President of ITEA International
An Italian in Saudi Arabia
Luigi Lando, president of ITEA International, is an Italian engineer. He is one of a number of telecoms experts who came into the country in 1994, when AT&T was awarded a huge $7 billion project in KSA called Telecoms Expansion No 6, and approached Telecom Italia for cooperation. Lando, who worked for Telecom Italia, decided to come over with some colleagues and grab the opportunity to create a company that worked as a subcontractor for AT&T. Says Lando: “Between 1996 and 2000, we installed almost the entire long distance fibre optic network in the kingdom. It was four years of heavy work, but we were gaining essential knowledge of the country.”
The Italian expatriate has seen Saudi society change, but only recently: “Until 2005, materially things changed, traffic increased a lot, a modern infrastructure was built – faster in periods when oil prices were high, slower when they were low - but the culture and mentality did not change a lot until 2005,” he says. “But since Abdullah became king, we have started to see change – KAUST where boys and girls study together, the shoura council investigating whether the restriction on women driving should be lifted, … Change will not happen overnight, but a beginning is being made. King Abdullah was of course lucky to have come on at a time of high oil prices, which greatly simplifies his task.”
KSA's entry into the WTO, also in 2005, simultaneously changed the country on an economic level. “in our sector,” Lando explains, “it opened the market up for competition. The government set up the CITC as the authority and regulator of the field, assigning bandwidths to different players and inviting bids for a second and third mobile operator as well as a second and third fixed line operator. Competition then started to enhance the quality of service and to bring down prices.”
One new operator to win the fixed line bid is OCC – a consortium between Verizon and Saudi partner – who will have to build the entire network almost from scratch. Says Lando: “Indeed, a lot of work is coming up in the fixed line sector. In contrast, mobile infrastructure is largely in place, but it is now being upgraded to 4G so as to be able to handle DSL and video. At ITEA we additionally have a lot of work installing cables, towers and radio links for Aramco and the Saudi National Guard, who are expanding their own parallel telecoms networks.”
ITEA holds a share of “5 to 10%” in a crowded market, where if faces fierce competition from Nour Communications, SITAF, Delta and others. In all, “five to seven companies are active in our field and on our scale,” Lando says. The main challenges for the company when working in the kingdom, as he sees it, are the saudisation requirements: “We need to achieve a saudisation of 20% in our sector to get the relevant certificate and be able to bid for government projects, which is difficult, really. We don't object to hiring Saudis as such, of course, but it is hard to find qualified Saudis. The education system is only now beginning to be adequate - before it offered religious education rather than building technical, scientific or managerial skills. A particular problem in Riyadh is the working mentality. In the capital, employees seem to consider putting in the required work or showing in time is optional. This is in stark contrast to the east of the country. In Dhahran or Dammam, employees are at their desk with their laptops up and running by 7.30 – this is the result of the long Aramco tradition. Riyadh has a long way to go in this respect.”
Our latest investment report on Kuwait was recently published in one of the leading Spanish dailies, ABC. FindMe in Kuwait explores the economic perspectives of Kuwait and the country´s future plans to compete with its fast developing neighbours. Once the leading country of the Gulf, Kuwait has remained silent for the past decade. And although many would like to see faster changes, Kuwait is moving, at its pace, to them. Inexorably. Learn about who is who in Kuwait and read what the leaders say about their own future in our upcoming release: FindMe in Kuwait Mobile app.
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