COMMS MEA Awards 2019: A review

The 14th edition of the COMMS MEA Awards in October saw 14 awards given to the most innovative, forward-thinking and customer-focused organisations in the telecoms landscape in the MEA region
The COMMS MEA Awards 2019 was a great success. Here are all of our winners!
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The COMMS MEA Awards 2019 was a great success. Here are all of our winners!

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The COMMS MEA Awards 2019 were a roaring success with 14 MEA telecoms operators, and suppliers given recognition for their hard work.

The Awards were held in partnership with event partner datamena. Datamena is a carrier-neutral data centre located in Dubai, operated by EITC, and is home to the UAE Internet Exchange (UAE-IX) and hosts over 150 of the world’s leading enterprises, carriers, cloud and content providers.

Our sponsors this year were platinum sponsor Huawei, the driving force behind telecom innovation, and a leading global provider of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and smart devices;
Bahrain telco operator, Viva Bahrain, who recently doubled its funds raised for its Ramadan donations campaign launched in partnership with RCO and in support of people with diseases or disabilities; SES Networks, which provides reliable and secure satellite and ground communications solutions. Currently its customers deliver over 8,200 digital TV channels to over 355 million homes using the SES network. COMMS MEA sponsors also included Sudatel, a powerful telco innovator in Sudan, which is responsible for the construction and maintenance of Sudan's telecom infrastructure, and finally Comviva Technologies, a subsidiary of Tech Mahindra with an expansive suite of productised solutions. Comviva Technologies caters to over two billion mobile users globally.


The Winners:

5G trailblazer of the year: Huawei
This award recognised an organisation working to develop and deploy 5G in the Middle East and Africa. Judging criteria focused on the scope and scale of 5G pilot project or product development, allocation of resources in 5G development and deployment, work with other partner organisations and overall level of innovation in regard to plans for future 5G development, and deployment. COMMS MEA received a number of exceptional nominations for this award, but Huawei really stood out, having signed agreements for 5G services with Viva, Etisalat, Zain, and more. Huawei is known for its innovation in the 5G space globally.

“Thank you for giving us this award. I think that it is our responsibility to help the Middle East become a leader in the 5G era. At Huawei, we believe that the intelligent world will come very fast. The Middle East has a big responsibility to become a world leader in 5G and it is our obligation to assist them to do it,” said Huan Li, strategy VP, Huawei Middle East. “Huawei is the leading vendor for 5G, and vendor solutions For the major components we rely only on ourselves. We are one year ahead of other vendors. Because of our leadership in 5G innovation we will help the ME to become a leader in 5G.”

Business Service Initiative of the Year: datamena
This award focused on the telecom product or service that made an outstanding contribution to the business sector in the Middle East & Africa. The nominations were judged on the level of innovation demonstrated by the service, and its impact on the end-user’s business. Datamena took this Award for its exceptional business services across the UAE. Datamena provides data centre and connectivity solutions. In 2019, datamena launched a Global Interconnect Ecosystem with hubs in Mumbai and Marseille, transforming its operations from a regional hub to a global player. An open, simple and secure platform based in the UAE gives customers an ecosystem of potential partners, facilitates new business opportunities and helps accelerate growth with seamless interconnection.
“It is a fantastic moment and I am always happy to get this recognition from COMMS MEA. These Awards are one of my favourite industry events. It is a journey we have been on for five years, we enabled cloud players, content providers and enterprise to grow and expand without borders being an issue,” said Abou Mostafa, vice president Commercial and Enterprise Fixed, datamena. “This is just a start, tomorrow you will see us in other markets and in other countries.”

INTERNET OF THINGS SOLUTION OF THE YEAR: Liquid Telecom
This brand new category reflected the incredible innovations taking place in this sphere. Probably one of our largest nomination categories, the judges had a hard time picking the winner. However, Liquid Telecom showed exceptional work in the marketplace, outstripping its competition with its work on Kenya’s fishing industry. Kenya’s huge fishing industry had a problem: Climate change and human interference with water levels are affecting the health of fish. The use of Liquid Telecom’s sensors and an IoT network has enabled fisherman to revolutionise their feeding systems. This has led to healthier fish and an increase in yields.We are pleased to award Liquid Telecom this year.

