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Tariq Halawani, Executive Director, Enterprise Solutions, Microsoft UAE, recalls how the UAE’s success has relied heavily on robust telecommunications infrastructure and sets the scene for the next generation of technology innovation in the region

As more and more elements of consumers’ physical lives become digitised, the businesses that serve them have undergone significant change, encouraged in large part by friendly policies. The UAE is among the world’s most welcoming business environments and its government has long encouraged digital transformation as a means for public entities to become more efficient and private enterprise to be more competitive.

The UAE was top of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Global Entrepreneurship Index for 2022; and a February forecast by Fitch Solutions has the country’s real GDP growth at 4.6 per cent this year compared with 3.4 per cent in 2021.

Much of the UAE’s past growth, and many of its aspirations for the coming years, are the result of the business community’s ability to embrace and effect change. Infrastructure, particularly telecom infrastructure, has underpinned this propensity. By 2020, the mobile subscription rate had reached 1.86 per person.

“When smartphone and internet penetration are so high that we can effectively consider every person as a connected consumer, it has huge implications for growth within a global digital economy,” said Tariq Halawani, Executive Director, Enterprise Solutions, Microsoft UAE. “During Covid, telcos leveraged those penetration figures to become champions of business continuity, working with cloud providers like Microsoft to ensure that economies kept ticking over. Now, the opportunity is about evolving beyond a connectivity provider to become a digital business that helps other businesses move forward with new use cases and make better decisions for their employees and customers. Telcos will now become 'techcos’.”

Lately, telecoms companies have breached the frontiers of scale in technology, bringing enterprise-grade capabilities to smaller businesses through cloud computing, and providing them with the cybersecurity necessary to grow safely. Now that 5G has emerged as a viable and widely available technology, telecoms companies have viewed their transformation to techcos as a path to monetise their 5G investments.

“5G enables real-time analytics and cognitive services, which gives us unprecedented actionable insights from data,” said Halawani. “Techcos will be the foundation of a range of new solutions in sectors such as government, agriculture, healthcare, and manufacturing. For example, digital twins, which is going to be an important leap forward in manufacturing, utilities, and many other realms, is significantly more viable with 5G. And remote logistics at ports, and for fleets in transit, is another example.”

To deliver these new use cases will require greater reliance on cloud delivery through business support systems (BSS) and operations support systems (OSS). Together, BSS and OSS platforms will form the spine of the new techco’s offerings.

“In the UAE, Microsoft and its partner ecosystem are ideally placed to support telcos in their journey to becoming techcos,” said Halawani. “Together, we can leverage exciting opportunities in new markets and thrive in the global digital economy.”

Microsoft has a long-standing partnership with etisalat by e&, in a signal that it was focusing on a techco strategy. As a digital services provider, e& collaborated with Microsoft on the launch of the company’s UAE cloud data centres.

“One of the things Microsoft and e& worked on together was the mass connection of businesses and individuals that made remote work possible during the early days of the COVID crisis, through Microsoft Teams,” said Halawani. “Techcos like e& are the future, and economies will be stronger because of their vision and innovation.”

For more on how telcos are reinventing themselves as techcos, check out our podcast sit-down with Miguel Angel Villalonga, Vice President, Cloud & Data Center Solutions, e& enterprise when it drops next month.