Customer centric

Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson's Region Middle East, talks with CommsMEA
Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson's Region Middle East.
Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson's Region Middle East.

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With more than 30 years’ experience in the telecommunications market, and 18 years with Ericsson, Rafiah Ibrahim was recently appointed head of Ericsson's Region Middle East.

Ibrahim is convinced that the Middle East is a key market for the company and believes that it will bring several opportunities to improve Ericsson’s growth.

“We will continue to drive the progression towards the Networked Society in the region and beyond, which will require us to work hand in hand with operators, to develop their infrastructures with our network technology solutions,” she told CommsMEA.

OSS/BSS, managed services and M2M are the key areas where she foresees “tremendous” potential. Moreover, she points out the changes that operators in the region are making, shifting their strategies from network-centric to consumer-centric.

“We believe that managed services will optimise networks and customer experience, and that solutions such as M2M will provide alternative revenue streams for operators. At the same time, and in line with the ICT convergence between telecoms, TV/media and other industries, Ericsson is uniquely positioned at the centre of this convergence,” she added.

Ibrahim highlights this area as a key focus for Ericsson and pointed out that a recent study conducted by Ericsson’s Consumer Lab revealed that network performance is vital for winning customer loyalty, and for keeping churn low, especially amongst smart device users.

“This is growing in pertinence as we see even more customers going mobile, with the growing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend increasing demand for an unparalleled experience whenever and wherever they want it,” she noted.

Another growth area in the region will be LTE, as she foresees. “There is phenomenal LTE growth in the MEA region. If you look at our recently released Mobility Report, it says that by 2019, across the MEA region, 65% of the LTE network will be WCDMA /HSPA,” she added.

Nigeria, South Africa and Angola will have the most LTE subscriptions in the region between 2013 and 2019, according to Ibrahim.

Moreover, LTE brings operators the possibility to offer Voice over LTE (VoLTE). Some operators consider that VoLTE is a valuable tool to face OTTs. Ibrahim believes s that VoLTE brings many opportunities to operators and points out that it will work as a differentiator for operators.

“It will provide customers with higher quality calls that connect much faster than traditional calls — connection will be in a no more than two seconds, compared to the three or more seconds required to connect on GSM or CDMA networks. The clarity of HD calls over VoLTE will be a big bonus over OTT, as it means less chance of calls dropping, of static or other interferences,” she said.

Ibrahim also highlightsthe landscape that operators are facing globally and set the trends of the market. “Today’s telecom market is characterized by four major trends that are evident across all regions and that our 4G IP strategy addresses. First of all, the world is rapidly going mobile and broadband. Second, new OTT services and business models are challenging operators. With these services, such as Facebook, YouTube and Netflix, content providers are using telecom networks to reach consumers directly, bypassing operators without sharing revenues with them. A third trend, and one that is expected to continue, is the huge growth in video traffic, which is now five times larger than it was five years ago. And finally, Ericsson’s vision of a world with more than 50 billion connected devices by 2020, when everything that benefits from an IP connection will have one, is beginning to be realized,” Ibrahim added.

In order to be prepared for these challenges, Ibrahim proposes that operators to bring advertisers into their business. “We also recommend that operators bring advertisers into the equation — turning the dual— sided business model into a three-sided business model — and start thinking about how they can take advantage of the opportunities provided by online advertising. After all, analyst reports show that 50% of all advertising is expected to be online by 2015. Operators should try to secure their share of this business,” she said.

However, apart from opportunities, some countries in the Middle East bring more challenges to the business due to their political instability. In the latest financial results, Ericsson pointed out that political unrest prevails in parts of the Middle East and Africa and is still impacting sales.

Ibrahim pointed out Iraq and Egypt when asked about these markets in the region. “Security and political instability in any country can delay investments,” she added.

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