“We as Liquid Telecom are delighted to be recognised by COMMS MEA, it is a particular milestone for us, especially in the IoT division where we believe that this will contribute to our journey to building Africa’s digital future. First I need to congratulate our Liquid Telecom east Africa team headed by Liquid Telecom as well in Kenya. For the fishing industry in Kenya, we have deployed a network of IoT sensors to check the temperature and quality of the water for the fish farmers, in western Kenya there are about 20,000 fish farmers with an average of two ponds and each pond has 2400 fish, so giving all the data to the farmers will help them to protect their fish,” said Mohamed Bassit, CEO ME & West Africa. “Our plan is to finish our deployment in Kenya, so 5000 farmers by the end of the year are connected, and we plan to deploy this nationwide in Kenya. We are also planning analytics to give more data and support to the farmers.”


MOST INNOVATIVE NEW SERVICE OF THE YEAR: Viva Bahrain
This focused on the operator, vendor or developer that has launched a particularly innovative or successful service or application in the past year. The judging criteria focused on the success of the service and the level of innovation demonstrated. This year Viva Bahrain touched all of the judging buttons with its introduction of VIVA Cash - a ground-breaking application offering consumers the very latest secure and convenient digital mobile wallet for everyday payments with a value-added service of domestic and international remittances.
“We are very proud that we have won this award and Viva Cash. Is the leading mobile wallet in Bahrain which serves the community at large and with the launch of 5G a lot of new technologies will be available such as IoT and augmented reality and Viva will always try to launch the most innovative products to be part of their customers lives,” said a Viva representative.

MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA TELECOM OPERATOR OF THE YEAR: Zain Saudi Arabia
This hard-fought category featured outstanding nominations from all. This year’s winner showed impressive operational performance in reporting five consecutive quarters of profit clearly demonstrating the success of the company's digital growth strategy that has placed the company in a much stronger financial position and also seen its market capitalisation more than double over the last 12 months, and for this reason, and others Zain Saudi stood out amongst its competitors.

“We are very glad to be recognised by such a respectable organisation as COMMS MEA, this is in recognition of our efforts in building the largest 5G network in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, and the third globally. We are continuing our journey, to deliver innovative products and services to our customers and our journey will continue,” said Abdulrahman Hamad AlMufadda, CTO, Zain Saudi Arabia. “We are covering more than 27 cities around the KSA with the biggest footprint in the region, we are contributing to the advancement of the country and helping achieve the biggest milestones of vision 2030. We plan by the end of this year to reach more than 2,600 sites with 5G services by the end of 2019.”


NETWORK INFRASTRUCTURE INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR: Ericsson
This award is given to the operator that has substantially enhanced its network during 2018-2019. The size of the contract, the network improvements and the benefits achieved were all part of the judging criteria. Judges looked for any recent trials and next-generation mobile network developments that are advancing the progression towards full 5G; or a network transformation project that has actually delivered a significant change in operational excellence. This year Ericsson and its outstanding Ericsson Radio System (ERS) portfolio for 5G nabbed this award.

“It is a pleasure to be here and get awarded. It is a key milestone to translate all of this effort over the last few years and now being awarded this. It is our Ericsson radio system that was nominated and awarded, this is an exercise since 2015, all radios since then are 5G equipped and is a matter of 5G software being switched on.  Today we have 22 live networks, now it is not about deployment of 5G, it is about enjoying them thanks to the Ericsson radio system,” said Ammar Ammar, head of Networks Campaigns, MEA, Ericsson. “5G is live — it is for us to no partner with organisations to now see what 5G can do and support their business plans. It is a matter of what 5G means to the consumer, the industries, the enterprises and enabling these use-cases.”


