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Satellite Company Es’hailSat may be a young firm but it is making some

big strides in the broadcasting arena.

Toni Vicenti reports

Broadband is such a central part of any economy’s

infrastructure these days that it is sometimes easy

to forget that it requires constant investment and


Ilkley Satterthwaite reports

Dr. Hessa Al Jaber,

Minister of Information

and Communications


AL Jaber is an engineer, academic and

politician and is the first-ever minister

of Information and Communication

Technology (ICT) in Qatar following the

formation of the nation’s new Cabinet by

emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani in

2013. She is also the third Qatari woman to

assume a ministerial position in the state.

The role of the ministry is wide indeed.

“We are the policy maker for the ICT sector.

We are responsible for eGovernment, for

part of the cyber security, Q-Post and we

oversee the telecoms regulator,” says Al

Jaber (pictured) who is justifiably proud of

the industry-leading state of the ICT sector

in the country. “We are number one in the

region in terms of network readiness. When

it comes to the penetration rate of mobile

and 4G we have covered almost the whole

of Qatar. So overall we have very advanced

mobile communication. Eighty five per cent

of households are connected to a very high

speed fibre optic network. We have set very

clear targets that by 2016 we will have 50

meg for uploads and 100 meg for downloads

and this will deliver us a very speedy

infrastructure,” Al Jaber says.

This enviable level of development is

aimed at servicing every sector from small

and medium enterprises to big business

through to government and residential users.

In terms of open data, the ministry is in

the process of creating a back end that will

govern all public data and will be accessible

to anyone in the nation and facilitate

innovation. “We already have an economic

portal that has been there for almost six years

and we have all the government services

and now we are really enhancing it with

information,” says Al Jaber. “We have the

policy and regulation covering open data,

eParticipation policy, privacy laws that will

be issued soon. This is where we are at now

and for the next 10 years we have set very

clear targets. ICT will play a major role in

the government’s objective of diversification

away from hydrocarbons.”

The recurrent theme of all government

and business in Qatar at present is the

issue of diversification away from over-

reliance on hydrocarbons revenues, and the

ICT sector is playing a major role in this.

However, Qatar is realistic that the world of

ICT is truly a global one and to find the best-

of-the-best means inviting collaboration

and participation from players from around

the region and around the world. “Around

the globe ICT is developing around a

small number of themes: Big Data, Cloud

Computing, the Internet of Things and so on.

Now, we don’t develop these technologies

but this is what will be driving the ICT

space in Qatar. If you aim to be the leading

knowledge economy in the region by 2020

and this is our aim, can we do this? Yes,

we can do this because we have the right

infrastructure and the right policy and the

right regulation,” says Al Jaber. “We are

working very hard to make sure that our

regulation sits in line with international best


It is easy enough for Qatar to attract

foreign capital and expertise in its lucrative

gas sector. But is it so easy in the lower-

profile ICT sector? “There is no geographic

boundary to technology so if we do

nothing to make sure that we have the right

environment to attract, retain and encourage

the creation of companies here in Qatar, then

these companies will simply do so overseas.

This is all part of becoming the leading

knowledge economy in the region by 2020,”

Al Jaber says. “We know that cyber security

is very critical and this is the number one

growth market in the Middle East. If we

don’t provide the right environment for

small companies to grow then we will end

up dependent upon other countries in 10

years’ time.”

With much of the west still in financial

meltdown after the global financial crisis

and with the USA only just beginning to

crawl out of recession, Qatar is looking

increasingly like a very comfortable oasis

in the middle of an economic desert. “When

businesses come to Qatar, they are thinking

about two things: overall profitability and

trust. If they are forming a partnership

with someone here they need to be able to

trust them. We have the telecom regulatory

website, the ministry website, we have

the eGovernment website where people

can come and get information. Policy is

something that can be changed, but law is

much harder to change and in Qatar we have

already issued a number of laws and are

working on others just to reassure foreign

partners,” Al Jaber says. “Our privacy laws

are now almost in their final stage. We are

also working on a written media law. People

like Google know that the future is about

data, it is about digital content and people

need to know that they will own the digital

content that they create here and the law

should be very clear for them.”

