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Kuwait calling

Interview - February 20, 2012
Mr. Salman Albadran, CEO of VIVA Telecom, discusses the future of telecommunications in Kuwait

In terms of its general economy, what do you think lies ahead for Kuwait?

We’re excited about Kuwait development plan, which includes an ambitious spending plan that was adopted recently by the Kuwaiti parliament. This is a great opportunity for the Kuwaiti economy in general, and for the telecommunications industry in particular. 

While the plan does not earmark a particular budget directly to the telecommunications sector, the latter stands to benefit significantly from the heightened economic activity stemming for the various mega-projects included in the plan. Kuwaiti customers, and particularly the youth segment, are among the most sophisticated in the region. This sophistication stems from high literacy rates and a proven interest in technology and social media, as shown by the relatively high penetration of blogging (both traditional and micro) in the population. This is a key ingredient to develop a knowledge-based economy, and I think Kuwait has it and should build on it going forward.

And how about the telecommunication sector in particular? What is the outlook globally, and withinn Kuwait?

The Kuwaiti telecommunications market enjoys strong fundamentals, thanks to robust demand, a relatively low penetration and an attractive ARPU. With three competing mobile operators, I also believe the number of alternative operators is adequate for a market like Kuwait.

However, the sector lacks a holistic regulatory framework. As it is the case in comparable situations, late-entrants such as VIVA are the ones facing the most demanding challenges. The regulatory framework in Kuwait is suffering from two key, intertwined, issues. The first one is structural, the main aspect of which is the absence of an independent telecom regulatory agency. Kuwait remains one of the very few countries in the region where the ministry of communication is wearing the hats of a government body, a regulator and an operator, all at the same time. I am aware that the Kuwaiti parliament is about to address this issue as part of a revised Telecom Act, but my point is that this is long overdue.
The second issue is about legislative activity, or rather the lack thereof. Indeed, there is a long list of standard components of mobile telecom regulation that are still not addressed in Kuwait, and we are the ones most impacted because we are smaller and newer than our competitors. The list includes, but is not limited to, Interconnection, Licensing, Infrastructure sharing, Dominance/Market Power and of course Mobile Number Portability. All need to be urgently addressed to enable the telecom industry in general to reach its true potential.

Globally and in Kuwait, future mobile telecom spending will be driven by the 4G network infrastructure wave, which VIVA has pioneered in Kuwait through the exclusive introduction of HSPA+ mobile broadband, delivering bandwidths of up to 42 Mbps. 4G is opening up unprecedented data speeds, which in turn enable exciting new products and services for our customers. Viva is actively engaged along this path, with several planned network upgrades and new services that we will announce in due time.    

Tell us about VIVA Telecom, and your plans for the business.

Viva is the third and newest operator in Kuwait. We launched three years ago, and have been enjoying a robust growth story ever since.

I think VIVA has taken competition in Kuwait to a whole new level since it entered three years ago. We were the first to abolish call reception fees in the Kuwait market because we felt the Kuwaiti market has reached a maturity stage where this move made full business sense. This has provided unprecedented value to mobile subscribers in Kuwait, and we are happy to take credit for that. We continue to lead the market in innovation, whether in the introduction of new services, attractive handsets or continuous improvement in customer service.

Our main competitive advantage is probably the fact that we put our customers at the heart of everything that we do. We know how to connect with them, be it through our sales network, our call centers or through social media. We are continuously engaging in a dialogue with our customers, and that’s how we keeping providing them with the best services.

Going forward, Viva is indeed in the fortunate position of having and being able to pursue several growth areas at the same time. Mobile broadband, where we continue to deliver the best products and prices in the market, is one of them. Enterprise communication is another one, where we will be deploying soon a full range of products and customer care packages that will make us the preferred telecommunications partner for most corporations in Kuwait.

And of course, we believe there is plenty of opportunity still in the core markets of postpaid and prepaid services, where we have seen tremendous growth over the last year, thanks to our targeted packages and leading handset offerings. I am personally very excited about the many growth opportunities for VIVA in Kuwait.