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Statement by H.E. Mr. Mohamed Al Wahaibi, Under Secretary, Ministry of Transport & Communication

Achievements in the telecommunication sector and future plans and strategies

There is no doubt that telecommunications are one of the most important elements of economic, social and cultural development in the world today and are the driving force for restructuring and reshaping business and service needs in the global economy. Technical development in the field of telecommunications is helping to change all aspects of life and advance human concepts in every part of the world. The telecommunication industry has witnessed continuous growth which, alongside the rapid development in policy and technology, has resulted in increased competition in a world dominated by expanding network coverage.

The vision

In the light of the comprehensive future vision and pursuant to the urgent efforts aimed at enabling the telecommunication sector to keep pace with contemporary trends of telecommunication sector liberalization, the Government of the Sultanate has been eager to develop the sector and participate in the formulation of a liberalization policy designed to make telecommunication services available in all parts of the country within reasonable limits and at reasonable prices.

Liberalization of the telecommunication sector

With the move toward adoption of a policy of liberalization, the monopoly position has been broken and there has been a shift toward the creation of a competitive market structure. In the interests of keeping pace with global trends, the Sultanate resolved to open up the telecommunication sector to competition in order to achieve the goals of the liberalization policy and fulfil its obligations toward the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this regard, the Telecommunications Regulatory Act was promulgated by Royal Decree 30/2002, creating the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and opening the door to competition in the fixed and mobile telecommunication services sector.

Telecommunication sector performance in the Sultanate

The continuous and rapid tangible developments in technical areas and in the economies associated with the telecommunication sector prompted the government to deploy the utmost efforts to ensure that the policies and regulatory processes adopted to keep pace with these developments were ready.

March 2005 witnessed a tangible development in the history of telecommunications in the Sultanate of Oman through the introduction of competition in the mobile telecommunication market with the entry of the Omani Qatari Telecommunications Company (Nawras). In recent years, the market has enjoyed an atmosphere in which the spirit of healthy competition between mobile telecommunication service providers has prevailed, resulting in the lowering of prices. Compared with the inherently slow growth of fixed lines, extraordinary rates of growth have been achieved in the mobile telecommunication sector, thus narrowing the digital divide.

When the new operator (Nawras) entered the market in March 2005, there were 872 650 subscribers. From then on, the number subscribers to mobile services began to rise, reaching 3 355 145 in March 2009, an increase of 284.5 per cent over March 2005.

On average, for every 100 persons, in March 2009 122 had access to mobile services in the Sultanate, compared with 37 for every 100 in March 2005.

In 2008, third-generation networks were launched by the mobile telephone operators in the Sultanate.

The year 2009 has witnessed a positive increase in the number of fixed-line subscribers, the number of such subscribers rising to 276 748 in March 2009 as against 248 546 in March 2005, a relative increase of 11.35 per cent.

The number of users of the prepaid fixed-line service, at 49 856 at end-March 2009, has increased noticeably, with the result that the share of this service in relation the aggregate total number of fixed-line subscribers represents 18% per cent.

Recently, another licence was issued for fixed-line and wireless broadband services infrastructure.
At end-March 2009, the number of Internet subscribers had reached 58 395, in comparison with 46 624 in March 2005, thereby recording a growth of 25.25 per cent, while the number of broadband subscribers rose to 35 414 and leased-line subscribers to 367.

Alongside the number of Internet subscribers and the number of Al-Ufuq (Horizon) cards which allow Internet service access, the growing number of Internet cafés in the Sultanate in 2008 also reflected the rise in Internet use. Comparing 2008 with 2004 and 2005, the number of Internet cafés experienced growth of 47.6 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively.

Total international Internet capacity rose during 2008 to 2 490 Mb/s from 1 250 Mb/s in 2007, an increase of 99.2 per cent.

In 2006, it became possible for users to retain their mobile numbers, in the hope that this would encourage competition and prompt operators to take greater care of their subscribers.

In 2006, the National Frequency Allocation Plan was formulated to ensure efficient frequency spectrum management and use. This new plan will provide support for a large number of telecommunication services, such as aviation, navigation, defence, public security and mobile telecommunications.

Future strategies

The Sultanate has embarked upon the opening up of the telecommunication market, in accordance with the provisions of the Telecommunications Regulatory Act and to ensure fulfilment of its obligations vis-à-vis WTO and the recently concluded United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement. This is within the framework of commitment to the policy of telecommunication sector liberalization, which involves the introduction of competition in telecommunication service provision. The Sultanate has recently opened up the market for value-added services, Internet service provision and audio text service.

We trust that this represents a further prominent milestone on the path of telecommunication development in the Sultanate, giving Omani citizens and residents the choice of appropriate service quality and reasonable prices from Internet service providers and audio text service providers.

Future challenges for the Sultanate include striving to provide a widening range of telecommunication services, broadband service and other services which offer innovative applications to users, and seeking new sources of revenue for operators to enable them to make radical changes in the telecommunication environment over the next few years. The government recognizes these challenges and has mobilized the necessary resources for success.