Indeed the entire public and private

sector in Qatar is only too aware that

partnership, collaboration, JVs and the

sharing of expertise are the only safe routes

to success in a sector that is as fast moving

as ICT. Al Jaber is sanguine about this,

“We will always depend on international

companies in ICT but I

really don’t want to see

a situation where

only 10 per cent of

the revenue will

stay here and 90

per cent will be



want to see it

help to build

Qatar. I am a

big believer in

being realistic about what we can do. The

Qatari population is around 300,000 and

only 50 per cent is of working age and this

will help define the proportion of Qataris in

the workplace.”


it is increasingly important to make sure that

the next generation is as technologically

savvy as possible and ready to take up the

reins of business and government when the

time comes. Al Jaber’s ministry already has

a plan for this. “We also need to make sure

that young Qataris work as hard as they can

and that are stretched as much as they can

to achieve the best results. To really make a

difference you need to know how smart you

are. If you cannot compete with the best of

what is coming from abroad, then you will

lose. It is very important to develop the right

skills. I work with a lot of young Qataris

and many of them are highly motivated to

change the world. We need to make sure

that the working environment drives them to

their maximum potential. Only by doing this

will we become the leading digital economy

in the region by 2020 and I really believe

that we can achieve this.” And these

efforts seem to be paying off. “We

have a huge number of very well

educated Qatari youngsters:




quality of the education that

we have to offer. Graduates

of Qatar University can go to

any university in the world

to pursue their studies. They

are amazing.”

There’s always

magic in the air

THERE is a new star shining above Qatar, soon to become a

growing constellation. The entity responsible is Qatar’s young

satellite company Es’hailSat, named after the Es’hail star which

becomes visible in the night sky of the Middle East as summer

turns to autumn and heralds cooler weather.

At the helm of the firm is Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari, a former

assistant secretary general and finance director of ictQatar, who

shared with us Es’hailSat was established more out of neces-

sity than choice. “This project started back in 2009 when Qatar

started to face broadcast transmission troubles duringAl Jazeera

Sport’s coverage of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. They

lost a substantial amount of revenue because their broadcast sig-

nals were attacked by neighbouring countries quite deliberately.

We have the same kinds of attacks today. It is common practice,

especially in this region because of lack of regulation, an ab-

sence of policies and difficulty to identify the location of the

interference. And even if identified, you don’t have the power to

switch it off. The reasons for the interference could be political

or commercial,” says Al-Kuwari.

To counter this and ensure that Qatar could continue to

broadcast unimpeded, Es’hailSat undertook a programme of

satellite launches to guarantee independence. Es’hail 1 satellite

was the first step on a long path. From placing an order to hav-

ing a satellite in orbit typically takes three years. Es’hail 1 was

successfully launched mid last year and today is in commercial

service. Es’hail 2 is in development and is expected to launch at

the end of Q4 2016. Es’hail 3 is already well under way in the

planning stage with a fleet of satellites to follow.

Al-Kuwari says, “Es’hail 1 satellite has been operational

for one year now and we have started generating revenues. The

satellite serves Al Jazeera, beIN Sport, Qatar TV and Qatar

Army but we also serve other customers outside of Qatar be-

cause this is a strategic and commercial project. Today we have

30 plus channels. Our target is to increase viewership levels. We

don’t just want to be seen to be serving Qatar. We are serving

all in the region.”

The rationale for the satellite fleet has mixed justifications.

“It is both strategic and commercial. From a strategic point of

view, part of it has to do with state sovereignty, service avail-

ability, reliability, independence and to meet the Qatar 2030

Vision in terms of diversification,” says Al-Kuwari. “Commer-

cially, we want to move away from being only a hydrocarbon-

based economy. The government has spent a lot of money in

establishing this company and our first two satellites will make

enough revenue to expand without relying on government fund-

ing. By 2017 this company should be self-financing. This is our

main goal.”

“Satellite is a new area for Qatar in which expertise was

fairly thin on the ground. The establishment of Es’hailSat was

the impetus to deploy Qatari engineers to focus on the satellite

arena, to monitor its progress and to attend lectures on the com-

mercial aspects of satellite. “Today we have Qatari engineers

fully trained and have a plan to send others to Japan for further

training. We also have Qatari students sitting in Surrey Univer-

sity studying satellite technology as part of our human develop-

ment initiative in support of the national vision.”

