“Etisalat is taking innovations in telecommunications and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to a whole new level by implementing and operating the advanced 5G mobile network in the UAE...” Etisalat CEO, Saleh Al Abdooli told Gulf News in an exclusive interview. “We are the first in the region to have live tested this upgrade, which makes way for ultra-speeds of 700Mbps mobile broadband connectivity, ...We achieved this feat, thanks to the full-fledged support of the UAE’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs (TRA),” Al Abdooli said. “Etisalat active subscriber base in the UAE grew to over 11 million subscribers in June 2014... our mobile subscriber base in the UAE grew by 17 per cent year on year to reach 9.3 million subscribers.. meanwhile the eLife subscriptions registered an annual growth of 20 per cent, greatly contributing to nearly 1 million broadband customers recorded at the end of second quarter,” Al Abdooli added. He also said “the global Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Market is to hit $96 billion (Dh323 billion) mark in 2014”.
Here is the full interview.
Gulf News: What is the highlight of Etisalat’s participation at GITEX TECHNOLOGY WEEK this year?
Saleh Al Abdooli: Etisalat is known in the region as a pioneer in telecommunications. This Gitex is a chance for us to take innovations in telecommunications and ICT to a whole new level.
I am both proud and excited to disclose that we will be demonstrating at Gitex, among other technological innovations, how etisalat is adding wings to its technology ambition by using multitasking drones to accurately implement and operate the advanced 5G mobile network in the UAE.
It is an integral part of our strategy to implement smart technical solutions and we believe that using drones is an intelligent approach to ensure the best performance of all technical elements. It translates into exceptional end-user experience and the highest quality of service to our customers, which is our end goal.
What you will also see the drones do at the etisalat stands is provide easy solutions for our daily lives, such as delivery services and much more.
In summary, at Gitex this year, we will wow our visitors. We will show them prospects of a highly connected and digitised future, made real through a showcase of our advanced solutions and services based on etisalat’s robust infrastructure and network.
GN: Does mobile data remain a key focus for Etisalat? What is the next advancement we can expect in 4G and LTE technologies?
SAA: The UAE is racing towards futuristic cities based on massive mobile connectivity and high bandwidth communications, and etisalat is playing its part in achieving the country’s smart city vision. We have adopted a holistic approach towards building a smart infrastructure that can boost communication and services between people, businesses and government.
The latest technological milestone that we have achieved is the successful live testing and phased upgrade of our network to the futuristic 4G Advanced (LTE-A) tri-band technology based on carrier aggregation technology. We are the first in the region to have live tested this upgrade, which makes way for ultra-speeds of 700Mbps mobile broadband connectivity.
We achieved this feat, thanks to the full-fledged support of the UAE’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs (TRA).
Therefore, while our 4G network is well prepared to respond to the growing demand for mobile data. To ensure that we are able to accommodate new opportunities and strengthen our services, we are continuing to build capacity and expand through investments in our networks and resources. The capacity, higher data speeds and efficiencies provided by LTE Advanced carrier aggregation technology will help manage growth in data traffic.
In summary, LTE carrier aggregation is the next step in the evolution of high-speed mobile broadband services.
GN: How do you sum up the last 12 months for etisalat in terms of performance and achievements?
SAA: I can confidently state that the last 12 months have been nothing short of outstanding results and successes for etisalat.
Our active subscriber base in the UAE grew to over 11 million subscribers in June 2014. We strengthened our competitive position in the second quarter of 2014 by reinforcing leadership in high-value segments, in both the mobile and fixed segments. As a result, our mobile subscriber base in the UAE grew by 17 per cent year on year to reach 9.3 million subscribers. Fixed-line customers including eLife and broadband segments also performed well. ELife subscriptions registered an annual growth of 20 per cent, greatly contributing to nearly 1 million broadband customers recorded at the end of second quarter.
The company’s growing revenues and subscriber base are proof of our leading position in the region’s telecom landscape. What has helped us secure this position is the company’s innovative outlook, be it towards investments in new technologies, developing customer-centric services and solutions for people, businesses and governments or partnerships with global leaders in technology.
Over the years, we have invested billions in rolling out extensive mobile and fixed networks to meet the growing demand for data and connectivity in the country. Poised to cover 88 per cent of the country’s populated areas with the advanced 4G LTE network in coming months, the network has undergone major technical upgrades and enhancements in the past year.
It does not end at network deployment though. We have also partnered with the world’s best to offer mobile devices on data plans for our customers and businesses to offer them their desired lifestyle and connectivity, at a great price point.
We have maintained our leadership in the ICT sector in the UAE by launching a number of solid business and industry-focused solutions and services in the past year. An example in private sector includes our cloud services — the first to be launched for businesses and enterprises in the UAE.
