Audio interview with Khalil Al-Emadi,president and CEO of NavLink, who has more than 25 years’ experience in telecommunication and IT technologies. In this interview he shares his personal history of communication in Qatar and some interesting stories.
Interviewer: I am going to be asking you about communication in Qatar past
Interviewee: Sure. Definitely there was telephone lines in the house.
Interviewer: So you had telephone?
Interviewee: Yes, we had telephone in my house since around 1963 1964. But not everyone had one. I remember when we had our first telephone line it was only 4 digits so from 4 digits you would make about something like 4000 or 6000, 8000 telephone lines in Qatar as a whole
It was not common to call your friends in the very beginning because of the high cost. I did not have the liberty or the freedom to call whomever I wanted and that was an obstacle for me.
But communication generally was very poor. Aside from the land line that we had at home there wasn’t any such of means of communication other than face to face or sending somebody to give a message.
I will tell you of a fun story that have happened. The weekends in Qatar consisted of one day, Friday. So whenever we wanted to go camping, we would leave on Thursday afternoon.
As soon as we get out of school, we would gather everyone and all the materials that we needed and take the cars to go camp in dukhan or ashireg or something like that and you would. Whoever wanted to join us was welcome to. We would meet at three o’clock or after salat al asr. We would wait in the mosque and go all together.
We went in two separate cars and had our luggage, food and belongings distributed between the two. When we first reached Dukhan, the other car had not arrived yet. There was a misunderstanding on the destination and we waiting there until evening came. There was no way to communicate with the other car. We went to the place where we used to all go, hoping they would show up. They had a different idea and went to camp in a different place. So imagine having some of the food in one car and the rest in the other. We had the meat, they had the rice. We had pepper, they had the salt and oil. This whole camping experience was uncomfortable because of the lack in communication.
Interviewer: So when did that start getting better?
Interviewee: Early 90s is when we got…. It was during the 80s that the car phones that were there.
Interviewer: Car phones??
Interviewee: Yeah car phone it is like a car equipped with a phone and usually it comes like real big bag of telephone that you could use to call the other telephone definitely, you can call other car phone or landline but that was very very very expensive, imagine you are in 1980s or 1984 for example and the average salary of a person “graduated person” would be six thousands riyal and this phone would cost 30,000 riyal to get one-time payment so you pay 36,000 riyal I think it was 36,000 riyal and then you pay annually about 6000 or something like that so that was a lot of money for most of the people to require any communication so only few people or elite people had in Qatar had that telephone maybe a total of about 2000 telephone or something like that so that was too expensive for us, we didn’t have that phone.
For us the first mean of communication we had is in the early 90s where we got pagers” bleep”
Okay so if I want to Saud for example I know his pager number from landline I would page him and he knows that I want to speak to him so he would call me on that telephone and that is one way of communication it eased a little bit our situations actually you don’t get the person right away but you can, you could, so you page him and wait there on the phone , he will find any phone in a shop or anything and would call you. The other way, again we used pagers with codes for example, so the pager would have a small screen
that we get telephone number and there is a space for four digits and you can put any codes and people built up knowledge, created their own codes for example if your a wife calls and she wants milk for the children you would have agreed on digits such as 34 would be to get milk okay, 100 would be to call me later or pick me up from my mother house or whatever but 999 call me now right away
Some people built a big list of different codes with what it actually meant which was a very innovative way of communicating so he doesn’t have to call you back but at least he knows what I would want from him from the pager when I send him that message.
Interviewer: So each family had their own coding right
Interviewee: A family would built up their own codes, but they youth people they have common, they made it a conventional code between everybody so everybody would know that one.
Interviewer: When did people stop using that?
Interviewee: They stopped using that one after in 94 when we brought the mobile system in Qatar and that is still continuing until today.
Interviewer: So that started in???
Interviewer: It was called Hala I think.
Interviewee: Hala was the prepaid calling card but the normal it was mobile “mobi-net” yeah.
Interviewer: Okay okay and it started 1994. Yeah, it started for phones or like did they have internet service and all?
Interviewee: No the phone was, no the mobile it was purely phone without any internet until later in the late 90s where the internet was cooperated into the mobile phone with a very limited text internet only without any visuals without any graphics or anything it was only text so you would search and you get answers but only texting.
Interviewer: Was it expensive?
Interviewee: With the mobile, no , during the 90s it was very, comparing to what it used to be the 30,000 36,000 riyal, it was very very convenient and by 2000 and … sorry by year 2000 there was something like two hundred thousands phone operating in Qatar, I know this one because I worked in the field of telecommunication and I was one of the engineers working in Q-tel then who brought the mobile phone in Qatar actually
Interviewer: So like you almost established communication in Qatar