Transformation was the key topic of discussion when Osman Sultan, the charismatic chief executive of du (Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company) spoke to Telecom Review. du is in the midst of a massive transformation to make way for a more connected and efficient future for the people of the UAE. Mr. Sultan discussed du's important role in executing the rollout of the Smart Dubai Platform, which goes hand-in-hand with du's commitment to cybersecurity, M2M communication, 5G, IoT and achieving Dubai's smart city vision. Finally, Mr. Sultan touched on du's involvement at GITEX this year, and his vision for du looking ahead.
Looking back on this year so far, what are you most proud of as CEO in terms of du's achievements?
It's hard to single out one specific achievement - and there are many. We have introduced several first-to-market innovations. Earlier this year, we were chosen as a Strategic Partner by Smart Dubai, the government office selected to drive Dubai's citywide transformation into a smart city.
Under the scope of this landmark decision, we will be developing and implementing the Smart Dubai Platform. In our view, this is in a highly ambitious and unique public-private partnership model that will set new benchmarks for cross-sector partnerships for smart city initiatives globally.
Can you share your predictions for du's upcoming Q3 results, and some of the factors that may have had an effect on the company, such as the drop in oil prices?
We do not offer guidance or forward-looking statements as far as financial results are concerned. But I can assure you that our focus continues to ensure returns for our shareholders who have placed so much faith in our team.
Irrespective of short to medium term results due to global market volatility, we are resolute in our determination for long term growth. Our plans and ambitions remain intact and we are putting the building blocks in place to ensure sustainable future growth.
The UAE has become the target of five percent of cyber-attacks in the world. Why do you think this is and what is du's approach to cybersecurity as a leading and trusted telecoms operator?
We are currently in the midst of an incredible transformation that can be compared to the likes of the industrial revolution and is changing the way that we live. This technological transformation is the defining factor of our age today.
In today's digital environment, businesses have a plethora of data at their fingertips - about their business, about their partners and about their customers. This data has quickly become one of the most valuable cargos of any modern business as it allows for slicker, quicker business. This incredible growth opens many doors for hackers and cyber criminals to penetrate the host of connected devices on which we rely.
Du's managed security services have been witnessing a tremendous growth and enterprises are constantly asking us to expand our security portfolio. Recently, we launched next generation cyber security services encompassing security monitoring and analytics as well as firewall management services to protect businesses across the UAE from cybercrime.
Our Enterprise Security Operations Centre (SOC) uses some of the most innovative and advanced cyber security platforms hosted in the UAE that have been built to adapt, learn and evolve with new security threats. We are ideally placed to be the partner of choice for businesses here to meet their security needs.
Apart from commercial products, we are also putting in efforts to spread awareness about cyber security issues. We held our Cyber Security Conference this month, promoting and sharing information about the latest developments in cyber security, including information security risks, threats, vulnerabilities and safeguards.
What can you tell us about du's recent e-SIM demonstration and how will it be a key driver of security, IoT and M2M communication?
e-Sim will be a boon for not just telecom service providers and equipment manufacturers, but most importantly, for end users. At one end of the spectrum it will make the telecom journey more agile, while on the other hand, it will significantly help devices securely connect with multiple devices simultaneously or in machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. In other words, it's another step forward in the vision towards making internet of things (IoT) a reality.
This technology has vast repercussions if applied and extrapolated across business verticals, from logistics to consumer technology, both individual and businesses will benefit from this. Our recent demonstration with Gemalto was a small but significant step towards that direction.
In your view, how are OTTs affecting the telecom industry in the UAE, and what is du's plan to keep up with such a growing number of competitors using your network?
At du, we are looking at innovative ways to offer more value to our customers and benefit from this. While telecom regulatory bodies play an important in shaping the overall policy, the onus, I believe, rests on telecom players to figure out the way forward around the discussions around OTTs.
Can we expect any major changes to du's infrastructure going forward as the company develops to keep up with 5G and IoT?
5G will bring many new things into our lives, and it will transform the way we live, how we do business and our organizations. However, for this to happen transformation has to take place, on both network and organizational fronts, right now we are putting the building blocks into place. For example, we recently announced the establishment of UAE 5G Innovation Gate (U5GIG). The U5GIG has been envisioned to be a consortium of technical and academic organisations in UAE as well as global telecom vendors to plan and use their expertise to define and develop a global 5G network that will radically change lives across the UAE.
We are taking the lead to build a UAE 5G Innovation Lab to prototype, test and validate early 5G and IoT equipment and services. U5GIG will also allow universities and technical organizations across UAE to work together and participate in the development of the 5G ecosystem, and for academia and industry to test applications and technologies in a real-world setting.
What is your vision for 5G, and how will it shape customer experience in terms of what they will be able to do?
5G is definitely a new technology that will provide multiple use cases and will utilize a set of new technologies, including a new radio access technology, to cater for such use cases. However, it is important to note that the 4G LTE will continue to evolve from today till beyond 2020 and will indeed be the main stream technology by 2020 until the introduction and commercialization of the 5G at a later stage.
