Mats Granryd is Director General of the GSMA and a Member of its Board. Mats Granryd is Director General of the GSMA and a Member of its Board.

Operators need to be faster and more integrated into the society, GSMA DG Mats Granryd says.

CommsMEA: What trends do you see underlining the telecom market worldwide?

Mats Granryd: I think there are a couple of key trends, one is the increasing interest to understand data, while the other trend is the societal impact of mobile operators given their phenomenal reach. We are talking of the fourth industrial revolution. With the IoT applications, 5G and network slicing, I believe there will be a different way how we will connect the society moving forward.

CommsMEA: As telcos worldwide are trying to break out of their mould of being just connectivity providers, how do you visualise the operators of this region on a global scale?

Granryd: The MENA region is massive; there are countries that are up and coming, and then there are countries that are really advanced. But for sure, we see the Middle East operators will be among the first ones globally to launch 5G. Moreover, smart city transformation is massive here in UAE. I think the UAE is a prime example of how one should drive things. The target that by 2030, one fourth of all transport would be autonomous is pretty cool. And we as mobile operators play a pivotal role in achieving these goals.

CommsMEA: Though telcos have diversified their offerings, the way they are generally perceived hasn’t changed a great deal. How long would it take to change this perception and how will it be brought about?

Granryd: It will take some time to go from a ‘fairly easy’ life of the mobile operator community when subscriber growth was in abundance to a scenario when they are facing struggles on the top-line due to several of the OTT players offering free services. It’s not about avoiding OTTs, rather the operators need to be smarter and faster, and that will take a while.

CommsMEA: What’s your take on the pace of cultural shift of telcos towards being digital players?

Granryd: I think you need to look at the way a mobile operator is structured. Normally, a large portion is heavily regulated. But then many operators have a kind of business development unit or incubator on the side, wherein there’s more flexibility to do things as long as some boundaries are adhered to. I don’t think it’s right to say that the operators are slow. They are complex organisations with a part that’s slow and a part which is more free-floating. The slow part makes sure that your data is protected and stays safe.  The free-floating part is the one that deals with innovation.

CommsMEA: In terms of regulations, how much is too much? What’s your opinion on the regulatory landscape and the changes needed therein?

Granryd: What we are arguing is that the OTT community and us (mobile operators) should be regulated similarly when we are providing a similar service. It doesn’t imply that OTT players have to be regulated as heavily as us; but yeah, we could be sort of less-regulated. Some forward-leaning governments are trying to figure out new ways to regulate the new digital economy. It is a relatively longer process and will take some time. The struggle is how to regulate with a very light touch, but still make sure that consumers feel comfortable using the service.

For instance, in Dubai, we had a CEO roundtable together with regulators and ministers. That’s one way of making sure we share our ideas and concerns and listen to all parties involved. I think there’s the possibility to have a more level playing field.

CommsMEA: Going forward, where do you see as becoming the big gold mines for operators?

Granryd: I think there will be different gold mines- one is of course IoT. And then, there’s content and, the financial sector.

CommsMEA: What’s the main challenge that GSMA sees as a body and what’s being done to counter the same?

Granryd: One is taxation, which needs to be more apt for the new digital age. Spectrum issues are there wherein we need to ensure the right spectrum is being issued and it’s harmonised. It needs to be auctioned or sold off in a way that operators can still make money. We wouldn’t want to go back to the 3G era when almost the whole sector got bankrupt because of too high spectrum prices. I think forward-leaning governments are seeing it that it is actually better to give away spectrum as long as there is a commitment. A connected society is what thrives. The duration for which spectrum is issued is also critical.

CommsMEA: Operators are putting in a lot of efforts; but do you see any areas where they can do better so that consumers can yield benefits of digitisation even faster?

Granryd: I think one such area would be roaming. We have an initiative to be better in roaming pricing. In Europe, we already have a legislation for roam like home. We can work together to figure out a smarter way of charging.