The new Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tareq al Said, also wants to have his own fleet of communications satellites and not be left behind by his neighbouring monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But to tackle a project that amounts to some one billion euros in total, the sultan and his newly appointed government team have chosen a prudent and reasonable path.
The first step that the Omani state authorities have taken is to extend an invitation to specialized consultancy firms from the international communications sector. This measure is intended to hire a technical and financial advisory service to help the Sultanate define the requirements for its first communication satellite.
The worldwide competition was made public on June 3 and is led by the state-owned company Space Communications Technology (SCT), an entity founded in 2018 precisely to tackle the great national space project and to supervise the process of acquiring the first satellite.
Consultancy firms interested in taking part in the bidding process must prove that they have experience in a minimum of two advisory projects in the choice of orbital positions where to place the satellite and in another three supporting a process of definition and contracting of programs for the manufacture of the platform.
The deadline for the submission of technical and financial offers is 24 June. It is only 21 days because the intention of the Sultanate is to raise as soon as possible the international competition for the manufacture of the satellite, hire it as soon as possible and that it can enter into service in 2024.
Sultan Haitham bin Tareq al Said wants the company that won the bidding process opened by the SCT to work closely with the National Telecommunication Authority to choose the best orbital position for the spacecraft, to carry out a market study and evaluate the real business opportunities and to help organize and supervise the specifications and the contract with the global satellite manufacturers.
The overriding requirement of the Omani authorities is to have a high-performance platform that meets the expectations of commercial broadband satellite communications for its entire territory and its Exclusive Economic Zone. But also that it provides secure links to the government and its armed and security forces, which is of great importance when having an armed conflict like the one in Yemen on its southwest border, which in its sixth year still shows no real signs of ending.
The initiative has the full support of the Sultan himself and the new Minister of Technology and Communications, Azza bint Sulaiman bin Saeed Al Ismaili, who a few months ago replaced the influential minister Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, who from March 2011 until October 2019 was the head of the Transport and Communications department and is now only responsible for the Transport Ministry.
Defined as a "priority and strategic" project by Minister Azza bint Sulaiman bin Saeed Al Ismaili, the previous steps taken by the SCT have consisted of building the necessary land infrastructure to achieve the development of the capacities with which to attend to the immediate and long-term telecommunications of its productive and financial sectors, both public and private.
The new satellite network must satisfy Oman's national, regional and international fixed and mobile communications. The main telemetry, tracking and control station is now available, with a 9-metre diameter antenna built on the teleport located near the city of Al Amerat, less than 20 kilometres from Muscat, the nation's capital, and about 30 kilometres from its international airport.
The origins of the current project date back to the second half of 2019, when the then Ministry of Transport and Communications and the State General Reserve Fund - the sovereign fund of the State of Oman responsible for long-term investments - created the Information Technology and Communications Group.
With the intention of addressing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Group conducted a detailed initial study on opportunities to embark on the acquisition of a first secure communications platform to support the expansion of Internet via satellite in the country and to improve conditions for its agricultural and fisheries sector.
This is not the first time that Oman intends to launch a project to equip itself with a communication satellite. It has tried on at least two previous occasions, but in both cases the initiative was aborted. The last of these was cancelled as a result of the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. Its impact on Oman led to high unemployment, which forced Sultan Qaboos bin Said to cancel the programme and allocate its funds to the activation of urgent measures to alleviate the high unemployment rate.
The replacement has been taken over by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al Said, 65, who has been on the throne since the disappearance on 10 January this year of Qaboos bin Said, who had ruled the country since 1970 and died at the age of 79 after a long struggle with the disease that was gradually destroying him. He modernized the country thanks to oil, gas and mineral exports, was unmarried, had no official descendants and had not appointed his replacement. The post was occupied by his favourite, who had held the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and other important positions.
The Sultanate of Oman is located on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is bathed by the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, is 60 per cent the size of Spain and has a population of only 4.3 million, a tenth of that of Spain.