Currently, we are at the stage of definition of technical performance requirements, evaluation criteria and methods, and submission templates. Next phase would be the submission of proposals for evaluation.
In all the current mobile network generations (namely 2G, 3G and 4G), the technology was mainly voice and data-centric and the main customers were "people to people". 5G is mainly "application-centric" and will target specific use cases.
5G is set to serve 3 main types of use cases:
a- Massive mobile broadband:
This basically provides the massive ability to provide 1Gbps+ speeds (with a minimum guaranteed speed in the range of 10's Mbps at the cell edge) in addition to wide area coverage with deep indoor penetration. The main targets for this use case are to serve the ultra HD video streaming, 3D video streaming, augmented reality as well as to serve high density location and still provide such impressive speeds.
b- Critical communications:
This use case targets to provide very high reliability as well as ultra-low latency. In addition to wide area coverage with deep indoor penetration. The main targets for this use case is to serve the future industrial automation, remote operations, robotics, automotive vehicle to vehicle communications, and real time traffic control.
c- Massive IoT:
This use case targets to serve the billions of connected devices (things) but on a condition of sustaining very long battery life at a very low cost. In addition to wide area coverage with deep indoor penetration. The main targets for this use case is to serve the smart cities, all the wearables, as well as all the future connected IoT.
Smart cities are words commonly associated with Dubai, which aims to be the smartest city in the world by the end of 2017. In your opinion, do you think this is a realistic target?
The UAE stands out as a land of opportunities and realistic vision. We are blessed to live in a country that is guided by an able leadership that motivates everybody to contribute the maximum and make these plans come true. It is therefore hardly surprising that smart city, which is an effort of epic proportions, is taking shape seamlessly, bringing together every stakeholder for a common goal. From government departments to technology firms, we are all driven by a singular cause, of making Dubai the smartest city. I am very pleased to say that we are absolutely on target to reach this goal.
Can you expand on du's involvement with the Smart Dubai Platform, and how you think it will contribute to Dubai's smart city goals?
Smart Dubai Platform is envisioned to become the digital backbone powering the city in the near future. The Smart Dubai Platform will be the central operating system for the city, providing access to city services and data for all individuals, private sector as well as public sector entities. It will unite city services, IoT, cloud services, big data and digital identity across all city dimensions to build the most comprehensive exchange point for government and private sector services, delivering unprecedented value for the city.
As the Strategic Partner of Smart Dubai for the Smart Dubai Platform, we are absolutely committed to bring the UAE leadership's vision on making Dubai a smart(er) city to life. I say smarter because this is a work in progress and there is no finishing line. Whether it's a. Offering city-wide WiFi access; b. Being the first telco to test 'true' IoT network in the Middle East region; or c. Piloting the first Blockchain service in the Middle East, we can say that we are at the very forefront of next generation smart technologies.
Moreover, we have implemented smart parking and smart lighting in some areas of Dubai, in addition to smart fleet management and smart building solutions. Today, all of these initiatives are helping individuals lead more efficient lives. Tomorrow, however, with increasing interconnectivity all of our lives will become much more efficient. These are still early days and first steps towards a more prosperous UAE and we are honoured to play a key part in contributing to this outstanding vision.
How is your participation at GITEX this year different from previous years, and what will du be showcasing?
GITEX is a premier platform for us, and every year we leverage GITEX to showcase the latest in what telecom technology has to offer. This year will be no different, we are particularly excited over the fact that our smart city implementation plans are right on track and several of the new technologies are now ready for commercial rollout. In other words, this year's GITEX is an excellent blend of real-life implementation of latest innovations and a glimpse into the smart city-based digital lifestyle of tomorrow.
I shall cite an example to explain the above. Over the last couple of years, we made heavy investments of time, effort and money into emerging new technologies, LiFi and LoRa are case in points. As a result we are ahead of the curve in bringing these technologies to life, and GITEX this year showcases exactly how this will happen.
Moreover, we will be showcasing brand new technologies such as WiGiG, which will demonstrate multi-gigabit per second speed wireless communication technology. We are paving the way for the future of communication in the UAE, and we're extremely excited by its prospects.
Finally, what is your vision for du looking ahead, and what challenges are you facing in the market?
Irrespective of headwinds such as market conditions, challenges will remain. This is true for any business in any environment and geography. As outlined above, our continuous focus remains on our customers and to especially enhance the user experience of our products and services. We firmly believe that in an increasingly commoditized market, service levels can be the key differentiator. Hence, our efforts are not just in bringing the latest technology but also in delivering such technologies in ways that truly meet customer expectations.
At a commercial level, we have identified growth areas, enterprise services and data services are key, and we are working in ways to maximize their commercial potential.
Overall, we are positive about future growth and excited about emerging new platforms and technologies. We are an integral part of our customers' lives and will continue to define and play this role in future as well.