QNA / DOha
HE the President of the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) Mohamed Ali al-Mannai, affirmed that the telecommunications sector in Qatar has demonstrated great technical and business capacity in dealing with the repercussions of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, adding that the sector, with all its components, was able to successfully deal with the changes imposed by the current situation.
In an interview with Qatar News Agency (QNA), he said that since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis in Qatar, the CRAs first priority was ensuring telecom networks’ technical and business continuity.
This was crucial to keep essential services running without affecting the quality of service provided to the consumers, which continued to benefit from the best possible quality of service and price.
In addition, measures were introduced to guarantee that the employees relevant for ensuring the technical and business continuity are protected and stay healthy.
He added that the CRA continues to engage with the service providers, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC), the Ministry of the Interior (MoI), and the Permanent Committee for Emergency, to develop appropriate plans and processes to anticipate disasters, he added.
Thanks to these constant efforts, the service providers are handling additional traffic without affecting the quality of the services provided to consumers.
The CRA is also continuously communicating with the service providers to monitor the status of their networks, he said.
To that regard, the president of CRA noted that service providers were highly co-operative and have demonstrated a strong commitment to the provision of high-quality telecom services during these exceptional circumstances.
He pointed out that, the service providers have doubled the speed of the fixed Internet connections, as part of CRAs initiative to help customers to cope with more congested networks.
This measure was beneficial, so that in March the average download speed was of (95 Mbits), which is well above the global average (75 Mbits). The speed of the mobile internet connections which reached (78 Mbits) is also well above the global average (30 Mbits), he said adding that this information demonstrates the quality of the networks in Qatar which are coping well with these exceptional circumstances.
He pointed out that worldwide, as per the published reports, immediately after Covid-19 outbreak, the peak traffic increased on average 40% over their previous levels.
A similar traffic increase was observed in Qatar, he explained.
HE al-Mannai reiterated that CRA is committed to ensure that consumers in Qatar have access to reliable and high-quality services, adding that to this end, the CRA conducts an annual survey of mobile telecommunications and broadband services to verify that the Quality of Service (QoS) provided by the service providers in Qatar is consistent with the standards and conditions of the licenses granted to them and with the applicable regulatory framework.
The CRA is also actively engaged in developing a forward-looking and customer-oriented QoS framework.
In January 2020, the CRA published a public consultation to receive views and comments from stakeholders (consumers and telecom service providers), on the draft of this new QoS framework, including measurement methodologies and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) which are in line with international standards and best practices, he said.
He added that the CRA is now assessing the responses in view of a final draft, pointing out that the future Regulation will replace the existing license obligations.
On the other hand, the president of CRA said that in the past month, the people of Qatar have been intensively using fixed and mobile broadband services to work and learn remotely and stay connected with family and friends, which has generated additional Internet traffic and in turn put increasing pressure on the service providers.
He said that some of the key challenges for them is ensuring telecom networks’ continuity and readiness to handle the additional traffic without affecting the quality of services provided to the consumers, keeping staff safe, to have essential services running, protecting network access and integrity to avoid service disruptions or threats to customers privacy, personal data and information security.
He added that under the social distancing measures, another challenge is the management of network operations, in order to enable both installation of new services and maintenance while coping with greater network demands.
Also, service providers face the challenge to serve customers remotely which requires implementation of additional procedures to minimise threat of infection for both staff and customers.
He explained that for all these challenges, the service providers are adjusting their business models in the short term.
However, these exceptional circumstances could also be an opportunity for the service providers to focus on long term strategy aimed to push initiatives for larger digital adoption, he added.
He stressed that for the moment, in short-term aspect, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is one of the key sectors enabling digital operations on a large scale and therefore potential winner economically during this period.
He added: “There could be more positive effects for the sector. For example, the service providers could respond promptly by reviewing their portfolio of services and operational plans to benefit from demand clearly emerged during these exceptional circumstances.”
He noted that these exceptional circumstances should further enhance the co-operation with the public sector and be an opportunity to promote using eHealth and eGovernment services, eSIMs, and eShops services now and in the future, which could be beneficial in cost efficiency and better serving the customers.
In strategic perspective, CRA also clearly sees these exceptional circumstances as an opportunity to encourage public and private sectors to adopt cloud and emerging technologies, noting that there were a lot of examples globally how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT) solutions have contributed in crisis management.
With regard to the initiatives launched by the CRA in the context of responding to the repercussions of Covid-19, especially in the field of work and distance learning, the CRA president said that with the support of the MoTC, the CRA took the initiative in March 2020 in cooperation with Qatars ICT sectors key players Ooredoo Qatar, Vodafone Qatar, Microsoft, Cisco and Google Cloud to take a set of measures to help people of Qatar to learn and work remotely from home easily and securely to limit the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the risk of infection.
