instance, one of the country’s greatest telecommunication developments which VIVA has contributed to was driven by our partnership with British Telecom. To a great extent, our strong strategic relations with BT were leveraged by the government and supported the deployment of an IP exchange in Bahrain, making Bahrain the fourth host in the world joining Miami, London and Singapore. With the launch of the GIPX hub, VIVA delivers hosting and connectivity, whilst providing a new route to market for BT's Global IP Exchange Voice and interoperability services in the region.
We have also strengthened Bahrain’s position as a regional ICT hub and ideal provider of telecom services to its neighbouring countries through our strong global footprint and existing multitude of regional and international strategic business relations. We helped in increasing global connectivity gateways between Bahrain and the rest of the world and contributed to upstreaming telecommunications diversity by creating new links designed to expand the Kingdom’s existing connections. Our business connections also enabled VIVA to introduce a rich set of new telecommunications channels and platforms for the community in partnership with high-profile solution providers from across the world.
According to the latest indicators, at the end of the second quarter of 2016, there were about 2.8 million mobile subscriptions in Bahrain, representing a mobile penetration rate of 201 per cent. What is your assessment on the growth potential the market has before it becomes saturated?
Bahrain is one of the most competitive market. There’s about 200% penetration, which translates to an average acquisition of 2.5 or 2.2 devices per person. An eye opening fact like this makes you think of the many opportunities that lie ahead of your business. You begin to explore new revenue streams, new business models, profits and services, that would be better for your business and customers’ life. That’s why we see many ICT companies across the world looking into new business opportunities across the world.
VIVA identified the business opportunities in Bahrain at the early stages and launched with a forward-thinking strategy that delivers on 200% penetration. We started investing heavily in ICT and the core technologies needed to really help shape the telecommunications sector and lead the society to a new digital era. Our strategy today remains just as strong as we are focused on health and education sectors rather than just business. We also have much developments in plans for the banking and utilities sectors.
Moving forward, we believe that this era is one that requires high levels of cross-industry collaboration. Sectors such as telecom, banking, health and education must collaborate together and push one another to new heights. We are continuously exploring new ways to improve our offerings and provide technologies which would allow our customers to experience streamlined and seamlessly connectivity around the clock. We have already launched the region’s first digital solutions rooted in that very insight. Our products under “Connected life” deliver on our vision to connect all aspects of life under one network, be it your home, your cars, your health and even your kids.
How are you further working in cyber security measures?
Another area VIVA is currently investing in is cyber security. With today’s consumers growing heavily reliant on cloud computing and data consumption, data security requirements have climbed to the top of businesses’ priorities. VIVA has for that reason collaborated with industry leaders to build the country’s first Cyber Defence Center, reinforcing our position as more than just a standard telecom operator. We have genuine interest in providing value services for consumers and are entirely committed to delivering global standard innovations that would truly benefit the community.
The 200th Year Anniversary celebration of friendship between the two Kingdoms and the recent visit of the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Theresa May shed new light on strengthening bilateral ties and providing new opportunities to increase trade and co-operation. How can VIVA benefit from this strong relation? Where would you like to see further cooperation?
Many opportunities lie in the 200-year long relationship between Bahrain and the UK. We already share a unique partnership with British Telecom with whom we collaborated with to deploy the Middle East’s first Global IP Exchange interpretability hub in Bahrain. With the launch of the GIPX hub, VIVA delivers hosting and connectivity, whilst providing a new route to market for BT's Global IP Exchange Voice and interoperability services in the region. VIVA Bahrain had also joined hands with one of the greatest football clubs in the world, Manchester United Football Club, which enabled our customers to benefit from a host of unique and exclusive services and bring international football expertise to the Kingdom.
Moving forward, VIVA Bahrain will continue to drive multiple initiatives to consolidate its leading position in the consumer, business and wholesale sectors, whilst focusing in a strategic approach to enhance customer experience and satisfaction through its diverse capabilities to continue offering the best-in-class customer service.
‘You are speaking a lot about what VIVA Bahrain has achieved in this very short span of time. You have become a market leader. You are the first one out to showcase 4G. You have also I think put the first triple beam antennae, in the world.’ What would you identify as the key elements that have positioned VIVA Bahrain as a market leader in this short span of time and why can VIVA Bahrain precisely be the perfect partner of choice for foreign companies?
Many factors form VIVA’s success equation, one of which is our dedicated employees. With a throughout understanding of commercial and technical requirements, VIVA has a customer-minded team that is dedicated to achieve VIVA’s vision of becoming Bahrain's communication leader by enriching the lives of our customers in an increasingly connected world. Along with Bahrain’s supportive business environment and liberalized telecommunications market, VIVA marshalled a wealth of growth.
Our forward thinking strategy and commitment to deliver on our promise is also key to our growth. We continuously work towards enriching our customers’ lives by offering innovative telecommunication services and developing strong relationships with customers by offering superior customer experience. We recognize Bahrain’s highly competitive telecom market and place great importance on providing products and services that give us a competitive edge and enable the community to operate more effectively and cost efficiently.
We are constantly striving to keep up with the world’s strictest telecommunication standards and remain responsive to the customer’s evolving demands to keep current in this dynamic environment.
We know that VIVA Bahrain is also very active in CSR. You have helped with Health, Education and Housing. Can you share some of these initiatives?
Our strategy from day one was very mindful of our social responsibility mandate. We still have documents from VIVA’s early days about our CSR strategy that specifically contained four bullets. One of them was to be a socially responsible company and to make sure that we are a good corporate citizen in Bahrain.
In line with VIVA’s mission to ‘Make a positive difference in the local community’ by promoting a knowledge-based society and participating in community development programs’, we created VIVA Jusoor, which means “Bridges” in Arabic. This Corporate Social Responsibility programme is dedicated to the development and execution of sustainable projects to benefit the local community by connecting people and facilitating a free exchange of experiences, ideas and information.
Drawing on the many CSR initiatives and causes we have launched, I believe one of the most successful ones was of our first initiatives built around autism. At that time, autism was still relatively under the radar with not much awareness built. We challenged this idea and launched a fully-fledged idea to promote the advocacy of inclusion which generated great awareness about autism.
Another key aspect of our CSR program is supporting the special needs community in Bahrain. With the support of the Ministry of Social Development, we provide our special needs customers a great discount of 50% on telecom products and provide them access to special programmes help them gain the skills required to live a normal life.
Youth development and education is also one of the main pillars of VIVA Jusoor as we believe it’s a key tool for diversifying the economy and addressing work force gaps. We have many strategic talent initiatives aimed at strengthening the skills of fresh graduates and helping them transition into a successful professional career. We have also launched many education-driven initiatives that foster local talent and promotes healthier lifestyles. For example, VIVA Bahrain has entered into strategic partnerships with the Bahrain Football Association and the Royal Golf Club. All of these partnerships aim at promoting sports at grass roots level and to assist the youth of Bahrain to enhance their skills and elevate the level of sporting talent across the Kingdom.