Recent developments in The Telecommunication industry
There has been a rapid increase in the number of operators in the mobile sector, owing to liberalization across the region. The telecom sector in the middle east region experienced an increase of over 100% in the number of mobile operators, from 19% in 2000 to 44% in 2008, with subscribers reaching 103 million from 24 million. By the end of 2007, the GCC telecom companies logged-in USD 27 billion in revenues and USD 7.4 billion in net income. Middle Eastern operators spent almost USD 10 billion acquiring new telecoms licenses and companies last year, and invested more than USD 50 billion over the decade; thus, creating a more competitive telecommunications market throughout the Middle East (Omantel, Omantel secures international gateway and server farms with TippingPoint Intrusion Prevention Systems 2012).
Omantel intends to provide new data services and technologies by investing in advanced technologies and expanding its 2G and 3.5G network coverage, in addition to offering entertainment services for mobile phones on the 3.5G network, such as mobile television. On January 22, 2009, Oman Mobile launched the 3.5G network in Oman. Omantel is focused on transforming itself into a customer focused and an efficient operator, catering to all the requirements of its customers in this dynamic environment (Hasan & Bhatt 2011).
Owing to the global financial meltdown, the Omani government cancelled its proposed sale of a 25% stake in Omantel, which was aimed at consolidating the company’s position in the market and developing it as a global service provider. However, with further delay in this liberalization process, the technical know-how and the financial support to grow would not be there for some more time to come (Hasan & Bhatt 2011).
Challenges faced by Omantel
Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) is the largest telecommunications company in the Sultanate of Oman. Since its establishment in 1987, it has engaged in establishing, operating, maintaining and developing fixed and mobile telecommunication services for residential, corporate and government customers in the Sultanate. Omantel is 70% government owned. In April 2008, it acquired a 65% share in World Call Pakistan (TAIB 2009).
Omantel’s main challenge was to protect its server farms from latest threats such as attacks on un-patched systems and zero-day attacks on patched systems. The company also wanted to create a time-window for adhering with the patch management policy. Omantel follows a strict patch and change management policy with all patches tested before deploying on production systems and this required sufficient time. With a shrinking timeline between each patch and exploit release, there was a risk to these production servers remaining “unpatched” while the security team followed the patch management steps. Omantel had been using Intrusion Detection System (IDS) sensors from two different security vendors to manage the threats to the system (TAIB 2009).
Overcoming challenges in security
The security team at Omantel decided that it needed an in-band, real-time traffic classification and policy enforcement system that both detects and blocks unwanted traffic. After a thorough evaluation by the team, TippingPoint was selected to partner with Omantel. TippingPoint IPS sensors were initially plugged into a lab setup and later to different parts of the production network (Omantel, We Are Omantel 2011).
The evaluation and final selection were based on: performance, whereby the selected IPS would be capable of providing one-way latency of less than 150 microseconds at 10 Gigabit speed; availability, whereby the selected IPS needed to provide 99.999% network availability, whatever the circumstance whether it was a failure in the IPS from power supply, chip, software or any hardware perspectives; scalability, through the provision of a scalable IPS solution that could deep inspect up to 20 Gbps of full duplex traffic in a single 10 GbE link; security effectiveness, through the provision of proactive zero day vulnerabilities as well as vulnerability coverage especially for Microsoft software; ease of management, through minimal intervention by the administration through the use of state of the art technology, capable of proactively blocking attacks with zero false positives; and training, since Omantel needed the support of the vendors local partners to build its knowledge-skill internally (Omantel, We Are Omantel 2011).
According to Omantel, the deployment of IPS sensors before the server farm has helped its System and Security teams to go through its step-by-step patch management processes without rushing into any emergency patching measures. As the leading telecom operator in Oman, the strategy of the company remains centred on expanding the promising segments of the market and to develop attractive offerings with a particular focus on broadband solutions in order to fulfil increasing demand created by the rise of smart devices and social networks.
The company has the most extensive fixed and mobile network coverage in the country, which, coupled with a customer-centric strategy, is being leveraged to create and sustain the competitive edge. Besides, with a commitment towards maintaining its leadership position, the company is continuously expanding its footprint in the developing areas. Furthermore, Omantel is continuously expanding its international connectivity to enhance its position as an international hub (Rawas 2012).
Year 2012 National Budget projects GDP growth of 7% with increased expenditure outlay for social, health, education sector and commitment of over 36,000 new jobs for nationals. This would undoubtedly provide overall positive stimulus to the local economy compared to the continued uncertainty surrounding the global economy. Mobile market witnessed renewed growth in Year 2011 mainly driven by the broadband market. This raises the expectation that the momentum would continue with increased penetration of lower end of smart phones coupled with flexible and innovative offers. In addition, fixed broadband has also witnessed growth in year 2011 due to innovative offers (Rawas 2012).
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