Top Brass

Saudi Telecom (STC) has never been considered the most dynamic operator in the region. Despite being the largest operator in the Gulf in terms of subscribers, many of its smaller, more nimble counterparts across the region have been able to reinvent their businesses to keep pace with changing trends in the market. Under the new leadership of Saud Al Dowaish, STC is at last seeking to journey down the path of transformation.

  • E-Mail
By  Tawanda Chihota Published  May 30, 2006

|~|Al-Dowaish200.jpg|~|STC president Saud Al Dowaish would like to see the operator as a leader in solutions that subscribers are actually demanding.|~|With over 12 million mobile subscribers, 4 million fixed-line users, an ISP unit and network coverage challenges spanning the country the size of Saudi Arabia, assuming the role of president of Saudi Telecom is a daunting prospect. Following the departure of long-serving president Khalid Al Molhem at the beginning of February, Saud Al Dowaish, who had been heading up STC's mobile operation Al Jawal, was appointed president of all of STC. Given the level of competition in the Saudi telecoms market, and the government's commitment to continue to introduce further competition — be it facilities or services-based — STC executives have begun to take a long, hard look at the operator’s business and the manner in which it provides services. The aim is to look to ochestrate some drastic changes. Customer service and customer retention efforts were virtually an unknown or at best unnecessary consideration to STC, the monopoly operator, just two years ago. The granting of the second mobile licence to Etisalat-backed Mobily and the operator's subsequent launch and success, heralded a new phase in the market dynamics, and Al Dowaish acknowledges this. “The education of subscribers of the services we offer is a key point,” says Al Dowaish. “The customer wants a service that really helps him in his life and that he understands. He doesn't care about what technology you give him and that is what STC has tried to do from the beginning. We have not sold out customers technology, we have sold what they need and the services they require.” Dowaish says that STC as an organisation is devising its own strategy while keeping informed about the developments in its local, regional and international environments in order to maximise return on investment. He suggests that his main priorities for the rest of the year are be to maintain leadership in the wireless space, while pushing the 3G service the operator launched last month into the market. STC, which is also undertaking a massive project to add an additional 1 million DSL broadband lines, intends to remain committed to achieving this. “The key driver for the development of technology is the customer,” says Salman Abdulaziz Al Badran, head of mobile network at Al Jawal. “We believe we are moving in the right trend and continue to trial technologies such as HSDPA and assess market conditions for the introduction of such technologies.” Al Jawal was expected to launch 3G services towards the middle of the year, and the announcement that it had done so last month was not an attempt to steal Mobily's thunder, according to Al Dowaish, given the competitor's plan to introduce commercial service in the coming weeks. “I am going to roll out good services that the customer likes — (my objective is) not to be (just) the first, but to be the first to offer the best service,” Al Dowaish states. Five hundred 3G base stations are already fully operational in 20 cities across the kingdom with a further 460 new base stations set to go live in the coming weeks, which will further enhance coverage. Al Jawal plans to deliver 100% coverage in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, and subscribers will be able to obtain and register for the service over the phone, through call centres and online. “We will be announcing some very exciting services and partnerships that will deliver the best 3G experience to our customers, packed with enriched media and applications, helping the nation meet the needs of their dynamic lifestyles,” says Al Dowaish. “When we launch a service we always make sure it is reliable and up to our customers' expectations — so we are not going to come here and just launch a service in the middle of the city just to say that we have launched 3G. We want our customers to feel that we have got good coverage and good services.” Outside of its domestic priorities, STC now appears to have reached a point in its development where it is comfortable to actively consider expanding its activities beyond the kingdom and to start seeking opportunities in other parts of the region. Outgoing STC president Al Molhem told CommsMEA earlier in the year that up to this point, the operator had focussed on growing its business domestically given the expansion prospects that existed. He also stated that the time had now come that STC felt sufficiently confident regarding its progress on the domestic front in order to embark on an investment strategy outside of Saudi. STC showed interest in acquiring the 35% stake in Tunisie Telecom, which was on offer earlier this year and that was ultimately won by UAE investment company TECOM Investments in partnership with the Dubai Investment Group, both part of Dubai Holding. STC's latest acquisition target is the third GSM licence in Egypt, for which STC and 10 other bidders have applied. “I think we are ready to move and see other opportunities, so we will go outside when we see the opportunity is right and it has value there,” says Al Dowaish. “So we are looking. You know the opportunities are limited because most countries have two operators, so we are looking at the third licence in Egypt for example. We are studying and looking at every opportunity as a chance to take but we are still working on it. We are serious about it.” Despite STC's enthusiasm to break into foreign markets, Al Dowaish is wary of the high premiums being offered and paid for investments in the region, and remains determined not to have to overpay for opportunities as they arise. “(Whether an investment turns out to be value for money) depends on the outcome of the whole process,” suggests Al Dowaish. “This region is promising because it is underdeveloped and it is a growing market; so all these emerging markets are where the opportunity is,” he adds.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code