Roger Field is Editor of CommMEA. Roger Field is Editor of CommMEA.

There’s nothing like a busy exhibition to remind telecoms professionals of the opportunities that abound in the sector, and the technology and services available to help alleviate the many challenges that telecom operators face.

A walk around Gulfcomms, the telecoms section of GITEX Technology Week, revealed many products aimed at helping operators, from wireless backhaul to picocells and smart WiFi offload technology. The event also revealed the innovations that are likely to become the mainstream services of tomorrow.

Etisalat, which occupied a large section of Zabeel Hall at Gulfcomms, was busy demonstrating Near Field Communication (NFC) technology that will allow people to pay for services and even shopping with a tap of their smartphone. The operator also announced during the event plans for GPS-based services. It signed an agreement with GPS specialist GAP-Corp FNI to offer positioning services such as vehicle monitoring and hourly vehicle positioning.

With operators also desperate to find ways of reducing costs, Etisalat’s rival Du demonstrated that there are always areas where telcos can improve efficiency. The operator is set to install management efficiency systems on its cell sites that can help to cut fuel consumption by a staggering 60%.

Elsewhere, telcos looked to make efficiency savings in other areas. South Africa’s MTN Group agreed to sell its cell towers in Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon for a combined sum of $284 million. Such deals, which pave the way towards tower sharing and so help operators cut costs, are increasingly common but have not yet taken root among operators in the Middle East.

Telepresence and videoconferencing, a mainstay of many telecoms exhibitions, also featured strongly at Gulfcomms. With network capacity increasing year-on-year, companies are increasingly making use of video conferencing, and the industry’s main players including Polycom, Cisco and Lifesize were out in force.

As the industry matures, it is becoming ever more important for video conferencing systems to be all inclusive while remaining secure. To this end, Polycom and Avaya both demonstrated systems that allow people to call in securely to a video conference. In the case of Polycom, people can even call in to a conference via popular platforms such as Skype.

Outside of GITEX, there was no shortage of news and developments in the industry to offer further optimism. With operators struggling to make data services offset declines from traditional voice and SMS services, it is vital for them to ensure their data networks work at maximum efficiency. This is something that small cells (see page 26) can help operators achieve. Small cells have gained significant attention in the past year, and were a particular point of interest at Mobile World Congress at the beginning of the year.

The radio access nodes look set to become an important part of the operators’ arsenal in terms of coping with the much-discussed surge in mobile data. The technology can not only help take on the strain off mobile broadband networks, but also allows operators to offer an improved service in busy metropolitan areas where demand for mobile broadband is highest.

But small cells will probably be just one piece of the jigsaw. As Pravala Networks’ Keith Doucet told CommsMEA, WiFi is also an important, but often overlooked, technology that can be used by operators to improve their mobile broadband service. Indeed, by offloading mobile broadband traffic onto WiFi networks - where feasible - operators can massively reduce the strain on their networks.

But operators may also be missing another trick with WiFi. Doucet reckons telcos should look to offer far better WiFi roaming services. This could allow far cheaper broadband for travellers, and could become a solid growth area for operators. And in today’s climate, that is not an opportunity to be missed.