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)
One of the most significant consequences of the mobile age is the increase in customer centricity. Slight delays can annoy a customer; minor indifferences can lead him to publicly shame the brand. This has taken the competitiveness up by several notches in all the sectors, let alone telcos. “In this scenario amidst intense competition, we have launched a variety of innovative offers and services in UAE keeping in mind the best for customer experience. Etisalat has maintained a diverse and effective business model offering value to the customer to meet their expectations, dynamic needs and evolving aspirations,” Al Abdooli says.
One such targeted customer campaigns from Etisalat has come in the form of swyp. A few days into the official launch of Virgin Mobile’s services in the UAE, Etisalat put forth its own version of a youth-friendly plan. The plan’s name ‘swyp’ is an acronym for ‘So what’s your plan’ , which refers to the customisability of the services on this SIM card. Al Abdooli says: “UAE today is a youth driven country. A majority of these millennials are financially independent and contributing to the economic transformation in the UAE. swyp focuses mainly on these millennials between 15-29 years with a completely new customised digital platform that will focus on providing wholly app-based solutions.”
Al Abdooli explains further, that the prime objective of creating this service was to become a lifestyle partner rather than being only a telecom provider. “The young customer can expect ‘swyp’ to meet all his or her changing requirements completely on a digital platform.”
UAE today is at the forefront of a digital driven economy. In line with the ambitions and strategies of the country at large, Etisalat’s focus at this year’s GITEX is to showcase the role it’s playing to enable the big digital dream, with its network and infrastructure. Al Abdooli says: “‘Driving the Digital Future’ is the theme this year at GITEX Technology Week that signifies the company’s mission to participate in creating a connected future in UAE. Today we are transitioning to a digital future with our offering of digitized solutions and services.”
Etisalat’s demonstrations this year at GITEX will enable visitors to witness innovative ideas, concepts and solutions showcased on Etisalat’s digital platforms and infrastructure. “When we say that innovation is at the core of Etisalat’s operations, we do not only mean it in terms of telecom technologies. We are also paving the way for smarter digital solutions and applications that will mobilise people, businesses and the government sector for a better tomorrow,” Al Abdooli adds.
The verdict on the future of telcos worldwide is quite clear by now- operators can choose to just stay as the connectivity providers, or they need to transform holistically, both in terms of technology, culture and business models to position themselves as digital or technology players. Etisalat definitely is not looking forward to be connectivity-only entity.
Al Abdooli says: “Today, we cannot be perceived only as a company leading in providing best-in-class networks and connectivity but solutions and services that change and impact the lives of our customers. Etisalat today has a plethora of services addressing requirements of various customer groups. However with changing market environments demand for smart services and networks will keep growing.
“To remain relevant we need to be faster, better and offer more, in essence agility is the key to success. New revenue opportunities are there for those to respond and those prepared to look for the partnerships that deliver added value. In line with our journey, Etisalat is already playing in the arenas where it matters.”
At GITEX 2016, Etisalat demonstrated the region’s fastest trial of 5G reaching speeds of 36Gbps. This year, Etisalat will be setting yet another benchmark with a live demo reaching double the speed and giving visitors the opportunity to experience 4K and virtual reality in 5G.