Rafiah Ibrahim, Ericsson’s Head of Middle East and Africa on how Ericsson is helping telcos carve a clear path to the future.
While telecom operators in the region continue to look for new revenue streams, network vendors of the likes of Ericsson have got to play a significant role in enablement of this transformation. Newer services require more efficient operational models, leaner business models, and faster more intelligent networks, the onus of which comes to rest on the vendors’ expertise. Following a strategy refresh on a global level earlier this year, the company’s current business strategy in the MEA region is centred on securing its technology leadership. Banking on its 5G ready portfolio and R&D focus, the vendor is positioning itself as the right enabler of operator’s next wave of digital transformation, says Rafiah Ibrahim, Ericsson’s Head of Middle East & Africa.
Citing one of the examples of how Ericsson is enabling telcos, Ibrahim highlights the deal signed with UAE operator, du at GITEX Technology Week 2017. The partnership will enable du to offer flexible pricing and billing solutions for IoT and cloud platforms toward enterprise customers. Ericsson IoT monetisation, built on the functionalities of Ericsson’s Enterprise and Cloud Billing solution, will also allow du to offer Billing-as-a-Service for government entities and several industry verticals such as utilities, retail and transport.
Ericsson’s solutions will be easily integrated into du’s existing technology, enabling the operator to provide newer services with ease, by reducing the time to market.
“Our latest mobility report forecasts 29 billion connected devices by 2022, of which around 18 billion will be in IoT. With this enormous market potential, first-mover operators around the world are positioning themselves to capitalise on this opportunity by deploying solutions that help enterprises rapidly offer innovative new services,” says Ibrahim. “Our Enterprise and Cloud Billing solution will allow du to monetise existing services, develop new offerings and accelerate digitalisation in the region.”
Elaborating on the strategy of Ericsson in the Middle East and Africa market, Ibrahim says the idea is to work with the operators, on primarily three areas: radio technology, telco core, and managed services.
As expectations of consumers continue to be on the rise, the need for new services challenges mobile operators to deliver consistent high-performance app coverage to satisfy consumers and business customers. To allow operators to capitalise on these exciting opportunities, Ericsson has introduced the Ericsson Radio System, an end-to-end radio modular and scalable network portfolio of hardware and software that has been designed to fit all site types and traffic scenarios as networks grow in scale and complexity on the road to 5G. Going hand in hand with this is the Ericsson Radio System Software which brings together LTE FDD & TDD, WCDMA and GSM into a unified architecture.
The telecom core needs to be transformed to address all the new demands and opportunities of the digital age. Operators will need to reduce costs and increase the speed of innovation in order to achieve business and operational flexibility. Costs need to be reduced and speed of innovation increased. “Ericsson’s portfolio of solutions and services supports operators in their attempts to transform the telecom core and operations,” Ibrahim says.
For example, the Ericsson Enriched Communication solution enables operators to introduce new services like video calling, chat, group messaging and large file transfers using the mobile phone number as identity. These new IP-based communication services can be used to define new attractive communication services bundles in order to stay competitive and attract new customers as well as reduce churn.
In terms of managed services, Ericsson’s target is to focus at areas where it can create value for its customers, Ibrahim says. Managed services enhance wireless and wireline operators’ ability to meet their consumers’ expectations by assuring performance, capacity and coverage of networks and services. According to Ericsson, operators can achieve an average cost reduction of 20-25% with managed services.
Earlier this year, Zain Iraq extended its managed services contract with Ericsson until 2021. Ericsson has been providing Managed Services for Networks, IT and value-added services to the operator since 2012. Under the terms of the new contract, Ericsson strengthens its role as a trusted business partner by supplying a service operation centre and energy network operations centre to Zain Iraq.
In terms of technology, needless to say, 5G continues to be a focus for Ericsson. The idea is to make the operators’ transition to 5G seamless and a matter of software upgrade, Ibrahim says. To facilitate a rapid evolution of 5G access networks and the successful adoption of 5G services the vendor has already launched 5G Plug-Ins - software-driven solutions that bring essential 5G technology concepts to today’s cellular networks.
