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The hype and excitement surrounding EXPO 2020 is gathering momentum following a number of major announcements made by the organizers, who predict that the event in Dubai will be the greatest ever held.

The UAE is globally recognized for its pioneering and progressive approach to emerging new technologies – and Dubai is the perfect illustration of this ambition. The city serves as a benchmark to other cities all over the world and is the encapsulation of technology, vision and modernity.

When you take the UAE’s unblemished track record into consideration, it’s easy to see why so many are expectant when it comes to the EXPO 2020 in Dubai. Legacy is an extremely important factor for EXPO 2020 organizers, and the establishment of a ‘smart city’ in the form of District 2020 after EXPO 2020 is over, has caught the imagination worldwide.

To find out more about EXPO 2020, Telecom Review managed to secure an exclusive interview with Mohammed Alhashmi, senior vice president – Innovation and Future Technology, Expo 2020 Dubai. In a brilliant interview, the dynamic and charismatic executive highlighted the legacy aspect of EXPO 2020, becoming Etisalat’s first commercial customer of 5G, and discussed what the next 12 months has in store.

Expo 2020 Dubai was the first major commercial customer to access 5G services in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, thanks to its partnership with Etisalat. Can you outline the role Etisalat will play in helping Expo achieve its goal of delivering a seamless and unrivalled digital experience for its visitors?

Etisalat’s 5G networks will allow Expo 2020 Dubai to provide the most advanced digital and telecom services to its visitors, serving an expected 300,000 users on peak days and supporting our goal to be one of the most connected places on Earth, both physically and virtually.

At approximately 20 times the speed of today’s 4G network, 5G technology will enable users to stream live 4K-resolution video anywhere at any time, with virtually no lag. It will be a key component of the Expo 2020 ‘smart site’, which will deliver a unique and memorable experience for millions of visitors and international participants, while also enabling businesses and raising public awareness of sustainability.

Is the deployment of 5G going to be the main differentiator for Expo 2020?

Access to Etisalat’s 5G services is an important differentiator and represents a vital component of our immersive visitor experience, but there will be many other aspects that will make the next World Expo unforgettable for everyone who comes. Our team is working with a number of Expo’s commercial partners to seamlessly integrate countless innovative technologies within Expo 2020’s ‘smart site’, while laying the foundation for what is to come. It is this ‘future-proofing’ that makes a site truly smart. After all, who knows what novel technologies will emerge between now and 2020?

For example, Expo is collaborating with MasterCard to reimagine the future of cashless payments, while Siemens’ MindSphere system will collect data from across the site, providing a resource to stakeholders, SMEs and educational institutions in the wider Expo ecosystem. We are also working with other partners, including Accenture, Cisco, Etisalat and SAP, to deliver an unforgettable visitor experience.

We expect more than 200 participants, including more than 180 nations as well as multinational organizations, NGOs, educational institutions and businesses, to take part in Expo 2020 Dubai. For the first time in World Expo history, each participating country will have its own pavilion. National pavilions will also be organized according to Expo’s key subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, rather than geographically – another World Expo first.  

With a diverse program of activities and entertainment ranging from live music and dance to delicious food and cultural performances – and everything in between – Expo 2020 will feature something to suit every taste.

How would you describe the position of senior vice president for innovation and future technology at Expo 2020 Dubai, compared to your previous roles?

I see my current role as the highlight of my career for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has allowed me to collaborate with some exceptional people. There is a wealth of experience on offer at Expo 2020, with many of our team members having helped deliver large-scale events such as previous World Expos, the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup™.

This role also enables me to contribute to the UAE’s long-term development. Expo 2020 Dubai is a historic national event and an opportunity to trigger a lasting and tangible impact on humanity for future generations to carry forward.

Expo 2020 runs from October 20, 2020, to April 10, 2021. What role will technology play in achieving a lasting impact?

Technology will play an important role in the realization of Expo 2020’s legacy. In addition to allowing us to create a rich and unique digital record of the visitor experience, it will also leave high-performance infrastructure that will continue to offer benefits long after the next World Expo.

Expo 2020’s ‘smart site’ will continue to facilitate innovation after the six months of the event, serving as a foundation for a ‘smart city’ in the form of District 2020 – a world-class integrated hub that will become one of the most connected and tech-enabled destinations for working, living and exploring.

District 2020 will reuse 80 percent of Expo 2020’s built environment. To maximize longevity and minimize the need for additional investment, we are designing a flexible, scalable and future-proof network infrastructure that will facilitate an efficient post-Expo transition. Expo 2020’s smart buildings will become offices, educational facilities, and a Children and Science Centre, while built-in systems such as sensors and smart car parking will also be repurposed.

We also expect technology to be a significant drawcard in the long-term development of an innovation-driven business ecosystem. Two of our Official Premier Partners, Accenture and Siemens, have already committed to establishing a permanent presence in District 2020. Siemens will establish its global headquarters for airports, cargo and ports logistics at the site, and Accenture will open a digital hub.

By embracing innovation in all its forms, we aim to create a permanent, digitally-enabled environment in which the companies of tomorrow can thrive.

Expo 2020 recently celebrated its ‘two years to go’ milestone. What are your priorities for the next 12 months?

The Innovation and Future Technology team’s priorities for the year ahead include shifting our focus from design to delivery, establishing an effective support infrastructure that can serve Expo before, during and after 2020, integrating our application landscape to deliver an exceptional service to our visitors and participants, and delivering on the promise of innovation.

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