Pandemic boosts demand for fibre-based broadband in Oman

Demand for optical fibre-based broadband connectivity has soared in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, as efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic encouraged the large-scale adoption of remote working, online studying, and eServices in the Sultanate.

According to a key industry executive, Oman’s telecom sector has been least impacted by the pandemic having, on the other hand, benefited from a strong uptick in demand for video-conferencing, VoIP, and other applications that were regulated in the past.

Bader al Zaidi (pictured), acting CEO of Oman Broadband Company, said the pandemic, and the measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has underscored the critical importance of robust telecom infrastructure in enabling ‘Work From Home’ policies to succeed during the lockdown.

Wholly-government owned Oman Broadband Company was founded in 2014 to invest in the rollout of fiber-based broadband infrastructure across the Sultanate and thereby support the delivery of Oman’s National Broadband Strategy.  The infrastructure is leased to licensed telecom service providers to enable customers to efficiently leverage high speed fibre connectivity in the Sultanate.

In a video interview hosted this past week by the Fiber To The Home (FTTH) Council Middle East and North Africa, an industry organisation with a mission to accelerate FTTH adoption by all broadband stakeholders, Al Zeidi said that customer demand for broadband connections surged during the February – April period of this year as pandemic prevention measures forced people to operate from the safety of their homes.

Al Zeidi, who is a board member of the FTTH Council MENA, said the pandemic opened up opportunities for the adoption of applications, technologies and digitalization based on the use of fibre infrastructure.  With the use of fibre-based broadband, users were able to experience the full benefit of applications that require rich bandwidth which is not available with older technologies, he noted.

In this regard, the official credited the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) for its decision to lift long-standing curbs on VoIP calls and also enable the use of video-conference apps to support Work From Home, online study and other remote working practices advocated by the government.

While the telecom sector has been largely unscathed by the pandemic, it has however endured some impacts, said the official.  The departure of a sizable number of expatriates from the country, just before flights were suspended, triggered a “lot of requests for termination” of services, he said.

Additionally, about 10 percent of new customers worried about the risk of exposure to the virus, refused entry to contractor staff tasked with bringing the fibre connections from the boundary wall into their homes.

Commenting on the security aspects of fibre-based broadband, Al Zeidi insisted that the infrastructure offers better protection against hacking and theft in comparison with wireless and satellite-based communications.  This is because fibre-based communications offer three layers of security: firstly, the physical security stemming from, among other factors, the cable’s burial underground; secondly, security that comes with data protection; and thirdly, security offered by the IP networks. Additionally, fibre is not sensitive to radiofrequency and is thus not easily vulnerable to attack compared to other communication technologies, he added.