Dubai: As the UAE telecom market becomes increasingly saturated, etisalat is focusing on value added services for growth, CEO of etisalat UAE Saleh Al Abdooli told Gulf News in an interview during the Gitex Technology Week 2012.
“Today Etisalat is growing vertically bringing the latest telecommunications services including fixed and mobile telephony, TV and internet to UAE.” he said.
Etisalat is working on smart chips for home appliances, along with equipment that can send you SMS any time to give advice, answer queries and warn on problems. This chip has already been customised for surveillance cameras.
“As the pace of technological change increases, etisalat intends to extend its reach into new technologies, services and markets. We are in the process of raising the benchmark in customer services, acquisition and retention, thus enhancing shareholder value,” he added
The Emirates Telecommunications Corporation has, for almost 40 years, invested significant human, capital and intellectual resources to build an international-standard telecommunications network. The company is the first in the region to launch the 4G LTE (Fourth Generation Long-Term Evolution) network in the UAE last year. The first phase of the project covered around 80 per cent of the country. The company will soon provide new services and solutions based on this technology in areas such as health care, building control and surveillance, energy consumption control and others.
Gulf News: What was special about your participation at GITEX this year?
Saleh Al Abdooli: GITEX is an ideal platform to showcase our latest advancements in the digital world. We use the event to build new partnerships with a number of industry leading institutions in the country. Etisalat has announced agreements with a number of key partners, including disaster recovery infrastructure hosting with Health Authority Abu Dhabi and Al Hilal Bank, ICT support for Sharjah Municipality, Ajman’s Department of Municipality and Planning, e-Government RAK, etisalat’s SMART Mobility Suite for SAP Solution and GPS services for vehicles in partnership with GAPCorp FNI.
We have also launched our Managed Web Security Services utilising ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) built on cloud computing technology, a key emerging technology in business, especially for small and medium enterprises. We also demonstrated several innovations in emerging technologies such as Near Field Communications (NFC), Flous – our mobile payment service – and a wide range of M2M solutions.
In addition, Gitex visitors could experience the new developments with our flagship e-life offering, a demonstration of our newly-tested 300Mbps speeds on the 4G LTE network, as well as our new product — the Augmented Reality platform.
You are still investing in fibre optics. Can you tell how much you have spent on updating etisalat infrastructure so far?
We have taken up the responsibility of developing and constructing one of the best networks, both terrestrial and mobile. Etisalat considers infrastructure development as a long-term investment that can contribute to the other sectors in the economy, not only the telecommunications sector. Some of the main sectors benefitting from such developments are the educational, health, business, banking and hospitality sectors. Etisalat’s investment in fibre optics has reached Dh19-20 billion in capital expenditure and operational expenditure which has contributed to the overall sustainable development of the country and ensures it is ready for future technologies. The length of the fiber-optic cabling we have installed is three million kilometres. Etisalat was the first regional operator to launch a 300Mbps internet service in this month and has 800,000 subscribers — 500,000 of which are subscribed to e-Life. We will soon launch a smart fixed line that allows clients to log into the internet. The fibre optic cables are used for 2.5 million phone calls. Fibre optic penetration has reached almost 80 per cent, and etisalat is aiming to reach to a 90 per cent penetration over the next two years. Abu Dhabi was the first city in the world to achieve full fibre-optic connectivity, and the UAE ranks as the number one country in the world for fibre penetration.
People are waiting for network sharing and mobile number portability. Is this going to take place in the near future?
Etisalat abides by all the rules and directions issued by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. Etisalat is technically ready to share its network infrastructure with the other operator, but still needs to agree on commercial issues. Once a fair commercial return from the fibre optic network is reached, the network can be shared with the other operator. The launch of the number portability service is dependent upon the readiness of three parties; Etisalat, the TRA and the other operator.
How do you see Etisalat subscriber’s adoptability to the eCommerce service?
eCommerce has seen a resurgence over the last two years as the global downturn has made retailers and businesses turn to more cost-effective methods of doing business. The advent of cheaper mobile access as well as upgraded smartphone devices have enabled consumers to buy online while on the move. There are about 430 million smartphone subscribers worldwide and it is predicted that this number will rise to around 1.118 billion subscribers in 2015.
Can you elaborate on how you are working to boost etisalat’s payment gateway and how much you generate from this service?
Etisalat has invested a significant amount of resources in building a robust bill payment network, such as eZeePay and Etisalat Payment Gateway, which provides a safe process for companies and organisations to develop their electronic commercial businesses. The Etisalat Payment Gateway processed over Dh4 billion worth of transactions within the region in 2011. The Payment Gateway is designed to process Visa, Mastercard, JCB and American Express credit and debit card transactions as well a few localised payment instruments like the eDirham. EZeePay allows over 33 banks and exchange houses to collect bill payments for utility providers in the UAE. The payment network also leverages on etisalat’s own traditional payment channels like payment kiosks, IVR and SMS to allow consumers to pay utility bills. M-Payments revolve around providing the basic payment and transfer functionalities of a bank account and debit card over a mobile device. Ultimately, the goal of an M-Payments ecosystem is to link consumers, businesses and government in an integrated manner with multiple payment and transfer services. Etisalat is looking to introduce Flous, etisalat’s mobile money, in partnership with a sponsor bank.