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Fri 19 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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BT talks up Middle East growth plans

BT is shedding 10,000 jobs but the British telecom operator is performing strongly in the Middle East.

BT last month announced plans to shed 10,000 jobs around the world, in a bid to reduce costs. However, the UK-based telecoms operator is still performing strongly in the Middle East, and in these turbulent times the region remains central to the company's future plans.

How important is the Middle East region to BT?

The short answer is very important, given the economic environment. The Middle East is important to BT as it is important to our customers.

We actually go where our customers are going and I believe the beauty of our strategy - being outside the UK and focused on large companies and corporations, as well as the government and all the telecommunications players - is it gives us a strong focus.

In terms of potential and growth much is happening here. The Middle East is pretty vast and it's almost a continent. We decided to take Dubai as a hub and continue to develop ourselves across the region.

How is the Middle East market holding up in the current global financial crisis?

What I enjoy here is the atmosphere in the Middle East, with an appetite for business which is quite pragmatic. I hope it will continue and the crisis will not slow it down. For me, the crisis is a fantastic opportunity as we have rarely been so busy.

The Middle East is amazing in what's happening in the telecommunications market, and there are several players needed to transform to the next generation, as the market is asking for it.

Everyone wants broadband, and more capacity and service. At this point in time the activity we have in the Middle East towards telecommunications players is booming, and this is one of the regions where we have the largest opportunities.

Today, customers are saying ‘find me ways to be more efficient and cut costs and transform my business quickly'. That way, the crisis streamlines the decision-making of businesses.

BT has said it is planning to double its market share and staff numbers in the region. Has that situation now changed given the recent announcement of job cuts?

What we've announced in the UK is job reduction, not job cuts. The way we are doing it is we're making sure the company is in the right size. We are a company using a lot of contractors, so the first thing we are doing is reducing the number of contractors. We're also in a market where there is high staff turnover, so it's a question of not replacing the leavers.

The CEO has announced that in order to meet the 10,000 reduction figure, we are going to stop working with about 6000 contractors and are not going to replace 4000 leavers globally.

The economic downturn gives us a special focus on resources, but if you look at Dubai in May there were less than 50 people employed here and we have more than 80 people today, so we are making sure that we've the right resources in the right places.

If you count the number of circuits - the number of connections customers have to the BT network which can be used for video, application sharing and so on - in the Middle East today, we have around 2000 and we were half of that in 2007, so we have doubled our size in one year.

The demand from international companies in the region is quite impressive. I have visited a number of customers here and the vast majority say they don't see any difference with the economic situation.

How long that will last is really the question. In Western Europe we were at 3 percent GDP growth and now it's down to zero at best. Here, we were running at 7 percent growth in 2007-08 and I believe it will go down the same, but will keep growing at 3 to 4 percent for 2009.

Does BT have any plans to extend its broadband operations in the Middle East?

BT wants to build an international platform which we refer to as a 21st Century Network, an internet protocol platform that has been deployed in 174 countries, allowing you to connect to companies across the world.

This means you will get the same level of service in Dubai as in Australia and the US. The platform allows us to create some services on top of those based on software.

In countries like the UAE we then interconnect that platform with local players, who will be our partners to connect physically with the customer. They provide broadband and, because they are partners, they complement what we do globally with local services. Here in the UAE, Etisalat is our partner and we have a partner in Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

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