Qatar may further privatize efforts to develop the country’s high-speed fiber internet network by the end of this year, following a preliminary agreement between state-owned Qatar National Broadband Network (QNBN) and telecom provider Vodafone Qatar.
Shortly before Eid, Vodafone announced its intention to buy 100 percent of QNBN’s market share – a deal worth some QR210 (US$57.7) million, according to Reuters.
However, it is unclear if Vodafone would pay market value for the company, and the deal will only be finalized once the two groups decide on a final price.
Over the past three years, QNBN has been working to install the infrastructure needed to blanket Qatar with high-speed internet.
But progress has been relatively slow, and so far QNBN has covered only the West Bay area, the Msheireb Downtown Doha project, Barwa City and Barwa Commercial Avenue.
Meanwhile, incumbent telecom provider Ooredoo Qatar has also been laying fiber infrastructure over the past few years, and has so far connected some 175,000 homes and businesses.
According to Ooredoo’s website, the service now covers most of Doha, including Al Hilal, Al Saad, Abu Hamour, Al Waab, Al Markhiya, Al Wakrah and Al Wakair.
Ooredoo fiber is also available at the Pearl and in West Bay, as well as Al Rayyan, Al Kharitiyat and Izghawa.
In another show of progress, Ooredoo announced early this week that it had rolled out a free speed upgrade to its fiber customers. Those who pay for the 1Mbps monthly plan now get 10Mbps, and those who subscribe to the 10Mpbs monthly plan now have 25Mbps.
Future of fiber
Because Ooredoo has been laying its fiber concurrently with QNBN, negotiations were ongoing for who would preside over the network once the entire country is covered.
Last August, a QNBN spokesperson told Doha News that the company would possibly compensate Ooredoo for laying the infrastructure to avoid duplication of efforts and investments.
If QNBN presided over the network, both telecom providers – and any new entrants to the market – would then be free to “focus on what they do best – providing service, innovation, and customer care,” the spokesperson said.
But now, when asked about how privatization would affect those plans, QNBN told Doha News that being acquired by Vodafone was “a next logical step in the evolution of the fixed line telecommunications market in Qatar.”
The spokesperson added:
“It will also increase competition and facilitate the growth of the overall telecom market sector, helping to make Qatar a more attractive place to live and do business.”
Previously, QNBN also pledged that 95 percent of Qatar’s homes and 100 percent of businesses should be able to use fiber by 2015.
A spokesperson could not confirm to Doha News whether this deadline would still be met if Vodafone acquires the company.
Qatar is one of the most connected countries in the Middle East, with more than 96 percent of households here now online. That’s a six-point jump since last year, according to a recently released UN Broadband Commission report.
According to Qatar’s National Broadband Plan, which was launched last year, residents are expected to have a choice of at least two broadband retail providers by 2016.
Other goals include:
- Giving some 95 percent of households the ability to access affordable and high-quality broadband service of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 50 Mbps for uploads;
- Ensuring all businesses, schools, hospitals and government institutions have high-quality access to at least 1 Gbps effective symmetrical speeds; and
- Ensuring digital literacy will be expanded to all of the mainstream population, in conjunction with guarantees of users’ digital privacy, protection of personal data and freedom of opinion and expression.