The UAE has maintained its 12th global ranking in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) index, one of the key indicators included in the 2016 Global Innovation Index (GII). The country topped the Arab nations and placed 41st worldwide in overall performance. The robust telecom network of the country definitely deserves the accolades along with the other technology players in the market.
The UAE mobile market boasts a high smart phone penetration. The potential to increase revenues through new connections may not be that huge; as a result operators have shifted their focus to provision of value added services that cater to the needs of the data-centric, always-connected digital generation. Mobile data makes up a major percentage of the revenues that the operators in the UAE are making from mobile services. By bundling innovative new services with mobile data bundles and customised offerings might be the way to customer satisfaction and retention in this age.
The UAE operators have not been laggards when it comes to network upgrades and network refresh. It has just been four years from the time when 5G was first mooted as the successor to LTE and operators are taking 5G seriously, as indeed they must. Both the UAE telcos- du and Etisalat, are extremely confident that the UAE could become the first country in the world to have a nation-wide rollout of a 5G network. Experts have been working closely with all the ecosystem partners, infrastructure to help shape, and clarify the 5G network requirements from now.
du, recently launched the UAE 5G Innovation Gate (U5GIG). The U5GIG has been envisioned to be a consortium of technical and academic organisations in the UAE as well as global telecom vendors to plan and use their expertise to define and develop a global 5G network that will radically change lives across the UAE. Ibrahim Nassir, chief human capital and administration officer at du, said: “We are excited to announce this initiative that will allow the UAE to effectively compete with the advanced markets and bring UAE’s voice to the technology development debate. We plan to work closely with suppliers and SMEs and eventually train future UAE academic and industry leaders.
“The inauguration of U5GIG adds further impetus to the initiative of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in establishing the UAE as a global leader in all aspects and as an innovator in technology in the Middle East region,” he added.
Although 5G is a few years away, the U5GIG will be pushing the boundaries of what is possible now and in the future and participate in the development. The true impact of 5G will come from the innovative applications and IoT-use cases, the new network will enable.
Both national and international carriers are realising that big data could mean big business when maximised appropriately. However, in spite of the best-of-breed technologies in place, the level of monetisation of data usage is still not as satisfactory as it should have been. So, while, operators, vendors and analysts keep brainstorming and planning new projects from time to time to improve data monetisation, new areas of revenue generation have also been brought to the spotlight.
For example, there has been renewed interest and focus on the services sector to cater to both large scale enterprises and SMEs. The convergence of information technology and telecoms has created great opportunities for the telcos to emerge as profitable ICT providers. Being the owners of the networks as well as the largest customer database, it’s quite advantageous for the telcos to make a plunge into delivery of ICT services. Cloud computing as well as the concept of managed services has further fuelled the whole process. The managed service model backed by cloud approach makes it easier for SMEs to avail the best of technologies without a huge investment; this is a sector that can yield excellent returns for the telcos.
With a core competency in network service provision, a telco like du has already invested heavily in the multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network technology that is increasingly considered key to the delivery of managed services. Industry analysts believe that ownership of such network technology to better manage IP infrastructure will become more critical in managing ICT service and business-level agreements in the managed service space. Network convergence will see managed network services gain in importance in the near term. Growing message volumes and the greater awareness of the need for business continuity is driving the steady growth of storage management services.
Managed security services are one of the most rapidly-growing managed services, and these services are proving increasingly popular as organisations overcome resistance to the idea of having third parties provide security services. The growth in mobile device usage at work has spurred the rise of managed mobility services as a part of many providers’ offerings.
The UAE has always relied upon the skills, dedication and resourcefulness of its people to deliver the exceptional growth the country has seen over recent years. The UAE government has always been upbeat about digital transformation and proactively launches and backs all initiatives that can facilitate the transformation of the country into one of the smartest and the happiest in the world. Government initiatives aimed at improving collaboration between departments and the stated strategy around eGovernment continue to make the UAE more business-friendly.
Earlier this year, the General Authority for Regulating the Telecommunication Sector (TRA UAE) and Dubai Smart City Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance cooperation in all aspects related to mGovernment and Smart Cities in the country. The MoU aims to enhance cooperation and exchange of experiences and information between the two parties, in addition to achieving optimum utilisation of their efforts and investments. The MoU comes in the framework of accelerating the progress towards achieving the mGovernment and Smart Cities’ objectives, in addition to shaping policies, strategic plans, and the initiatives at a federal and local level in the UAE.
