Omantel to install thousands of 5G sites in Oman by 2024

Exclusive: The sultanate’s largest telecom operator says it is ahead of its target for this year

Baha Allawati, vice president of Omantel’s enterprise business, says many new jobs will come up in Oman with increased 5G usage. Alkesh Sharma / The National
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Oman Telecommunications will set up more than 2,200 5G sites in the next five years as it increases services for the high-speed network across the country.

Omantel launched the network in December and said it is ahead of its target for this year in installing 5G infrastructure.

"As per Omantel's roadmap for 5G roll-out that has been approved by the TRA, we plan to to set up 2,226 5G sites or locations by 2024. This is in accordance with the requirements of commercial use and evolvement of technology across the country," Baha Allawati, vice president of Omantel's enterprise business, told The National.

5G network promises internet speed of up to 1.2 gigabits per second, which will gradually evolve to reach 10Gbps – more than 100 times faster than 4G.

“We already have a number of 5G customers in Muscat region and in other parts of Oman,” said Mr Allawati.

He did not disclose the amount that would be invested in setting up the facilities. "The scale of investment is not only linked to the construction of sites but also with preparing other infrastructure such as core network and the backhaul."

A backhaul is a high-capacity line that transmits signal from a remote network to another site, usually a central one.

The sultanate’s largest telecom operator is 51 per cent owned by the State General Reserve Fund – a sovereign wealth fund – while the remaining 49 per cent is publicly-owned.

Besides using its own infrastructure, Omantel will also use the fibre network of the state-owned Oman Broadband Company to meet the requirements of higher bandwidth in 5G, said Mr Allawati.

Etisalat, the UAE's biggest telecom operator, became the first service provider in the region last year to offer a network that supported 5G smartphones for commercial use. Soon after, the UAE's second operator Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company and Bahrain's Batelco followed suit.

Omantel is using the services of multiple vendors, including Huawei, to procure equipment required for the smooth transmission of 5G services. 

“We are following multiple-vendor model and there are special teams looking after the security of equipment and infrastructure,” said Mr Allawati.

Huawei – a key 5G services provider – has faced scrutiny over the past year after the US alleged the company was using its equipment to spy for the Chinese government. It is a claim that Huawei denies.

Mr Allawati said: “So far, there has not been any concrete evidence that Huawei has those [spying] particular motives … If you look around, a lot of European operators have chosen Huawei.”

Omantel, which is the first 5G provider in the country, offers services in various parts of Muscat, Al Batinah North and Al-Batinah South.

"We will continue to work towards connecting the network to more areas," said Mr Allawati, who projects "thousands" of new jobs emerging out of the increased 5G usage in the country.

“TRA has signed an agreement with Huawei to train 1,000 individuals on 5G tech … this number will be growing exponentially.

“Many new verticals are coming up and we just need to be ready for that. The new jobs will be in thousands,” he said.

Omantel’s revenues increased by 18.6 per cent to reach 2.59 billion Omani rials (Dh24.71bn) last year while net profit grew more than 43 per cent to 299.7m Omani rials, according to the preliminary earnings posted on Muscat Securities Market, where Omantel’s shares trade.

Ooredoo ended the monopoly of Omantel in the sultanate when it started its operations in 2004. Anticipating an entry of a third mobile operator, Omantel bought a stake in Kuwait's telecom operator Zain for more than $2.1bn in 2017. It is the company's second-largest shareholder after the Kuwait Investment Authority sovereign fund.

Vodafone, which joined forces with Oman Future Telecommunications last year, is expected to start its operations in Oman later this year.

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