As Mobily enters its tenth year of operating, Saudi Arabia’s second largest provider of mobile phone services has witnessed phenomenal growth which shows no sign of abating as it gears up to be a major player in ICT solutions and take over as market leader.
This year the company has earmarked SAR5 billion for infrastructure investment which includes upgrading high-speed networks, information security and data services.
This also features major ‘smart cities’ projects such as King Abdullah Economic City and Yanbu Industrial City, while taking advantage of the Saudi demographics, a population of 27 million and an average age of 22 that can’t get enough of its hi-tech services.
It has also become the first in the Middle East and Africa to launch its own Cloud Partnership Program as it moves to take advantage of the burgeoning opportunities to provide ICT solutions to businesses.
This award-winning company, which has a list of firsts almost as long as its fibre cable network (metaphorically speaking, of course), has thrived on innovation and putting its customers first by meeting their demands with the very best solutions it can muster.
It now serves in excess of 22 million subscribers and saw those figures increase fourfold over a six-year period between 2007 and 2013.
From the moment of its conception, the company based in Riyadh, which employs 3,600 people, has enjoyed year-on-year growth, boasts a SAR25.1billion ($6.7Bn) revenue for 2013 financial year and has stormed the market with an aggressive expansion policy.
On a mission
Today, it holds 40 percent of the market share and according to Taher AlDabbagh, Executive General Manager for Alliances and Partnership Development, will continue to strive to fulfil its vision.
“We are expanding from our core telco business into providing ICT solutions. Not every Telco does this, but we are doing so and we are doing it big time,” he said.
“We are focusing on cloud services and today we are a strong provider of both public and private cloud. This is a big area and one that is relatively new for Saudi Arabia.
“We have basically created the market around it by having the right alliances and vision to provide such services, which has required huge investments. We have taken a risk but now we are seeing it pay dividends as the market is adapting and learning.”
In June, Mobily launched a Cloud Partnership Program aimed at encouraging local entrepreneurs to develop and market their own business application in collaboration with Mobily.
The Mobily Cloud Partnership Program (MCPP) will act as a framework for collaboration between Mobily and its partners offering a wide range of benefits, training, certification and rewards.
It will give partners the opportunity to provide trusted and certified cloud computing services and to be associated with the Mobily commercial brand thus strengthening their position in the Saudi Market.
The program is already attracting many leading solution providers and at the launch Mobily had already signed up 14 partners.
It is also a timely move by the company given that research by Gartner shows 60 percent of banks worldwide will process the majority of their transactions in the cloud by 2016 and by 2017, 40 percent of utilities with smart metering will use cloud-based big data.
To support the MCPP Program Mobily also launched the first Cloud and software as a service Market Place platform in the region to open up its portfolio of Cloud, Networking and Mobility Services.
It will allow its new ecosystem partners to develop and deliver their own customised applications and solutions with differentiated value to each customer segment.
Participating Partners will have access through this new platform to gain visibility into certain Mobily systems, processes and tools and innovate with Mobily to deliver customized, finished solutions to business customers.
One such key partner is the Intel Corporation with whom it signed an agreement in February at the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona.
Mobily has become the first major cloud services provider in the Middle East and Turkey to be powered by Intel cloud technology.
The global processors manufacturer has listed the company on its official Internet site as a certified, secure and highly qualified provider of cloud computing services and placed it within an elite group of major international companies providing this service.
Certified Data Centres
Mobily is also working with other major international IT companies such as SAP, Oracle, IBM, Virtustream, Cisco and Microsoft and has spent hundreds of millions of riyal in building new data centres across Saudi Arabia to transform its ICT dream into a reality.
The Data centres now number 38 covering 65,000 square metres with a total operating capacity of 162,500 kW. A further 18 are planned over the next three to five years.
One of the data centres, the Melgha 2 in Riyadh, has scored a first on two counts. It has been classified and obtained a fourth degree or Tier IV by the UPTIME institute, one of the top global Institutions specialised in the evaluation of data centres in the world.
It also operates the largest Security Operations Management centre in the world outside the USA to serve the business sector in accordance with IBM global standards.
AlDabbagh said: “Tier 4 is a very special to achieve and to be the first outside the USA to have IBM’s specific configuration is another major milestone for us.”
Forging strong partnerships with both the international players and local providers has Mobily perfectly placed to take advantage of the many opportunities in the market.
“We strive to move up in the value chain of what we are offering,” explained AlDabbagh. “We do partnerships with companies such as WhatsApp and provide packages for the consumer.
“We are delivering Firewall and security packages with IBM to the corporate customers and at every step of the way we are looking at what the core offering is to make sure it is meeting the right needs and at the right price.
“We then look to further develop that by considering what else the customer might need, so we look to strike a partnership with a company that can add value and synergy with what we are imparting as a telco to ensure we are providing a comprehensive package to our customers.”
Mobily’s corporate business is divided between government entities and large enterprises. It currently provides services to a number of Saudi government departments including the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Interior.
It has also secured business with many of Saudi’s leading banks and financial institutions such as the Saudi Commercial National Bank and big corporates such as the Saudi Aramco, the nation’s national petroleum and natural gas company, and diversified manufacturing company SABIC.
But just how did it all start for this forward-thinking telco? Mobily was first established in 2004 by Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based telecom conglomerate, and is the official brand name of Etihad Etisalat.
