VIVA’s success can be attributed to the trust and support of the local community
Exclusive Interview with Ulaiyan Wetaid, CEO, VIVA Bahrain
Khalid Athar: Please tell us about the broadband customer base of VIVA Bahrain and your current LTE service? Are you planning further developments to your mobile broadband services?
Ulaiyan Al Wetaid: In early 2014, VIVA launched its 4G service backed by nationwide 4G coverage across the Kingdom offering customers an exceptional experience and enabling them to enjoy real-time video, media streaming and downloading.
Recently, we achieved the successful completion of VIVA’s first 4G network upgrade, further reinforcing it as the fastest and widest in the Kingdom. The upgrade will boost customers experience by adding 50% to the overall network speed, offering now up to 150 mbps and the ability to handle major network capacity and continue delivering next-generation technologies.
Having already established Bahrain’s widest 4G network with more than 500 4G sites across the country, VIVA’s recent upgrade meets the growing needs of Bahrain’s highly connected environment and fulfils customers’ ongoing demand for expansion of existing and new services, which creates more demand for voice and data capacity.
We are also proud of having recently achieved a global breakthrough by successfully implementing, for the first time commercially, Huawei’s triple-beam antenna technology. This innovative technology, delivers more performance and capacity, allowing VIVA to continue offering higher quality telecommunications services, whilst enhancing our customers’ connectivity at events or locations were data demand is extremely high.
This year, VIVA Bahrain will continue to focus in investing on its broadband infrastructure to further enhance our market leadership.
KA: How important is the role of Mobile Broadband services for VIVA in growing its average revenue per user (ARPU)?
UW: In Bahrain we have seen much of the decline in voice usage ARPU offset by increasing revenue from data. Driven by the use of our 4G LTE network, revenues from data have grown significantly as consumers – and indeed businesses – recognize the value of a high-speed network.
As smartphone penetration continues to rise, mobile broadband services continue to play a relevant role for VIVA to grow its ARPU.
KA: How is VIVA coping with the competition from OTTs strategically?
UW: Whilst OTTs can be seen as a threat, they also present new/untapped revenue opportunities for MNOs. In view of this, VIVA Bahrain has partnered with OTTs to continue offering customers new and innovative services in various areas including Mobile Payment whereby our customers can use VIVA credit to buy apps from Samsung, Windows and Huawei app stores, Video On Demand and LIVE TV, with partnerships with BeiN, MBC Shahid Plus, Starz Play and others; as well as Music streaming services from Deezer, Anghami and Saavn, along with Gaming entertainment platforms such as Steam.
KA: Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has recently released a draft version of a strategic market review (SMR) of the country’s telecoms market started earlier this year, designed to improve the industry’s regulatory framework. What expectations do you have from this SMR and what positive outcomes are possible as a result of this in the future? Would you like to comment on the role of TRA in Bahrain?
UW: The TRA has been playing a pivotal role in the development and growth of the telecommunications industry in Bahrain. The regulator has been taking steps to ensure consumer welfare is maximized while at the same time, protecting the interests of the industry and nurturing a climate that is conducive to growth.
The SMR is designed to reduce the regulations on the retail market and allow the natural competitive forces to shape the dynamics of the market. This will lead to increased consumer welfare and further increase the competitiveness in the market. The SMR will also lead to the deployment of the National Broadband Network, which will facilitate operators in offering higher quality and faster broadband services to subscribers across the country.
The SMR could also lead to further spectrum allocation among the operators which will lead to better quality of service and more capacity for subscribers.
KA: Please kindly talk about VIVA’s role in supporting the Bahrain community through CSR initiatives.
UW: VIVA’s success can be attributed to the trust and support of the local community and in line with our mission to ‘Make a positive difference to the local community’ by promoting a knowledge based society and participating in community development programs’, we created VIVA Jusoor. This Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 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.
Over the years, we have implemented and actively participated in several community initiatives related to sports, youth and education. One of the most prominent is the VIVA Manchester United Soccer Schools programme which has seen over 117 talented boys and girls being selected to train for a week-long in the UK.
In partnership with the Ministry of Housing, VIVA Bahrain introduced its ‘Fereej VIVA’ corporate social responsibility initiative under ‘VIVA Jusoor’, with the first phase of investments reaching over BD 100,000. The two-year sustainable community initiative has successfully served a number of low-income families by providing quality housing services and will extend its efforts to support more local families in the second phase, this year.
