Etisalat's network is its biggest asset and the large customer base is a competitive edge, Al Abdooli says. Etisalat's network is its biggest asset and the large customer base is a competitive edge, Al Abdooli says.

Etisalat CEO Saleh Al Abdooli on how the UAE's incumbent operator is positioned to be the enviable digital player backed by its robust network, customer base and strategic investments.

At a time when digitisation is disrupting market dynamics and Middle Eastern economies are still learning to make peace with the post-oil era, the telecom industry is facing one of its most interesting yet sceptical moments. While the search for reliable revenue streams continues, and new internet players challenge telecoms, UAE headquartered operator, Etisalat is confident that its network capabilities and enormous customer base offer an unrivalled competitive edge against all other market players. CEO Saleh Al Abdooli believes that this added value places Etisalat at an enviable position as a partner of choice for other service providers.

To develop innovative new business models and generate incremental revenues from the mobile ecosystem, the operator has devised a clear strategy for digital transformation. “Innovation and new business development are key and will add to our existing core strengths to compete effectively.  Digital transformation will have to start from within Etisalat enabling us to tap into the market opportunity and increase revenues,” Al Abdooli says.

The operator is banking upon its dedicated business unit, Etisalat Digital to accelerate the development and launch of new kinds of services. On the other hand, looking at the constantly increasing number of devices and desire to stay connected, Etisalat has been solidifying its foundation on the M2M front through strategic partnerships.

Aiming to be a pioneer in the adoption of the fifth generation of mobile technology, the operator has been actively investing and experimenting 5G over its networks. Earlier this year, Ericsson and Etisalat successfully conducted a 5G trial with outdoor mobility at Etisalat’s head office in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The trial demonstrated 5G capabilities in a real world environment over a live network, including tests on speed, latency and beam steering. The 5G trial system used 800MHz of spectrum in the 15GHz band, demonstrating over 20 times greater performance than what is currently used in 4G networks. The trial achieved aggregate site throughput of greater than 24Gbps, with a latency less than half of what is seen currently in 4G networks.

On the customer-facing side, the operator recently launched a new SIM service, swyp,  specifically targeting at the digital exclusive generation, aged 15-29 years old in the UAE. With its focus on all the right areas, Al Abdooli is optimistic about the constant growth potential of the operator.

GITEX 2017 marks the first anniversary of Etisalat Digital. “The launch of Etisalat Digital last year was to actively contribute to the digital transformation market, which has a huge opportunity, especially in the UAE, for digital services. The government’s push for innovation makes UAE an incredible destination for everything digital,” Al Abdooli says.

As the premier digital and telecommunications partner of Dubai Expo2020, the operator is working to deliver ‘one of the fastest, smartest and best-connected places on earth’ during the global mega event. “We are involved in creating the infrastructure for the Expo site – enabling Expo 2020 Dubai to provide visitors and participants with a cutting edge, immersive digital experience that brings the Expo themes to life for the 25 million expected visitors,” Al Abdooli says. He adds that apart from that, Etisalat Digital is working on several important projects in the fields of digital health, security and smart cities.

The other major project to Etisalat Digital’s credit is the delivery of the digital infrastructure for Dubai Parks and Resorts. “In the next 12 months, our focus will be to continue growing our digital business by tapping into potential market opportunities and securing key wins in various digital domains.  In parallel with that, the unit is working to enrich and expand its digital solutions portfolio in the days to come by introducing new digital propositions such as video-surveillance-as-a-service (VSaaS), mobile cashier and digital signage solutions,” Al Abdooli tells CommsMEA. “We will also complement our digital offerings with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics capabilities presenting an extra value to our customers.”

Etisalat sees its digital unit as an agent of change for its transformation from a connectivity provider to a digital player. The operator is using the assets, platforms and solutions of Etisalat not just to sell to customers, but also to transform its internal operating models. Additionally, newer agile processes have been adopted as well, the CEO explains.

Growth, innovation and disruption are the underlying trends of the telco industry. The sector has undergone immense change with the internet and smartphones transforming the way people communicate, and share information. Al Abdooli sees great potential for telcos to leverage this exponential growth of connected devices. “The mobile platform today is an enabler of digital transformation having the flexibility of bringing different technologies together to deliver unique services to customers and businesses of all sizes.  Today we have the flexibility to create new products and services which reflect these in-demand technologies and will be a determining factor in success within the industry. These new technologies also present an attractive opportunity for telcos to offer B2B services,” Al Abdooli says.


(P.S. This interview originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of CommsMEA)