Khalid Al Dhabbi, general manager of satcom services provider, YemenSatcom, talks to SatellitePro ME about the imminent launch of YahClick services across Yemen.
We are talking of supplying speeds of 10Mbps to homes. This is unheard of in Yemen where the fastest you have is 2Mbps and even then, in reality, you will get only 256k
It was the political uncertainty around 2011 that saw an exodus of oil and gas companies from Yemen, that had Khalid Al Dhabbi, general manager of satcom services provider, YemenSatcom, thinking about alternative verticals.
Today the oil and gas companies have started to come back, but Al Dhabbi is just a month away from diversifying into the hitherto unknown, albeit exciting territory of consumer broadband.
SatellitePro ME caught up with Khalid Al Dhabbi, enroute to Yemen for a two-month preparation for the launch of Yahclick, Yahsat’s consumer broadband service in Yemen.
Al Dhabbi has partnered with Dubai-based SkyStream towards launching this service. Asked for the reason behind the partnership, Al Dhabbi says, “There are two main reasons. We have a history of dealing with Skystream for over a decade and secondly we add value to each other given our strong presence in the region and Yemen respectively.”
With an eye on the future, Al Dhabbi hopes that their partnership will allow them to expand operations in parts of East Africa. Currently it is all systems go for YahClick across Yemen.
“We have established a new call centre with a new billing system for Yahclick. Both the hardware and software has been sourced and developed in the UAE. In addition to customer our target for the first year based on the initial forecasts worked out with Yahsat.”
Going by past experience, Al Dhabbi believes the target is modest.
“When GSM was launched in Yemen, the forecast was 30,000 subscribers in year one. But we ended up with 200,0000 subscribers. And now after eight years, we have three million subscribers. So while corporate customers are our first logical targets, we are not underestimating the consumers.”
The challenging landscape of Yemen, the dispersal of population and the history of indifferent infrastructure – all lend credibility of sorts for the optimism underlying Al Dhabbi’s forecasts for Yahclick.
“Though Yemen has a population of 25 million, it is dispersed widely over urban and non-urban areas. So there are limitations to the spread of fibre. Moreover, terrestrial broadband is not of very good quality primarily because of the inadequate amount of bandwidth the government provider purchases. And what makes matters difficult, the provider does not distinguish between consumer and business users.”
The coming two months will be busy says Al Dhabbi with firstly the Alpha phase, where the equipment will be tested internally followed by a soft launch where the service will be offered to 50 pre-selected customers.
“This is a process that has been laid out by Yahsat. The idea is to work with existing customers with who we have a good relationship while we are in the initial troubleshooting phase.”
The USP for Yahclick, in Yemen, in Al Dhabbi’s words, is the bandwidth.
“We are talking of supplying speeds of 10Mbps to homes. This is unheard of in Yemen where the fastest you have is 2Mbps and even then, in reality, you will get only 256k. I would like to see people’s faces as they experience our service. You will not have to wait endlessly for websites to buffer. While consumer packages will range from 1mb to 10mb, for businesses it will start from 2mb to 15mb.”
When you consider the cost of VSAT equipment, the cost of the Hughes modem and a 70-cm antenna is very reasonable, also keeping in mind the huge improvement in quality of service
The US $600 for equipment is not a worry for Al Dhabbi.
“When you consider the cost of VSAT equipment, the cost of the Hughes modem and a 70-cm antenna is very reasonable, also keeping in mind the huge improvement in quality of service.”
From B2B to B2C
With a history of B2B dealings with corporates and oil and gas companies, Al Dhabbi concedes that consumer broadband is a new area and will be a challenge in terms of operations.
“For the first time we will be moving into a B2C operation. With the setting up of the help desk, we are already making critical shifts in our approach. The customer service training at Yahsat underlined the need to make those customer-friendly shifts in operations.”
Excited about the prospect of diversifying his business, Al Dhabbi believes that while the target is 1% of internet users in Yemen, his company will quite easily exceed those targets to reach 2 to 3% of the internet users. He is also hoping for a public-private partnership of sorts with the government owned Telco, Yemen Telecom.
“With their reach and our enterprise, we will service a wider audience.”