H.E. Hamad Obaid Al Mansori, UAE TRA Director General, said: “This agreement comes in the framework of the efforts exerted to strengthen the national collaborative efforts between various national and federal entities with the aim of fostering the comprehensive integration. The agreement also reflects both parties’ endeavour to cooperate in achieving the 2021 objectives. It also comes as a part of the immense efforts exerted by TRA to support the smart transformation and ICT development in the UAE.”
Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, director general , dubai smart city office said: “The smart Dubai office is committed to embodying a culture of collaboration across local and Federal governments, as we work together for the future of the UAE. Our long-standing partnership with the TRA is strengthened by this memorandum of understanding in support of the Dubai Data Initiative and the smart city platform, and we look forward to further collaboration across all fields of shared expertise, towards the smart and sustainable future of Dubai and the UAE and the broader region.”
The UAE has been leading worldwide in the field of providing frequencies for broadband mobile services, having allocated the most number of band frequencies to operators for mobile services, it also aims to provide suitable environment for all radio services and conducting a number of experiments for new radio services.
The UAE, represented by the TRA, headed the 21st Arab Spectrum Management Group meeting, in Cairo, Egypt, as part of the preparatory meetings for the World Radio communication Conference 2019 (WRC-2019). The major outcomes of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) include obtaining additional spectrum for mobile broadband, including a global allocation for the 700 MHz band, as well as the 1400 and 3500 MHz bands. The new band allocation is expected to meet the growing needs of countries to be able to introduce new technologies.
Customer experience tops the agenda of businesses worldwide and has attained even increased importance in an era of millennials who demand instant gratification. Both the UAE telcos as well as the TRA in collaboration with the government have been investing in solutions to provide world-class customer experience. However, the run up to achieving omni-channel experience still looks like a long route.
In the meanwhile, TRA UAE in June 2016 launched ‘Erteqa’ a new initiative which aims to increase the level of customer services across the UAE’s telecoms sector. The initiative aims to enhance telecommunications customer service centres based on quality standards set by the TRA and the telecoms provider to ensure the happiness and satisfaction of Etisalat and Du customers. The project falls under a wider initiative called ‘Esaad’, which was launched subsequently by the federal entity. H.E. Al Mansoori said: “This unique effort makes our standards different from anywhere else in the world, as we work to always become number one in our initiatives – having learned from our wise leadership to not compromise on excellence.”
Eng. Saleh Al Abdooli, CEO, Etisalat Group, said: “Etisalat will mobilise our resources and human abilities towards innovation to promote our services to a level where we can achieve the highest customer satisfaction and happiness.”
Osman Sultan, Du CEO said: “As we grow our Smart City, we have come to the realisation that telecom services play a key role and we are completely dedicated to steadfastly digitising and developing smart telecommunications services throughout the UAE.”
In spite of being the hot bed for technology implementations, government collaboration and an advanced ecosystem of technology players, the UAE still stays limited to two telecom operators, making one wonder the scenario if there were more players allowed to operate in the market.
Increased competition has the potential to raise the service standards, as has already been witnessed in other markets in the Middle East. Isn’t it time for the third operator to make entry into the market?
NUMBER GAMES - UAE TELECOM MARKET (as in June 2016)
Number of Fixed Lines (Includes ISDN Fixed Lines) - 2,284,134
Fixed lines per 100 inhabitants - 26.5
Active Mobile Subscriptions (“Active” is defined by any subscriber who has made or received a voice or video call in the preceding 90 days, or has sent an SMS or MMS during that period.)- 19,133,341
Mobile Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants - 222.3
Post paid - 2,986,713
Pre-paid - 16,146,628
Internet Subscriptions - 1,261,532
Dial-up Subscriptions (“Active” is defined by any subscriber who has accessed their dial-up internet account in the preceding 90 days.) - 473
Broadband Subscriptions -1,261,059
Broadband Internet Subscriptions per 100 inhabitants -14.7
Source: TRA UAE
UAE operators: leading by example
Launch of Voice over LTE service: This service will allow Etisalat’s mobile customers, prepaid and post-paid, to use LTE for full voice and data services on a single LTE enabled device. At the moment of launch, the service was only made available to Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge owners. This new service is based on SRVCC (Single Radio Call Continuity).
Roaming Callback App: Etisalat’s new Roaming Callback App allows roaming customers to enjoy calling any number within the country of visit, the UAE, or other countries at a special flat rate of Dh3 per min. Customers without an Apple or Android smartphone can still make an outgoing call at this special rate by dialling specific code.
