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Telecom Review was the official media partner for the third edition of the Mediterranean Telecoms Exchange (MTX) conference which was held in the stunning Italian capital city of Rome. The conference is the brainchild of Afinna One CEO, Massimo Lucera who recognized a gap in the market for a conference which is specifically tailored for wholesale players in the Mediterranean telecommunications sector, and with one of his partner he decided to create the Event MTX.

Massimo Lucera has enjoyed a decorated and distinguished career to date in the ICT industry and is the former managing director of an Italian branch of an international tier 2 entity. He also enjoyed remarkable success in establishing an international carrier whilst working for an international investment company in Barcelona. He set up Afinna One in 2010, and the enterprise has enjoyed phenomenal success and growth and has become one of the leading providers in international wholesale services. Afinna One has also carved out a stellar reputation for delivering high-quality standard voice services, and is a valued and trusted partner within the wholesale ecosystem on a global scale.

The Mediterranean Telecoms Exchange incorporates the entire telecommunications wholesale industry and attracted major players from mobile and wireless operators, to Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers, internet service providers, VoIP providers and technical partners in voice, data and satellite. The unique event provides a fundamental opportunity for businesses that are keen to explore opportunities presented within the Mediterranean and emerging African wholesale markets.

Telecom Review managed to secure an exclusive interview with the charismatic CEO of MTX and Afinna One Massimo Lucera to find out his vision for the future growth of MTX; the challenges facing the wholesale industry globally, why Europe is lagging behind other regions in terms of integrating innovative new technologies, and his plans to solidify Afinna One's position as a market leader in the wholesale sector.

Mediterranean Telecoms Exchange was your brainchild and is now in its third year. It has enjoyed phenomenal success since its inception and is continuing to grow. Can you outline to us the primary reasons you had for creating MTX? 
As you know, in the ICT industry, there are so many events on the calendar- it is quite a saturated market. There's a lot of competition in this space, and there are a lot of brilliant global events. However, we decided to start MTX because we recognized and identified that there was a gap in the market in relation to the Mediterranean and African telecommunications sector.

MTX is a niche and unique symposium that represents the first step for those involved in the wholesale space to explore nascent business opportunities in new growing markets that we currently have within the wholesale industry here in the Mediterranean. Our primary objective with MTX is to improve the interconnection between the Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 data providers. We have enjoyed growth every year since we started in 2016, and we will continue to improve MTX year-on-year.

What is your future vision for the conference, and what are the key benefits and values participants are exposed to by attending MTX?
In relation to our future vision of MTX, we're keen to involve operators based in the Middle East and Africa, because we firmly believe that these are the kind of enterprises that represent the future of our market.  When we say it's our objective to grow the event, it's important to counter that by stressing that we're acutely aware that the unique and niche aspect of MTX is in the quality of our attendees. So we don't want to dilute that by just inviting anyone. It's vital for us that we don't lose the quality of our participants. Obviously we'd like to see every one of our conference rooms full of people, but we don't want to involve students or entrepreneurs that have no knowledge of our business just to fill a room.

Time is very important to us and our participants, and it's critical that we maximize the time available during our meetings at MTX in order to facilitate and enable our participants to meet their partners and prospective new clients to finalize their targets and business opportunities. Our ability to do this is what differentiates MTX from other wholesale events.

I can confirm that MTX will expand next year by adding an SMS corner to the exhibition because we received a lot of requests to do this from those that have attended MTX since 2016. We value the feedback we receive from our participants, and we use that information to improve the event overall. Data will be another step that we will add to our MTX portfolio next year. In addition to this, Internet of Things, B2B and M2M learning activities are the future, so it's imperative for us to introduce this to MTX moving forward and is something we're actively looking at.

You were a participant at MTX's panel discussion which examined the impact of next-generation technologies on the telecoms landscape from Internet of Things to Smart Cities. Can you share with us what you found to be some of the most interesting insights that emerged from the panel discussion?
In my experience of panel discussions at other industry leading ICT events, the main emphasis and focus was placed on the high-profile speakers that were participating on the particular panels. Whilst many of these speakers were top-level and very prominent executives within their own respective companies, they were in my opinion not related to reality.

In many ways, they're disconnected from the day-to-day operations involved. The insights offered by a CEO, CFO or CMO at these panel sessions are undoubtedly fascinating and thought-provoking, but at the end of it, the market doesn't receive an update. Attendees want to be informed about something fresh in relation to the difficulties we face, or the opportunities that we're presented with in the sector. The big transformation strategies are too big for most of the wholesale providers here at MTX.

