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With the opening up of the telecom market and entry of multinational technology providers, it is only a matter of time before state-of-the art technologies like IPTV are introduced in the local market.

With the imminent entry of two mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and a second fixed line service provider, multinational telecom technology providers and consultancy agencies are training their eyes on Oman, moving in with innovative technologies and solutions.

Orange Business Service, a leading technology provider, is even considering opening an office in Muscat, while Value Partners, another international telecommunication consultancy firm is looking towards strengthening its presence in the country.

Experts believe that the sultanate's major telecom players are likely to adopt next-generation technologies for delivering media services using their network as a platform.

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In Oman, the sector has tremendous growth potential for delivering media services like IPTV (high-quality digital television service delivered via Internet protocol) and video on demand services, including DVB-H," says Santino Saguto, partner and managing director of Value Partners.

The firm was involved in the launching of the 3.5G network of Oman Mobile. He adds that telecom firms here should consider these services because other countries are fast adopting these technologies.

Lionel Reina, vice-president and general manager - Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa region - of Orange Business Service, agrees.

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According to him, Omantel has an opportunity to utilise its last-mile infrastructure to deliver next generation content and interactive services such as IPTV, video on demand and online gaming.

Since the basic infrastructure for that is already in place now, he expects some exciting times ahead.

The entry of two MVNOs - Friendi and Renna - into the market will bring in competition and innovation and ultimately it is the end-users who will benefit.

"We have seen this happening in France which has one of the most dynamic telecom markets in the world." Talking about innovative services, Reina says Orange is the market leader in many areas and has more IPTV customers than any other operator in the world. There are two models in which IPTV services can be delivered to the end-users - telecom service providers can either resell the content of satellite TV channels to viewers or directly compete with the channels by getting into production and distribution of the content.

However, the successful introduction of new generation technologies, which are alternatives to traditional television broadcast, will depend on the value addition service providers can provide and the price for that. "For example, people are ready to pay a higher fee if they get football world cup matches on television.

If the television channels can telecast Hollywood movies through this new platform, there will be a high level of acceptance," says Saguto. The difference between traditional satellite TV and IPTV is that in the latter, people can get any movie on demand as per their convenience.

In fact, throughout the Gulf, telecom firms are recognising the power of using Internet protocol (IP) as a platform. It is not just a matter of migrating from legacy networks to IP-based networks, but also of the business productivity that can be derived from applications like tele-presence (for video conference), fixed-mobile convergence and other collaborations enabled by an IP environment.

"To get the most out of IP transformation, end users need an experienced partner who can demonstrate the business benefits and keep up-to-date with the rapidly changing technologies," points out Reina. Orange provides managed solutions for converged voice, data and mobile services, information technology and consultancy. "We can give service providers a foothold on next-generation services like IPTV and smart homes," he adds.

Reina says Oman and the other countries in the Middle East region are important markets for Orange, a world leader in IP-based telecom technology.

The company, which boasts of the world's largest telecom network connecting 220 countries, is offering its unique 'Solutions for Operators' programme in Oman and has been working with Omantel for over a year to develop its broadband strategy. With the help of the French company, Omantel is now able to offer ADSL 2+ broadband service, with a range of packages. Reina believes that Orange's partnership with Omantel has helped the country to take a great leap forward in terms of becoming a 'connected society' and that it is now on a par with, if not better than, the best in the region.

However, Saguto has a different view on the development of the country's broadband service. He says compared to some other countries in the region, Oman is probably less developed in certain areas like broadband, while it is well developed in areas like mobile service.

There are enough players in the mobile segment and the country has a little over 3mn mobile customers. "Oman is focusing on developing all the three crucial areas of the telecom sector - the national backbone, access network and international connections," says Saguto.

Elaborating on the plans of Orange for the region, Reina says, "We have made major investments in the region as part of our glo-bal network expansion programme. We already have a large number of customers in the region, including large multinational companies, which are looking at state-of-the-art services. We are helping them to transform legacy networks to support services like IPTV. We have also based one of our four global service centres in Cairo."

Value Partners, meanwhile, has a tie-up with Huawei and Oman Mobile for the recently launched next-generation service of 3.5G network.

The 3.5G network offers superior speed for customers on the move, and has an equally strong appeal to customers at home or in the office.

Saguto says the company provided end-to-end solutions to Oman Mobile in launching 3.5G services.

"While we covered the commercial aspects of the service, Huawei covered the technical aspects, all under the supervision of Oman Mobile. The commercial aspects included the entire value chain - customer understanding, customer requirements, product definition, tariffs, distribution and customer care. Unlike other contracts, it is more of joint sharing of responsibility on a daily basis, monitoring customer response and proposing additional services," he explains.

Saguto adds that Value Partners, which has a strong professional team of 3,000 people and 50 partners, is looking for more opportunities for consultancy services in Oman."

Getting into action
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