Licensed to thrill
It officially launched on May 25, 2005 after being awarded a 25-year telecommunication mobile license complemented by the purchase of a 3G license.
The telco then quickly became the first Saudi company to get an operation licences for third generation services (3G), 4G and LTE services, and beyond.
“I was lucky enough to be part of the team who started out in those early days,” said AlDabbagh. “
“We knew that the market wanted agility and the customer wanted a good experience so we focused on delivering that at all the touch points, be it the retail outlets, be it the distribution centre or be it the partner or in customer care.
“We came with a very strong customer-centric approach and in a very short space of time had sold one million lines and quickly tapped the market to reach our 40 percent share.”
Delivering first class customer experience is a huge priority and Mobily takes a four-pronged approach to ensure they get it right, the main elements of which are: empowerment, communication, personalisation and making sure the customers get a wow factor.
In March 2008, Mobily was granted approval by the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) to acquire Bayanat al-Oula, a licensed Data Service Provider for a price of SAR1.5 billion.
Then in November 2008 it also acquired absolute majority stakes in Zajil, the leading Saudi IPS (Internet Service Provider).
Mobily also owns a vast majority share in the Saudi National Fibre Network (SNFN) composed of 12,800km of structured fibre cable, panned into seven fully protected rings covering 35 Saudi cities.
It also has access to 60 major hub sites for telecommunications prime points of presence, and complimented with 20 inter-metropolis fibre loops in major Saudi cities.
On the retail front, it owns or franchises more than 300 outlets and has somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 resellers.
Customers are provided with roaming services on all continents where there is a GSM operator through 420 interconnections and agreements, as well as allowing customers to call anyone on the face of the earth.
Launched in May 2007, Mobily is one of the few operators in the globe which offers an unlimited mobile broadband data bundle.
“We provide a vast range of mobile and data services and that provide different offerings, different value propositions, different segmentations for brands to meet the needs of our growing customer numbers,” said AlDabbagh.
Innovation is Mobily’s middle name and consequently it has delivered a plethora of technologies which have scored a myriad of firsts for the kingdom.
Here are a few examples: Mobily was the first company in the world to launch an iBG Star, which measures blood sugar through an Apple Store application; it devised a new method to connect subscribers’ IDs in Twitter with the customer service system CRM;
Mobily launched the innovative I-Statement service eradicating the need for paper-billing; the company provided High-Speed connectivity via fibre optics to eight Saudi universities in different regions and it created a new channel to serve customers through SMS, raising the level of customer satisfaction and experience.
The list goes on, but suffice to say Mobily is not a company that rests on its laurels. Its success over the past nine years has been down to a clear and distinct strategy which has been delivered not only by those at the very top of the company but by all its committed and loyal employees.
AlDabbagh said: “I think in general the success of any organisation is first of all having the right vision and the right leader. Definitely our Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Khalid Omar Al Kaf, is a distinguished character who has won hundreds of different prizes in the Telco market.
“We select talented and committed people and motivate them by providing them with the opportunity to grow and develop their own talents. Having everyone wanting to make a difference is one of the key contributors to our success.”
Khalid Omar Al Kaf is a computer science graduate who studied at both Boston University and George Washington University in the US, and became the chief executive in July 2005 just over a year after he started with the company as a project manager.
He started his professional career in 1986 with Etisalat (Emirates Telecommunications Corporation) working closely with Alcatel and Fujitsu on software development.
He has played a definitive role in building the state-of-the-art, 3G mobile network in UAE and is now focused on moving the company forward in line with its ICT aspirations.
Mobily offers a wide range of training programmes to nurture its talent including its Brighter Future scheme which allows individuals to study for MBAs while they are working, facilitating time for studies and exams while contributing 50 percent of the costs.
Further investments are made in executives who are encouraged to engage with courses in schools and universities across the globe.
AlDabbagh explained this his own opportunities included attending courses at the London School of Business and both Harvard and Stanford universities in the USA.
There are also specific programmes aimed at graduates such as the new Mobily Elite scheme which aims to attract 50 of the brightest young Saudi talents to work within the company.
The programme aims to draw national young talents with outstanding capabilities through competency-based selection methods.
Furthermore there is encouragement for every single employee to come up with ideas which if successful, are once a year rewarded by having their winning idea implemented.
The company is also committed to making the right impact with wider stakeholders such as the community it serves and the environment it operates in.
It pays particular attention to education and healthcare and has implemented a wide-range of initiatives and programmes aimed at giving back to the community.
On-going programmes include a project to teach Saudi females smartphone programming and maintenance, which was launched in cooperation with the National Institute for Women’s Training and aims to train 1,000 women over the next three years.
There is continued support for the Disabled Children Association in Riyadh which included the first exhibition of inventions serving people with special needs.
It has also offered financial support for the Zamzam society by contributing the medical and healthcare costs of more than 820 people.
In the company’s 2013 annual report, Managing Director Khalid Omar Al Kaf summed up what he believes will be the future for Mobily.
He said: “The pace of change is relentless. What once seemed remarkable is now routine, yet I believe we are only at the early stages of a transformation that will eclipse everything we have seen so far.
“From merely providing mobile telecom services, at one time the ultimate in new technology, the future of our industry now lies in cloud computing, information security, IT solutions, and a new wave of high-speed data networks. And as always, Mobily is leading the way.”
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