Going Global with Globitel

Since helping lay the foundations of Jordan’s technology industry, Globitel has steadily expanded its reach into international markets.

By Elisa Oddone

Starting with voicemail services in 1996, Jordanian telecom solutions provider Globitel has evolved into a regional tech leader with operations spanning 40 countries.

Beginning in Jordan’s local market, the company first expanded to Saudi Arabia before hitting more international markets in the wake of the mobile telecommunications boom of the early 2000s.

Winner of the 2014 audit firm Ernst & Young’s award for the country’s Entrepreneur of the Year, the company is set to launch a collection of new products this month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest event for mobile operators worldwide.

From the company’s two-story headquarters in Amman, CEO Sharif Nabulsi told Venture that Globitel’s competitive edge comes from its capacity to deliver tailored solutions to a varied set of clients, and the ability to anticipate market’s needs.

“We noticed there was a gap to be filled in Jordan and saw the country’s lack of telecom services as a chance to establish a new business. Now we have offices in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistan,” Nabulsi said.

The Saudi Factor

Both coming from an engineering background, Nabulsi and his business partner and Globitel cofounder Samir Halawa, were able to fill a vacuum within the local market, providing solutions no one else had offered in Jordan before.

Four years on, a deal with telecom operator Saudi Telecom provided Globitel a way out of a saturated Jordanian market whose growth opportunities were running dry.

Having already worked with regional operators and customers, the firm was able to meet the needs of Arabic-speaking clients and seize the Saudi Arabian market with ease, which was booming with international telecom solutions providers, but still lacked products in Arabic.

“We provided call centers in Saudi Arabia with Arabic voicemails and arranged them in a way that they would work according to prayer times,” Nabulsi said. “Saudi companies need coordination between call centers scattered across the country’s vast territory when their employees go on breaks for their daily prayers, as prayer times slightly vary inside the kingdom.”

Meanwhile, the mobile communications business was thriving worldwide. Mobile operators began flocking to the Middle East in the early 2000s, with Jordan being among the first countries to open its market to foreign investors.

By then, Globitel was starting operations with Kuwaiti mobile phone group Zain on a “try and buy” basis for voice-messaging solutions. “We developed and delivered products. Only if they met the operator’s requirements, it would buy them. Initially, this posed a risk to our business as operators were expecting top-notch products, but we were confident we could deliver them,” Nabulsi said.

This first collaboration with Zain helped Globitel start a new line of business that shifted the company’s target from enterprises to mobile operators, thus securing a huge new market.

In fact, Globitel’s growth went hand-in-hand with that of mobile operators in the region as the firm followed them to new markets. Operators were booming and in desperate need of mobile telecom products.

Between 2004 and 2008 Globitel entered Sudan, Kenya, Tunisia, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and, eastwards, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, with operations also touching down in Armenia and Albania, among others. At the same time, the company soared to 120 employees, most of whom were in their mid-20s.

Roaming solutions for mobile operators, like the messages one receives on a mobile device when traveling to foreign countries, proved to be fundamental in paving the way for the firm’s success.

Developing traffic steering technology also became a new necessity when mobile operators merged into international groups and mobile phone distribution shot up.

As mobile devices are automatically set to connect to the best available network when in a foreign country, mobile operators aimed instead to have phones join the network of their business partners abroad. With traffic steering, operators are allowed to bypass the phone’s settings, enabling it to pick up a subsidiary network.

Globitel’s products also encompass data charging and solutions running on second, third, and fourth-generation Internet services, depending on the country’s infrastructure. “The mobile industry was a turning point for us. We exponentially grew our range of products and significantly expanded our presence in new markets. New solutions implemented for one operator could be used with another one. This was a big advantage to speed up our growth,” Nabulsi said.

Saudi firm Tech Invest Com, which invests in IT and mobile businesses in the region, joined Globitel’s board of investors in 2009, securing 25 percent of the company and bolstering its expansion.

In the Cloud

But the telecom solutions provider still aims high with plans of moving to new markets.

“We recently started operations in the United States having just finalized our first installation for a call center in Chicago. We are looking forward to expanding on this critical market which offers lots of opportunities, especially in light of companies’ new tendency for cloud computing businesses,” Nabulsi said.

However, with the proliferation of mobile devices and big business turning to cloud computing to cut costs and improve efficiency, Globitel faces new challenges in implementing their solutions. “We are shifting to the cloud business to meet the American market’s needs, working on new ways to deliver our solutions. Unlike the regional market, where people are still reluctant to adopt cloud-based solutions fearing data leaks, American firms look for these kind of products delivered on a subscription basis,” Nabulsi explained.

According to the CEO, the IT sector and telecom business have created new ways of doing business and represent a great opportunity for countries like Jordan, which lacks natural resources and an efficient infrastructure system. Entering the IT sector requires a minimum initial capital, but also solid ideas.

“Jordan also has the advantage of having an extremely young, well educated and tech-savvy population. Our kitchen is in Jordan. We do all our developments here and hugely rely on local talents to develop cutting-edge solutions and stay competitive,” Nabulsi said, adding that one could initially launch a product on the Jordanian market, and then expand the business outside the country.

Despite the challenges, Nabulsi admitted he never thought of giving up. Things get naturally tough during a business’ life, with regional instability, swift technological changes, and economic crises changing the tide,” he explained.

“One needs to diversify the markets he targets as well as his products and keep his chin up. Risks are part of our business and expansion, and often one has to invest having the long-term picture in his head, as today’s instability might open new business opportunities in the future.”