Another initiative with strong local resonance, is the ‘VIVA Iftar Sayem’, a ‘VIVA Jusoor’ initiative led by ‘VIVA Hands’ volunteers, aimed at distributing iftar food boxes for the less fortunate to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. More than 50,000 people across 18 locations in the Kingdom have benefited from the initiative to date.
KA: In your opinion, how can mobile technology and broadband contribute towards education? Are you currently working on any programs in this regard?
UW: Mobile technology and broadband are transforming education by allowing more sustainable development through facilitating its reach and access. These elements are powerful accelerators that assist education in fulfilling its role of being the foundation of societies and the motor for economic success.
In line with this, VIVA deployed an initiative, which is currently in trial phase, with the British School of Bahrain aimed at enhancing the students’ e-learning experience by providing reliable high-speed internet connection through cutting edge infrastructure. At the time of inception, this initiative was the first-of-its-kind to support advanced digital learning in the Kingdom.
KA: The entire Middle East is currently working on developing e-governance. How is VIVA contributing to this development and do you have any major plans in this regard?
UW: VIVA bas been working jointly with government entities in diverse projects aimed at optimizing government service delivery and citizen participation.
KA: What is the feedback from the business services division where VIVA has recently launched fixed voice solutions to businesses as well? How is VIVA supporting the current business environment in Bahrain?
UW: For VIVA Bahrain, enterprise is a core component of our growth strategy, bringing to Bahraini businesses the services and value for which we have become known in other segments. Working with enterprises is also about understanding the current and future needs of the business as a whole, and using telecoms to facilitate a wide range of technologies that help businesses create opportunities.
SMEs constitute the largest market segment of Bahrain’s economy and in view of this VIVA has introduced a wide portfolio of comprehensive telecom solutions catering to them, including leading-edge solutions such as VIVA ‘Business-in-a-Box’. This all-in-one communication package offers SMEs a free broadband router, shared unlimited data, free shared mobile minutes to other local networks, unlimited VIVA to VIVA calls and SMS, a fixed line with special number and the best LTE broadband connection. This kind of offerings assist VIVA in making significant inroads into the enterprise sector in Bahrain.
KA: What is your opinion towards the “Smart City” trend going on, how is VIVA going to contribute to this and how will “Smart Cities” support strong socio cultural development in Bahrain?
UW: Smart cities can provide significant benefits to governments, administrations and citizens alike. Telecom providers have a key role to play in the development of such smart cities by providing the infrastructure and communication capabilities.
KA: Please give us an overview of the Bahrain telecom market and your predictions for what are going to be the most trending technologies and services in this region in the coming years.
UW: There are broadly two growth avenues for telecom operators that are seeking to capture new revenue streams outside of their core business. Firstly, looking at ICT services, there is a very big potential to address customers’ needs for ICT services based on two types: vertical industry solutions, such as e-learning, e-health and e-commerce, and horizontal services, such as managed services, systems integration, cloud computing, M2M and the “internet of things”. Secondly, growth outside of the core business could also benefit from a convergence of traditional and advanced services for consumers using LTE through the adoption of shared data services and multi-screen ubiquitous access.
KA: What is your opinion on the Net Neutrality and Open Internet debate?
UW: Net neutrality and open internet would have considerable benefits on the short term for customers. However, it is paramount that the interests of operators – who have made heavy investments in infrastructure and capacities – be taken into account as OTT services riding on principles of net neutrality can significantly cannibalize revenues and lead to reduced investment from MNOs on the longer term.
VIVA feels that a balance needs to be maintained between managing the interests/investments of the service providers and enhancing consumer’s benefits of using the internet and data services.
KA: The Saudi Telecom Group is expeditiously growing both locally and internationally. Where do you see the STC group in the coming years and how do you see VIVA Bahrain’s contribution to the group in the future?
UW: STC Group is the largest telecommunications group in the region and one of the largest globally, with over 160 million customers and operations across the world. STC has been growing both organically and inorganically over the past few years, inorganically through new ventures/acquisitions.
Going forward, STC will continue to be the telecoms leader in the region and will look to continue its successful growth strategy. The Group will be looking to diversify its portfolio of services through internal capability building or partnerships/acquisitions.
VIVA Bahrain is a key component of STC’s growth strategy and we will aim to continue increasing our contribution to the Group top-line and bottom-line through our growth. We will also aim to contribute to the Group through new products and services that can benefit other OpCo’s and be replicated across the Group.