COMMS MEA OUTSTANDING CUSTOMER SERVICE AWARD: Virgin Mobile UAE
Customer service and what you can do for your clients is becoming more and more important. The Customer Service Award looked at how excellent customer service underpins the success of telecom operators. The award aimed to reward the operator that has managed to provide an outstanding all-round experience for its customers. Customer testimonials, statistical data, and NPS scores were of utmost importance in this category. To ensure that the people who use the services also get to have their say, nominations and judging for this award were open to CommsMEA readers. Virgin Mobile UAE took this award for its fully digital mobile brand, allowing for easy customer interaction.
“Winning the best customer service for Virgin Mobile is a great milestone. Customer experience is in the centre of our culture our DNA and it is our key advantage in the UAE market. The Virgin mobile business model is a digital business model targeting the youth and the tech savvy in the UAE, so I think what we have achieved so far is more about the business model validation so the engagement through the Ads, through payments with a credit card, and our customers being able to get a SIM within one hour. Innovation for the digital experience is our future and we listen to the customers and keep innovating,” said Karim Benkirane, MD, Virgin Mobile UAE.


REGULATORY INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR: TRA Bahrain
This award recognised the efforts of the regulator that has demonstrated the greatest commitment to developing a healthy, competitive market. The judging criteria took into account not just the level of competition in a given country, but also the level of improvement that has been delivered in the past year with a particular regulatory initiative. Another hard category to judge, this award was given to TRA Bahrain for its forward-thinking by creating the legal separation of the incumbent (Batelco) into two distinct and separate legal entities, whereby the network arm (B NET) is split from the retail arm for the purposes of creating wholesale only entity that provides access services to all licensed operators indiscriminately. In addition B NET is tasked with rolling out ubiquitous fibre covering 100 per cent of all businesses in Bahrain and 95 per cent of all residential addresses in the kingdom. This was achieved in less than 24 months, which is unprecedented for a task of this scale and magnitude and a first for the MENA region. Only seven other countries have achieved this outside of the region, but none have done so in such a short time scale.

“This award is a recognition of our hard work. Entities are recognising what our role is and how we achieved it. People never see the work that goes in behind the scenes to achieve these results, but once they see the fruits of that work, this is the recognition that it was worth it. This was a three year project and I think the last 18 months were the most critical. We were focusing on a timeline that was hard to achieve. Other countries took a lot longer than us. This is the second time that we have embarked on a project of this scale, the first one was in 2002 when we liberalised the market. In 2019 we have a new regulatory framework, we changed the platform and the ecosystem that we are going to work on,” said Sheikh Nasser Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, deputy general director, TRA Bahrain. “For the coming few months, there is a continuation of this project, it does not end, it is enhanced as we go forward. There are a lot of changes — the dynamic markets are going to change, today we have taken the infrastructure competition away and we have evened out the playing field so all operators will compete on merit not infrastructure, so consumers can choose based on merit, not infrastructure.”

SMART CITY & NETWORK INITIATIVE OF THE YEAR: Nokia Software
The development of smart cities opens up infinite possibilities for us all, both as businesses and as consumers. This award looked at pioneering initiatives in the smart city space. The nominees had to provide information about a particular smart city project they have completed, along with technologies leveraged, and the KPIs to show that has led to increase in process efficiencies, cost reductions and other improvements for the users and revenues for the operator. Leading the nominations in this category was Nokia, who showcased its Nokia's Driver Behaviour Analytics for Safe and Comfortable Driving, an initiative that Nokia has developed, which is a smartphone-based solution to help cities become smarter to eliminate many threats that originate from the drivers behaviour, but also combat inadequate road conditions and challenging traffic design.

Digital Services Content Management award: Comviva Technologies
Comviva managed Digital Content Services for Ooredoo Kuwait for its sixth continuous year of operational excellence, with a notable 3X growth in overall revenues since the inception of the partnership in 2014, and a healthy 10 per cent Y-o-Y growth.
Its digital services content management also resulted in exponential growth across key content genres; 9X for Videos & Music and 4X growth for Games genres which is reflective of the immense end-user satisfaction.

