LIVE FROM OPERATIONS TRANSFORMATION FORUM 2017, HONG KONG: Mobile operators in Kuwait offer some of the most generous data allocations in the world, with 1TB per month priced at about $35, but Zarrar Hasham Khan, CTO of VIVA (pictured), doesn’t believe this is sustainable in the long term from both a technology and behavioral point of view.

“I don’t think it can continue forever. Today we have got to the point where technology is putting a wall in front of us. We have a four-carrier network. We have spectrum for a fifth carrier, but there is no five-carrier aggregation technology that is mature,” he explained.

Khan said VIVA is arguably the operator with the highest data traffic per broadband subscriber anywhere in the world – much higher than other advanced markets such as South Korea or Japan. Its average traffic is more than 2GB per day per user. More than half its subscribers are on mobile broadband plans.

“Our baseline is a terabyte a month. You will see some really insane baseline data quotas, with no hidden text, no throttling after 35GB. It’s 1TB, no questions asked. None of the operators in Kuwait throttle video.”

The key reason for this is people in Kuwait, a country of 4.2 million people, use mobile as a replacement for fixed broadband, he said. “They have their smart TV connected to mobile and use it as their primary broadband consumption mechanism.”

Operating challenges
The operator, with 2.5 million subscribers, is looking at offloading technologies to keep the cost of delivering data down while continuing to offer a quality service.

With people in Kuwait early adopters of new technology, such as 4K video, it creates a lot of challenges – average monthly consumption is 63GB per subscriber and 57 per cent of traffic is streaming video, he said.

“This puts a lot of strain in terms of how versatile the network has to be. It has forced us to be at the edge of technology possibilities.” Advanced technologies, such as the massive MIMO, were applied to provide an experience-driven network and improved the average user throughput by 39.2 per cent within one year, he said.

“Efforts have also been made by transforming to digitalisation, with the use of big data, analytics, artificial intelligence and process automation. An innovative digital platform has been deployed that enabled real-time planning, online transactions, delivery visualisation and intelligent operations.”

Last month VIVA’s VoLTE traffic surpassed its 2G traffic. “We believe the we’re probably the first in the world where this has happened. Once you get use to the VoLTE quality, you can’t go back to 3G or 2G,” Khan said.

The rapid uptake of VoLTE is supported by Kuwait’s three mobile operators having VoLTE interconnect.

He said traditional operators have a very conservative mindset, with executives questioning why you would take risks, without ever challenging the norms.

“This mindset, which still prevails today, allowed mobile players to get a hammering from the OTT providers because we are very inertia driven and don’t see outside possibilities.”