Es’hailSat faces the same problems as other satellite com-

panies around the world but the biggest problem is easily identi-

fied. “Spectrum is our biggest challenge. Qatar started late in

this business and there is opportunity for the UK to lease some

clean spectrum to Qatar,” says Al-Kuwari with an eye firmly

on the future. “Es’hail 1 and 2 are enough to let us cover the

MENA region but with the arrival of Es’hail 3 we will look fur-

ther afield. We will look for acquisitions, JVs, partnerships and

Asia is the market for that. Europe is full of satellite operators

but we are looking at opportunities in Asia and Africa.”


shines brightly

BROADBAND is a central part of

the modern communication matrix,

affecting everything from schools

up to government departments and

everything in between. Qatar National

Broadband Network plays a critical

role in supporting the realisation of

Qatar National Vision 2030 and the

attendant National Broadband Plan.

Mohamad Ali Al Mannai, CEO of

Qatar National Broadband Network,

is fully aware of the scale of the

undertaking he faces and the pivotal role

that QNBN plays in the whole Qatari

development jigsaw. “The wireless

sector here has seen competition but the

wired sector has not yet seen the same

level of competition. The government

recognised that and has taken the

required steps to make sure that the

wired sector will also benefit from the

same level of competition. They decided

that the best option was to create a

company that would provide the base

infrastructure and enable the different

service providers to use it,” says Al


The challenge with wired line

business lies in building the cable

infrastructure and in this regard has a

lot in common with other utilities like

electricity and water. Cable companies

need to be able to lay cables and connect

every home and every business. It is a

time-consuming and capital-intensive

endeavour that the private sector

generally does not want to undertake.

Qatar tackled the problem by

establishing QNBN. Al Mannai is very

bullish: “Our growth is continuing. As

a wholesaler, we don’t have competitors

but we don’t sell to the end consumer.

We sell to the telecom operators on

a wholesale basis. We are the only

wholesaler in the region that operates

in domestic fibre connectivity. We lay

the cable and the operators come and

light it with their laser beams. We have

a 25-year license and whether or not

there is competition brought into this

sector will depend very much on the

Communications RegulatoryAuthority.

At present, nothing is planned.”

The target of QNBN is to achieve

95 per cent fibre optic coverage of

Qatar by 2016 and progress to date

has been swift with the nation roughly

80 per cent covered at present with

fibre technology. Because of the sheer

scale of the undertaking, central

government funding is pretty much a

prerequisite. “QNBN is owned by an

entity called ICT Holding and chaired

by the minister of telecommunications.

So we are owned by the government.

ICT Holding tends to invest in

areas that the private sector is not

attracted to investing in, or invests

in businesses that have a strategic

requirement for the country and tend

to be very capital intensive. It would

be hard for the private sector to invest

in the satellite sector in Qatar, for

instance,” says Al Mannai.

But QNBN is keen to develop and

attract partnerships with the private

sector, particularly with foreign entities

with capital, technology and expertise

to share. Al Mannai says, “There are

plenty of ways overseas companies can

get involved in this sector with us. Issues

around innovation and technology,

specifically on the application layers.

We see a lot of demand for this because

the majority of applications these days

operate on a global level. In the UK, for

instance, you find lots of applications

that are designed to address very local

needs and we see a gap for this in


Most of the challenges facing the

sector are fairly easy to manage but

a few pose thorny issues. “There are

still some issues around questions like

duct ownership. We are helping the

government to do some quantification

to establish what the government

owns and set a framework to establish

access to all the ducts in the country

by all operators so that we avoid

duplication of investment and make

sure that competition takes place and

that no one is blocking anyone else,”

says Al Mannai.


meets digital


Information and Communication Technology has

never been more important to the Qatar economy.

Dr Hessa Al Jaber, minister of information and

communication technology has the lowdown.

Pamula MacRan reports

Our growth

is continuing.

As a wholesaler,

we don’t have

competitors but

we don’t sell to the