“It's a very good moment today to have received this award for digital content services, with our customer in Kuwait. It is a key milestone for us and our business in Middle East and North Africa,” said Ramy Moselhy, market head MENA region, Comviva Technologies, Most Innovative Mobile Solution. “ In Comviva we have been focussed in the MENA region for the last year and building our growth strategy and expanding in the digital era. We are seeing growth in this market and 5G. This award emphasises our business in the region. We will soon announce new key wins in the regions, in Kuwait, UAE, and Saudi.”

TELECOM GROUP OF THE YEAR: Zain Group
This award judging criteria focused on numerous aspects of the nominee’s businesses, including growth, financials, innovation and quality of service. With so much innovation and development going on, this was a close fought race, however Zain with its continuous focus on developing innovative value propositions and offering a superior customer experience to enterprise customers delivered strong revenue growth from Sept 2018 Sept 2019, won this category. Zain is addressing the ICT needs of governments and enterprises companies with a comprehensive mobile, fixed, IoT, IT security and cloud portfolio; building end-to-end solutions. 

“Our slogan is ‘a wonderful world’ it is wonderful to win and truly pleasing. We have had a lot of achievements over the last few months. Our roll out of 5G across Saudi and Kuwait really made the news across the region,” Antoine Aboukhali, director corporate communications, Zain Group. “We have had a great performance, we have seen some great initiatives at Zain for the community and one of them is ‘we able’ which helps people that have disabilities. As a telecom operator, we are not just purely business, we like to give back to the community. We also have a gender and diversity program, which is all about equality in the telecom industry and about women becoming leaders. Zain’s story is all about pioneering and making history.”

CSR initiative of the year: Huawei
This Award focused on the region’s operators and vendors who invest a significant amount of time, money and effort on CSR campaigns. The judging criteria focused on the scale, scope and impact of the CSR campaign on its target community, and the campaign’s potential to raise brand awareness. Huawei stood out in this award category for its Huawei’s Middle East ICT Competition, which continues the company’s commitment to preparing youth to become leaders in a world in which every person, home, and organisation is fully connected. It sees Huawei work with local governments, educators and partners to identify and nurture ICT talent in order to equip Middle East countries to pursue their national agendas for digital transformation.

Editor’s Choice: Sudatel
Our first Editor’s choice award highlighted the extensive work this telecom operator has done in North, Central and West Africa. Sudatel has grown rapidly in recent years and is now the major telecom presence in the region with operations across Northern, Central and Western Africa – and an award-winning data centre. The telco is a force for good both in Sudan and across the region bringing stability, employment — and, of course, telecoms services that improve people’s lives.

“I would like to say that establishing this relationship with COMMS MEA five years ago gave us a great deal of exposure and definitely winning the award at this time is recognition of the efforts of everyone that contributed to reach this point,” said Alaa H. Mohammed Hamed, Expresso Telecom HR director (on behalf of Sudatel). “I think across all different service, innovation, mobile financial services, e-government in two of our subsidiaries in West Africa, in addition to our data centre in Khartoum, Sudan, all of these are significant achievements in the last year.”

Editor’s Choice: SES Networks
This award highlighted the far-reaching benefits of satellite solutions. The largest satellite operator in the world, Luxembourg-based, SES has always led the way in innovation.  SES is recognised as the first satellite operator that launched the DTH business.  SES also operates the only commercially available Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellation O3b which has been operating for the past five years and by all accounts is considered to be a commercial success.

“We are really honoured to win this award, the me and central Asia team is honoured. It is a recognition of our customer first policy that we have own our company and what we have been doing to now is the right thing,” said Raluca Berchiu, global marketing head, SES Networks, “This year we are really focussing on customer success, it is our core value-our north star statements and it says we are doing excellence in space to deliver the best. We are working intensively on having another successful year for 2020. We have had great results in Q3, and we are shortly announcing big projects for mobile backhaul in the region that are using both geo and Neo satellite configurations.”

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