Saleh Abdullah Al Abdooli says etisalat is providing small and medium businesses with customised packages designed to give the best value for money. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Barcelona: Etisalat plans to invest more than Dh3 billion in 2017 to develop infrastructure and expand mobile and fibre optic networks across UAE, a top executive has told Gulf News.

“These investments will improve coverage across the country as well as prepare the network towards the deployment and requirements of 5G technologies,” Saleh Al Abdooli, CEO of Etisalat Group, said in an interview on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona.

Mobile World Congress is the world’s largest gathering of stakeholders from the mobile industry, organised by the GSMA.

He said the etisalat network today is one of the widest, fastest and most advanced networks in the region. This is mainly due to the continuous investments made in the last few years amounting to more than Dh28 billion. Due to these investments, 3G network coverage has reached more than 99 per cent while 4G LTE is at more than 95 per cent. Fibre to the home (FTTH) penetration has grown over the last year to reach 93.7 per cent. This helped position the UAE as a market with the highest FTTH coverage in the world last year among all its global counterparts.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Gulf News: When will etisalat launch 5G in the UAE?

Al Abdooli: We have always taken the lead in network and infrastructure deployment to be the first to launch every new technology and service to customers in the telecom field. Today, etisalat is continuing this success by investing in 5G technologies to deploy in the network across the country.

These investments in the infrastructure have led to the implementation of the latest cloud computing technologies and solutions, setting the path for 5G network development.

Etisalat also established the ecosystem for futuristic technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) that will help manage all smart services and applications and are most integral to create smart cities on the 5G network in the country.

Etisalat plans to make a pilot launch of the 5G network during the second half of 2017.

What future trends does etisalat expect in Information and Communication technology?

Etisalat is currently undergoing an important period of transition, as we pave the way towards a digital future with digital technologies playing a significant role in our business and customers’ lives.

The telecom sector is undergoing a radical change; industry reports indicate that between 2016 and 2022 the number of devices connected via internet will grow by 10 per cent every year. With technologies supporting IoT (Internet of Things) gaining popularity, there is a tremendous growth expected in devices being connected on this platform. It is expected that by 2022, out of the 29 billion devices connected, 18 billion will be connected via IoT technology. This will automatically lead to a huge growth in the volume of data being processed on these networks.

Today, digital transformation is a strategic priority for most global companies and will open new revenue opportunities. This is also in line with etisalat’s overall strategy to realise our country’s leadership vision of building smart cities and bringing in digital transformation.

The launch of Etisalat Digital business unit last year was to achieve these objectives and goals through our markets, and be responsible for implementing digital transformation projects in UAE.

Among the digital transformation projects currently being implemented in the UAE, the recent partnership with Dubai Parks and Resorts to implement an advanced technical infrastructure is a step in this direction.

This project has set a benchmark and is one of the most successful projects in the entertainment space in the region. Etisalat Digital brings its unique value to these projects by combining the scale, strength and robust network with the agility, skills and platforms of a digital player. The business units have access to global skills and expertise, state-of-the-art digital assets such as data centres, cloud, cybersecurity, M2M and Internet of Things platforms, analytics, big data engines and digital payment gateways. This is in addition to 24X7 Cloud, Security and IoT Command and Control Centres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for fully managed solutions and proactive monitoring.

What is the general trend in local market and how do you play your role?

In today’s intense competitive environment, etisalat has launched a variety of innovative offers in the UAE, keeping in mind the best of customer experience. Our diverse and effective business model has offered value to the customer by meeting their expectations, changing needs and evolving aspirations.

There have been huge investments in the network with an ultimate objective to deliver quality, high speed and advanced technologies. This has also led to the UAE being ranked as the leading country in network readiness compared to advanced markets on the global level, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report last year.

These efforts are to improve overall customer experience by offering value and savings with competitive data and voice bundles. This is possible by understanding their requirements to create products and offerings to meet their changing needs and requirements. Etisalat has always appreciated its customer’s loyalty and therefore will continue to innovate and enhance our customer service.

For businesses, etisalat has an extensive portfolio of integrated services targeting various sectors, providing basic equipment and connectivity to networking services and managed business solutions. Etisalat provides small and medium businesses with customised packages designed to give the best value for money.

How do you prepare Emirati leaders in your management team?

Etisalat has a long history in investing in the next generation of Emirati leaders and introducing various Emiratisation initiatives to nurture talents and capabilities within etisalat through leadership training programmes. This has attracted qualified graduates and experienced professionals from UAE to meet the growing requirements of the company.

There is considerable effort that goes into training and building professionals within the company. Emiratis today comprise 47 per cent of total number of employees and 73 per cent of senior management.

Various initiatives within the company have helped achieve and increase Emiratisation in the company across sections and departments, based on specialisation in different operations and management areas.

Today etisalat requires this leadership vision, capability, professional expertise across its 17 markets. This is why investing in our human capital and creating our leaders for tomorrow is essential to helping maintain our position as a leading integrated ICT provider in the industry.

Etisalat Future Leaders Graduation programme has helped create these leaders in the past contributing to the overall company performance. Currently 110 leaders are being prepared as part of the two-year graduation programme.

What is etisalat’s 2017 strategy for the digital future?

Etisalat has moved from being just a telecom operator to being a comprehensive ICT provider.

We aspire to remain ahead of the competition by adopting new technologies in the telecom world by working on the required capabilities to meet the advancements in the industry. This also includes our human resources capabilities, adapting innovative skills and increasing agility in the organisation. With the global landscape rapidly changing in the ICT arena, it is essential to move ahead and make these changes in the organisation and our services.

In order to meet the growing challenges in the business, etisalat will work in 2017 and 2018 to engage more in digital transformation projects in the country and across our markets. This is part of our strategic vision to lead the company into a digital future.

This is in line with the national agenda of the government to achieve digital transformation, driven by our strong presence in the digital space. Our recent partnerships with Dubai Parks and Resorts and Expo 2020 are a prime example.

Etisalat is also actively working on projects related to health and education that bring a direct impact to the citizens and will help increase the happiness index in the country.

These initiatives will bring added value to customers and shareholders in conjunction with the continued investment in the future of the company.

This will also meet the needs of the new age digital customer and help meet the objectives of the government. The digital strategy will contribute to the overall economic growth and increase competitiveness of the country.

Looking at the future, we will continue to invest in developing our business and key customer experience by making the right partnerships, continue to invest in innovation, smart platforms and big data. These initiatives in the long run will also enhance operational efficiency and profitability of the company.