Stock - Etisalat at Gitex 2021
It is full speed ahead for Etisalat on 5G. The telco and the UAE have made quite a decent amount of progress rolling out the needed infrastructure and taking in the initial subscribers for the latest mobile services. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: It’s easy to imagine that 5G expansion plans will take up nearly all of Masood Sharif Mahmood’s time. As CEO of Etisalat UAE, he is presiding over a fast-track rollout for the latest telecom network, with the promise of unprecedented user experiences.

But Mahmood and Etisalat have other projects and ideas keeping the lines humming. Here, Mahmood offers his thoughts on what lies ahead.

What’s Etisalat planning that's different at Gitex 2021?

Masood Sharif Mahmood: Every year we get the most futuristic showcases to Gitex, with many of the exhibits making a presence for the first time globally on our stand. We are bringing the future of transport, healthcare, retail, education and home entertainment and showcasing 5G use cases across these verticals.

The mobility area is a show-stopper every year, giving visitors an insight into the future of autonomous transportation. Visitors also get a sneak peek into the future of healthcare with robotics that help complex and sensitive procedures. In the post-pandemic era, robotic technologies is making education an interactive learning experience, and also re-defining the smart home with immersive technologies.

Many of the use cases are focused on AI and machine learning with Etisalat’s payment functionality, demonstrating our capability of providing complete end-to-end solutions in this domain with enhancements like biometrics, wearables and facial recognition for payments.

With our theme this year focused on ‘Shaping the new Digital Era’, we take the visitor on a journey of the future, where they will witness the impossible of the past that has become the reality of today.

Stock - Masood Sharif Mahmood of Etisalat
Masood Sharif Mahmood, CEO of Etisalat UAE: "We take the visitor on a journey of the future, where they will witness the impossible of the past that has become the reality of today..." Image Credit: Supplied

With UAE marking its 50th jubilee, how would you say Etisalat contributed to the growth?

MSM: With the UAE’s ambitious ICT fueled vision aiming to transform the country to a digital economy, there have been great strides in digitalisation of services across verticals like education, retail, tourism, banking, oil and gas, health and logistics. Etisalat has continuously focused on innovation as part of its strategy. This is embedded within our DNA.

Today, we have made global achievements in 5G, setting benchmarks for the industry. This was backed by the infrastructure accomplishments made in the past that have complemented the 5G network. Another effort was the Etisalat’s network being recognised as the world’s fastest mobile network and fastest fixed network in the GCC.

Etisalat’s efforts have positioned UAE to have the highest penetration rate in fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) globally for the third consecutive year.

With Expo now open to the world, what can we expect from Etisalat at this global event?

MSM: Expo is probably the most important event for cultural exchange and bringing national and international exposure to numerous inventions. This event allows people to witness history in the making. Visitors at the biggest world are connected to the fastest, smartest and most connected place on earth.

The site has more than 700 kilometres of highly resilient and multi-redundant fiber network, which is four times the distance between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Fiber cables will have the ability to provide more bandwidth for carrying more data.

What efforts are being made to support entrepreneurs and innovators?

MSM: There is a serious effort internally in building an AI capability, Etisalat has partnered with Microsoft, Accenture and EBTIC to build a team to lead the AI stream for the company and the industry. The team currently consists of young Emiratis working on internal use cases focused on increasing operational efficiencies mainly with planning infrastructure and optimising the network.

The long-term plan is to focus on building the capabilities of the next-generation of Emirati youth and AI use cases for internal use and will continue to increase efficiency, boosting productivity, and enhancing customer experience.

Etisalat Digital continued to foster open innovation with ‘Future Now’ an innovation programme devoted to accelerate the digital transformation journey of government entities and enterprises with user centric solutions and the latest technologies worldwide

The ‘Open Innovation Centre’ is also part of Future Now, a dedicated area created by Etisalat in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and serves as a window to the future to witness and experience all this innovation. The centre also includes a co-creation lab area to facilitate design thinking sessions with Etisalat customers to develop customer-centric solutions as well as a scale-up area that welcomes start-ups and scaleups.

What efforts are being made by Etisalat to train the next generation of local talent?

MSM: Etisalat’s focus is always to keep people at the heart of its strategy. We are focused on making investments in our teams to bring in special skills to facilitate digital transformation in the organisation. The focus is on re-educating our existing workforce and looking for specialised skillsets like data scientists, data architects, and subject matter experts across each vertical.

An initiative launched recently is the AI Graduate programme that welcomed the first batch of Emirati graduates following a rigorous hackathon selection process that saw them put forward solutions to a series of challenges. The graduates were given a challenging nine-month development journey created by Etisalat’s Learning and Development team.

Etisalat has made great strides in training a large segment of talented Emiratis on advanced practical and scientific skills as well as hands-on experience on emerging technologies. It was great to see inspired and curious graduates develop their skills on Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, big data and cyber security and adapt them to real life situations.

Etisalat’s Etisalat Academy has plans to expand the capacity to more than 75,000 trainees over the next three years. Since its establishment, the Academy has trained about 300,000 trainees, including 200,000 Emiratis, through partnerships with government and private agencies.