He noted that both service providers, Ooredoo Qatar and Vodafone Qatar, have doubled the speed of fixed Internet for existing residential customers and doubled the mobile data for residential and business customers, free of additional charges, in addition to having made an effort to connect more customers to the Internet services, either waiving the connection fees or introducing new affordable mobile broadband services.
In this regard, he noted that an effort was also made to provide residential and business customers — operating either in strategic sectors (eg health and education) or in sectors which revenues are impacted by this emergency — with speed and bandwidth upgrade for free and to support units of the government at the forefront of the fight against the Covid-19 with additional mobile data and/or minutes.
HE Al-Mannai also pointed out that the CRA is also monitoring the behaviour of the service providers to ensure that they act responsibly during these exceptional circumstances.
He further stressed that similarly, the CRA ensured that “work from home” and “learn from home” tools were available.
The CRA has been strongly supporting initiatives improving ICT services through the cloud, enabling a large number of entities to remain connected and operational in these times of social distancing, where learning and working from home are of a paramount importance.
Microsoft, Google Cloud and Cisco have supported businesses in Qatar to work remotely from home easily and securely by offering them free access to collaboration tools and security solutions for a certain period, he said that the CRA has launched also an outreach campaign in co-operation with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry that targeted businesses to inform them about how they can benefit from these free services.
He stated that in accordance with the CRA’s mandate related to allocating and managing of scarce resources like radio spectrum, the CRA has assigned a frequency to a new FM radio broadcasting station, in co-ordination with the Ministry of Culture and Sports, aiming to broadcast Covid-19 awareness programmes in Bengali language for the community speaking the language in Qatar, with the aim of promoting awareness on the precautionary measures that need to be taken in order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the country and ensuring the safety of a large proportion of people who speak the Bengali language in Qatar.
After co-ordinating with the Ministry of Culture and Sports and Qatar Media Corporation, the new FM station started broadcasting programmes in March on FM Channel (95.3 MHz), he added.
On how the CRA can contribute to limiting the damage that the telecom sector may face during this period, HE al-Mannai explained that in addition to the aforementioned initiatives, the CRA has set up a task force to monitor the status of the telecom networks and the effectiveness of the adopted measures to help individuals and businesses to cope with these exceptional circumstances.
On a regular basis, the task force will receive information from the service providers and ICT players, assess the situation and propose needed solutions.
Those solutions may cover spectrum management, new promotional packages for customers, awareness campaigns for provided collaboration tools and security solutions, he said.
Speaking to QNA, HE al-Mannai stressed that since the CRA was established in 2014, it has been working to ensure the development of highest standard mobile and fixed telecom networks and infrastructures, pointing out that to this end, the CRA continuously develops regulatory instruments to foster the development of the sector and to monitor the compliance of telecom service providers.
He said that as a result, Qatar developed an advanced ICT sector, it was ranked the second among Arab countries and 33rd globally on the Network Readiness Index report 2019, published by Portulans Institute (PI) in partnership with the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA), and 8th on ICT adoption on the Global Competitiveness Report 2019, published by the World Economic Forum.
These achievements are now helping the service providers to handle the additional traffic, he stressed.
Regarding the telecom infrastructure, he said that the CRA issued radio spectrum licenses for the Fifth Generation (5G) technology by the end of 2018, which gave Qatar’s service providers the lead in the deployment of the 5G networks in the world.
The CRA has also assigned additional radio spectrum to the service providers to enhance the efficiency and capacity of the Fourth Generation (4G) and the Third Generation (3G) networks, which had a clear impact on the quality of network coverage in various areas in Qatar and the provision of various services to all consumers in Qatar.
Likewise, around 98% of Qatar’s households are covered by a fibre-optic network.
He pointed out that to improve the Internet infrastructure and ensure the availability of advanced, innovative and reliable local Internet services, the CRA has worked on establishing a local Internet exchange point (IXP), which directly contributes to keeping the local Internet traffic inside Qatar.
The IXP saves international capacity and helps the telecom networks to handle the additional traffic, with improvements to the Internet quality, specifically reducing the latency when accessing content hosted in Qatar, which is crucial for sectors such as health and education, he said.
The president of the CRA called for the support of all stakeholders, and welcomed the co-operation from both public and private sectors, putting emphasis on the importance of unity in responding to these exceptional circumstances.
He also called on the private sector to adopt a more human-centric approach and focus more on coordinated measures beneficial to the people of Qatar, rather than on solely commercial objectives.
HE al-Mannai reiterated that the CRA will keep working closely with the market players to support them with all possible means.
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