Last but definitely not the least, we launched several customer-centric initiatives; eBilling — our new online billing system and new mobile apps — Etisalat Q and Etisalat UAE. From the uptake and extremely positive response to these apps, we are very happy to know that both these user-friendly solutions have helped ease our customers’ routine worries greatly!
GN: What are the benefits of Voice over LTE? Where does etisalat stand in developing VoLTE capabilities?
SAA: Customers today increasingly want faster, more reliable and richer services and VoLTE is making waves due to its many advantages.
Users of Etisalat’s VoLTE service will experience seamlessly maintained voice calls, without interruption, as they move from LTE to non-LTE (2G or 3G) coverage areas. It will also provide you a range of advantages including high-definition voice calls, HD video calling, lesser battery consumption and many rich-media services.
Given the demand and multi-tasking needs of the UAE’s smartphone consumers, our top priority is to improve the customer’s overall experience with mobile calls and services.
Etisalat was the first in the region to have tested the much-awaited voice over LTE (VoLTE) and eSRVCC (enhanced Single Radio Call Continuity) on our 4G LTE network back in May 2013. Soon, the service will let you use LTE for full voice and data services on a single LTE-enabled device.
GN: From smart cities to mobile government to M2M solutions, what does the future hold for the Telecoms and ICT industries?
According to an industry study, the global Information and Communication Technology ICT Market is to hit $96 Billion mark in 2014. Recent trends like Big Data and Mobility all have profound effects on the way the companies do business and governments engage with residents. These powerful technological forces have the ability to drive disruption, innovation and create opportunities in all areas of business and society. Let’s take a closer look at the technological drivers of this ICT transformation.
First is the Big Data phenomenon, which is managing vast volumes in real-time. The rise of Big Data is revolutionising the way companies conduct business, providing ways for analysts to gain deeper insight into everything from their internal workings to costumer behaviors and preferences. Telecom operators are no exception. Telcos have a wealth of information — from calls and purchases to downloads and updates, that can be used to improve their products, become more responsive to customer demands and locate new sources of revenue. This makes Big Data as a must-have competency for operators. Not surprisingly then, one of the next big things in the industry is the growing amount of investment that vast majority of telco operators will make in Big Data.
Another big trend in telecommunications is enterprise mobility. Enterprises are turning to mobility to transform their operations. The clear focus on “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is now significantly shifting towards mobile apps as companies are changing the way their employees work with engaging mobile applications. As a result, you will see that spends on traditional telecom services are reducing. Therefore, telecom operators now have a timely opportunity to take a sustained, long-term strategic approach to introducing enterprise mobility propositions to the market.
While 4G is still relatively new in the region, the next big thing is the fifth generation of mobile broadband or 5G technology. 5G is all about “ubiquitous computing”, meaning the ability to access the applications we want from any platform, anytime, anywhere. To create such an environment, one needs to integrate various applications, emerging from various engineering practices. Human life will be surrounded by intelligent sensors, which will bring radical change in human life‘s daily approaches of doing things. Earlier this year, etisalat partnered Huawei to develop 5G and conduct trials of 5G services. The superfast 5G network will open up many new possibilities. What we expect to provide customers is speeds and capacities never seen before.
GN: How do you see Cloud emerging as the next big thing in telecom? What is etisalat’s position with cloud-based offerings?
SAA: We have seen the business landscape evolve rapidly in the past decade, and with it, spending on cloud services. There is a strong shift in business philosophy from “IT as usual” to “IT as eagerly anticipated”. Therefore, enterprises as well as small businesses today are adopting cloud computing more and more as they realise the strategic importance of cloud and how it dramatically changes the IT department’s relationship with the business in entirety.
Etisalat is the market leader in data centre services and already offers an extensive portfolio of hosted and managed services for large enterprises and small businesses alike — ranging from email and collaboration, to security and storage. Cloud offers were a natural extension of our business and we launched last year the country’s first cloud hosting service — Etisalat Cloud Compute.
Our service is hosted locally in etisalat’s data centres, the largest being the Jebel Ali Data Centre in Dubai and the Khalifa City “A” Data Centres in Abu Dhabi. The advantage for enterprises and small and medium businesses is an easy access to infrastructure, the ability to scale up or down rapidly based on your demand and faster time to market than conventional hosting services.
But our vision for cloud goes beyond hosting; we are already offering security services in the cloud such as email filtering, web security and DDOS as well as fully cloud based email and collaboration services and mobile device management. In the near future, we will add Big Data, applications and vertical specific offers for education, health and governments.
Etisalat will lead the cloud market by example. As we progressively move our internal systems and services to our cloud offers, we will demonstrate the benefits of these solutions to our customers.