Virtual telecom function: Following the launch of its first NFV telco cloud, Etisalat on-boarded its first virtualised telecom function using Affirmed Networks' virtualised Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) solution. The UAE telecom aims to position its vEPC to rapidly deliver broadband and voice services for both mobile and fixed users, in addition to providing advanced connected car and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) services.
Partnership with Careem: Careem has announced a partnership with Etisalat as it launches its new payment platform dubbed Careem Wallet, for booking car rides. Careem Wallet allows customers to pay for car rides using Etisalat's Reward points or choose to earn Etisalat Reward points as they use Careem services.
'Smart' theme park resort: Dubai Parks and Resorts, the region’s largest integrated theme park destination, and Etisalat announced their collaboration in creating the region’s first smart theme park resort. As part of the collaboration, Etisalat said it will design and implement creative end-to-end smart solutions as well as build and manage a park-wide ICT (information and communications technology) and security infrastructure in preparation for the opening of the resort in October.
Etisalat wallet: Etisalat launched its wallet- a new service that comes packaged in an app. The app will allow Etisalat users to utilize a number of services available on the app. The Etisalat Wallet is the financial component of the UAE Smart Government initiative, which aims to modernise many aspects of life; so far they have identified over 90 services provided by government departments that require digital payment. Thus, using the Etisalat Wallet, users can be used to make secure transactions in these areas.
Establishment of UAE 5G Innovation Gate (U5GIG): The U5GIG has been envisioned to be a consortium of technical and academic organisations in UAE as well as global telecom vendors to plan and use their expertise to define and develop a global 5G network that will radically change lives across the UAE. du is taking the lead to build a UAE 5G Innovation Lab to prototype, test and validate early 5G and IoT equipment and services.
Strategic partnership with Smart Dubai: The Smart Dubai Platform, a digital backbone powering the city in the near future, was launched in partnership with strategic partner, du. The Smart Dubai Platform will be the central operating system for the city, providing access to city services and data for all individuals, private sector as well as public sector entities.
BlockChain launch: Together with the support of Dubai Future Foundation through the Global Blockchain Council, du’s pilot project will use blockchain technology to introduce a safer common system for instantly sharing and verifying electronic health records (EHR) between hospitals and clinics. du has also partnered in another Blockchain Technology pilot with Loyyal and Dubai Tourism with the Dubai Global Blockchain Council.
WTA certification: du Samacom Teleport was the first teleport in the Middle East to achieve provisional certification under the World Teleport Association’s (WTA) Teleport Certification Program. Located in Dubai, du Samacom Teleport is in an ideal location for satellite visibility covering five continents, and enabling near global coverage. This world-class facility serves both regional and international customers.
T-SDN network: Huawei and du have jointly launched the world's first commercial Transport Software-Defined Network (T-SDN) on the host network. The BoD (Bandwidth on Demand) service provided by the T-SDN network helps implement more flexible Data-Centre service scheduling and improves user experience while managing services through effective bandwidth optimisation and interval of time.
Q2 revenues : AED 3.07 billion (-0.8% YoY)
Net Q2 profit before royalty: AED 969.7 million (-0.9% YoY)
Q2 revenues: AED 7.72 billion (+3% YoY)
Net Profit : AED 2.06 billion (+10% YoY)
Saleh Al Abdooli, CEO, Etisalat Group : “We are already putting in place the network and partnerships that will deliver the benefits from changes in the telecom industry. Etisalat Group is a strong supporter of the Smart City concept. The partnerships with the EXPO 2020 team and with Dubai Parks and Resorts, are in line with our digital transformation strategy that Etisalat considers a priority to shape and advance Smart Cities in the UAE.”
Osman Sultan, du’s Chief Executive Officer : “The introduction of the Smart Dubai platform marks a significant step towards the UAE’s smart city transformation. du has supported the UAE leadership’s smart city vision by introducing the infrastructure with the capabilities of empowering all UAE entities to step into a smart future. At du, we consider our contribution as being an essential mainstay to the local economy, as well as the facilitator of a collaborative ecosystem between a whole host of public and private players.”
H.E. Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, TRA Director General : “The UAE is progressing steadily to achieve global leadership in innovation through building our human capital which comprise young ones with skills and highly innovative spirits. Our nation’s leaders are working to develop and encourage national talents and capabilities to become successful in innovation, following the national strategy launched by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which aims to make the UAE one of the most innovative countries in the world by 2021.”