In the case of our panel, we had a moderator and a group of panelists that have amassed huge experience all across the ICT industry. Our panelists and moderator were able to offer participants an alternative vision of the same problem from a different perspective. The people that attended our panel discussion were interested to understand the industry trends from several different viewpoints, and the panel was diverse in terms of the topics it highlighted and the experiences they've encountered in the telecommunications industry. The panel discussion wasn't specifically focused on the wholesale market exclusively, and this resulted in rich conversations being generated that had everybody in the room engaged.

In your expert opinion, what are the main challenges facing Afinna One and the entire wholesale industry in Europe?
I think one of the main challenges currently facing the wholesale industry, not just in Europe, but globally are in relation to traditional voice services. Voice has become a commodity, and whilst I don't think it will disappear, it's very evident it has acquired an unstable role as a revenue generator in today's shifting market.

Voice revenues are in decline and profits are also suffering from decreasing termination rates. Over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Skype are fast replacing traditional voice and SMS as the primary method of communication for consumers and, increasingly, businesses. These services are underpinned by VoLTE and voice-over-IP (VoIP), both of which present new opportunities for players across the telecoms landscape.

Our priority at Afinna One is to support all of our wholesale activity as much as we can, whilst at the same time attempting to improve the interconnection of the relationships that we have with our Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 customers. We've also created a new division to support IoT and all the other services associated with emerging technologies which will be the future of our daily activities. In addition to this, it's important for us to improve the experience for the final end user in our database in an effort to ensure that we improve our value and the portfolio of services that we provide to them.

During your panel discussion you highlighted that Europe was lagging behind the Middle East and Asia in relation to the integration and adoption of emerging technologies like IoT and AI. Why do you think Europe is falling behind other parts of the world?
Obviously it's easier to commence transformation projects and new programs in a country that is relatively new. Singapore is a perfect example of that. It is a truly amazing place and is a global leader in terms of implementing technology into its services and systems to transform the lives of its citizens.

However, Europe is an old continent and that holds challenges in terms of overhauling existing infrastructure. It can be very difficult to create new infrastructures in comparison to countries that can build things from scratch.

However, I think the biggest issue is mentality. I think the mentality in Europe has to change in order to embrace all these new technologies that have the revolutionary capabilities to transform and enhance the cities we live in. The Asian and Middle East markets are both totally new, and both regions have adopted very progressive and open minded views towards these new technologies and have witnessed firsthand the benefits they can create. They've removed a lot of the red tape and regulatory barriers that would've have previously slowed down the integration and deployment of these technologies into their respective societies.

However, in Europe and South America, the mentality is very different, and it's a mindset I believe we have to change quickly here in Europe - otherwise, we will be left lagging behind the rest of the world in relation to ICT and technology innovation.

Can you tell us about any forthcoming projects or partnerships Afinna One is set to announce in the second half of 2018?
We're working on a great new relationship with M800, and we're currently trying to finalize an agreement which would see us become their most important partner in Europe and Africa. We will be the arm of their commercial sector in both regions, but we will also be playing a very proactive role in the development side of the company. We don't want to be just a reseller of their services. It's our ambition and objective to become a partner of the M800 project in their effort to expand their range of services in both the European and African markets. We feel we have the experience, knowledge and ability to help M800 penetrate these markets and we believe by combining our expertise, we can create a lasting partnership that will be beneficial for both entities. We're hoping to get the final details of the collaboration tied up in the next few weeks.

Can you outline to us your primary objectives and goals for the remainder of 2018?
We've got a number of objectives and targets that we're on course to deliver on. One of the main projects that we're hoping to commence in the forthcoming number of months is our new Internet of Things division, which is something, as an enterprise, we're really excited about.

We're also going to be appointing a new commercial director in enterprises and retail, in addition to offering new services to the final end user in an effort to expand the portfolio of solutions we offer. The new services will be high-quality and focused on innovation. Innovation is the key component for us to remain successful. We don't want to necessarily get huge numbers, we want to be different and we want to be on the market for a very long time. In order for us to do this - and be successful in our efforts to solidify our position in the market- we have to invest further in research and development and create something that is different than what our competitors are offering to support the desire of our customers. We believe we can achieve this, we are focused to do it, and the future is an exciting one.