In addition, Ibrahim tells CommsMEA, Ericsson is working with partners in many different industries, as well as universities and research centres, on different use cases for 5G technology. She explains that the requirements will vary from one market to another, hence, by working on several use cases across industries, Ericsson tries to present each operator partner with solutions that would be most relevant to their market.
Ibrahim is also keen to highlight the importance of BSS, especially in the light of the digital transformation of operators. Ericsson already has an ‘industry leading charging and billing portfolio’, which has received a recent upgrade with the addition of Ericsson Revenue Manager. When crucial data is fragmented and exists in separate silos, services take months to launch, processes are duplicated and error prone, and operators lack the tools to collaborate with partners without massive IT systems customisation. The Revenue Manager is real-time, fully convergent and cloud-ready, and offers the next level of BSS that operators require, Ibrahim adds.
The vendor is following a two-pronged approach to meet the market needs in the region- on one hand, the focus is to improve network performance; while the other focus is to enable operators to offer better and newer services.
In terms of network readiness, Ibrahim says MEA operators fall into broadly three main categories. The first category consists of mature operators, especially telcos in GCC countries. They are mostly on 4G, and are looking forward to moving into digitisation, automation and improved efficiencies, and need support in that space. The second group comprises operators who still require a lot of roll-out because deployment of 4G is lacking in several regions. Then there are operators, many of whom are in Africa, who are still on 3G, voice remains important and in some of the cases, may be data too. Depending on the level of maturity of each operator, Ericsson helps them by supporting what matters most to them, Ibrahim says.
At the recently concluded GITEX Technology Week 2017 in Dubai, Ericsson demonstrated 5G robotic surgery with Etisalat. Ibrahim explains that new advanced services are basically about high precision, ultra-low latencies, and extremely high data speeds, all of which boil down to the requirement of extremely robust and reliable networks, and that’s where Ericsson supports the operators.
Another area of high interest, especially in the Middle East, is smart cities. Ericsson sees the bigger picture, a connected society, where connectivity and technologies such as big data, cloud technology, smart grids, and the Internet of Things can enable the sustainable cities of the future, Ibrahim says. Towards achieving that objective, Ericsson is working closely with operators across the region, most of which are directly connected to governments. In this space, Ericsson provides solutions for 5G (real time data analytics to manage as well as control the infrastructure), IoT accelerator (to create a safer and more efficient urban life with connected assets and industry), and cloud (to provide robust connectivity for the evolving demands of cities).
In Kuwait, for example, the Ministry of Electricity and Water is planning on connecting around 800,000 smart metres in that country that will more efficiently manage energy and water consumption. A consortium, led by Zain Kuwait and which includes Ericsson as the sole technology partner, has been formed to implement what will be one of the largest digital transformation projects in the Middle East.
As the market gets more competitive day by day, what is Ericsson’s USP to thrive? Ibrahim says that technology and services leadership is the strength of Ericsson. “We believe in being best at what we do instead of spreading ourselves too thin and attempting system integration tasks.” She further adds how with 42,000 granted patents, Ericsson’s global team of researchers is constantly working to develop innovative solutions for today and tomorrow.
Going forward, Ericsson wants to continue providing connectivity of high quality throughout the region, Ibrahim says. Another focus will be to provide cost-effective solutions to enable operators to launch new services with ease and manage them from a single pane as well. “We are pro-active and prepared for the evolution to 5G,” Ibrahim says.
She also adds that the company emphasises on human resources greatly. In order to ensure the developments are sustainable, we constantly need to refresh our talent pool.
“We retrain existing resources, as well as hire fresh, talent to bring their new perspective to the table.” Ibrahim further believes that a diverse workforce is the key to make workplace more vibrant as well as encourage innovation.