We are showcasing 5G powered innovations that will take visitors on a journey of the future, said Etisalat Group CEO Eng. Saleh Abdullah Al Abdooli in an interview with Telecom Review ahead of GITEX 2019. The CEO highlighted what the attendees of the technology week should expect to see at operator’s booth this year which will be powered by the latest and most advanced technologies.
As to Etisalat’s 5G journey, Eng. Saleh Al Abdooli explained that their leadership in this field was in fact the fruit of a long term planning and investments in the infrastructure, first trials and strategic partnerships, in addition to the operator’s partnership with EXPO 2020 that was the main driver in expediting efforts to reach this milestone.
What is Etisalat’s focus at GITEX Technology Week this year?
GITEX is recognised as the most important technology event in the region and is well positioned globally due to the large presence of renowned international participants.
This annual event is a unique platform to showcase to the world our advancements, new cutting-edge solutions and technologies, and to communicate with our partners and customers the latest in innovation that will make a major impact to all industries.
‘5G A World without Limits’ is Etisalat’s theme this year bringing to life innovative use cases across industry verticals like mobility, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, aviation, energy and logistics.
Inspired by our strategy of ‘Driving the Digital Future to Empower Societies’ we are showcasing 5G powered innovations that will take visitors on a journey of the future, where they will witness the impossible of the past, which has become the reality of today.
We are also demonstrating AI, robotics, IoT, AR and VR technologies that will take centre stage like autonomous transportation in mobility, robotics in healthcare, underskin implants in the retail area and a unique 5G VR experience in entertainment. Many of these technology showcases are making their presence for the first time globally on our stand during GITEX.
How do you evaluate Etisalat’s performance in 2019 so far?
Etisalat Group demonstrated strong performance during the first half of the year due to our sincere efforts to drive growth and invest in future networks while focusing on enabling innovation, transforming the ecosystem and accelerating digital transformation across our operations.
Etisalat Group achieved AED 25.9 billion of revenues while consolidated net profits reached AED 4.4 billion representing 3.1 percent increase YoY.
In terms of subscribers in UAE for the H1 of 2019, they reached 12.4 million subscribers while aggregate base reached 143 million, representing a year over year increase of 2%.
Reaching the top is hard but maintaining a leadership position is harder. Etisalat has successfully achieved the most valuable brand in the Middle East, and the most valuable portfolio brand in the MENA region for the third year in a row.
Our portfolio surpassed USD 10 bn, a great feat that puts Etisalat head to head with global renowned brands and ahead of many key regional brands.
Etisalat has set many benchmarks in 5G, can you take us through your 5G journey?
5G today has opened up a world of opportunities for operators spurring innovation across many industries to provide a platform enabling emergent technologies to become an integral part of our economy and lifestyle. 5G is expected to open growth opportunities for the telecom industry with forecasted global revenues to touch $2.2 trillion in the next 10 years.
Our success in 5G was not built overnight but due to our long term planning and investments in our infrastructure, first trials and strategic partnerships started as far back as 2014.
Etisalat set a major benchmark in the industry by becoming the first telco in MENA in May 2018 to launch the commercial 5G network providing fixed wireless service in the UAE.
This was followed by another major substantial breakthrough in our 5G journey by connecting and partnering with Expo 2020 as the first major commercial customer in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region to access 5G services. Etisalat connected Expo 2020 Dubai to its network, leading it to be the first World Expo to witness the 5G revolution.
In May 2019, Etisalat was the first telecom operator in MENA to enable its customers to experience the power of the 5G network and release the first 5G handset before many others.
Etisalat also became the first telco in MENA to provide indoor 5G coverage in selected buildings in the country. Abu Dhabi airport became the first international terminal to be powered with indoor ultra-high speed 5G connectivity.
2019, so far has been a landmark year for Etisalat 5G advancements, but this is only the beginning.
Telecom Infrastructure is the backbone of success. What are your latest advancements on network and infrastructure in the UAE?
Our customers have seen the evolution of technology with every generation, right from 1G to 2G offering mobile for the masses, and then to 3G which was the beginning of the broadband era, moving to 4G bringing the real multimedia experience with higher speeds and capacities.
While we continue to deploy the 5G network across the UAE, 4G LTE network coverage reached 99.4 percent and 3G covers 99.8 percent. FTTH has reached 95.7 percent of homes across the UAE, maintaining the UAE’s position as a global leader in FTTH for the third consecutive year, according to the latest international report from the FTTH council.
Today UAE leads among the top 20 countries with the fastest fixed broadband speed and connectivity in the global fixed broadband speed index. Etisalat also witnessed increased broadband penetration this year with the doubling of the speed for businesses and consumers.
How do you expect 5G and digital transformation to empower the future of business?
We expect businesses to lead the 5G revolution driven by their desire to meet their varied requirements from connecting a single location, to using networking to connecting smart facilities with the latest technologies like AI and robotics. All of which will open opportunities to increase revenue, reduce operational costs and create unique experiences.
You can witness the power of digital transformation in Etisalat’s major projects like Dubai Parks and Resorts, our partnership with Ministry of Interior on creating a centralised smart fire alarm system ‘Hassantuk’ using state of the art IoT systems, and mega projects like Expo 2020 to be one of the most connected places on Earth with 5G powered innovations.
Our teams work closely with large enterprises as well as the SMB sector. The opening of the ‘Hello Business Hub’ added value through innovation enabling them with the right tools and services to drive into this digital future. We have also empowered small businesses by doubling of broadband speeds giving them the professional edge with higher speeds and making their business future ready.
With 5G, all businesses will leverage the low latency, high bandwidth and mass IoT ability to connect IoT devices. This will allow the deployment of integrated solutions and accelerate digital transformation, drive productivity improvements, efficiency gains and enhance customer efficiency faster than before.
Etisalat is well geared for the future offering high capacity solutions enabling new possibilities. We are working closely across different sectors in the adoption of 5G solutions mainly energy, manufacturing, healthcare, real estate and property. Technologies like AI and robotics will facilitate remote monitoring, analysing real time data, bring energy efficiency and enable autonomous transportation.
How are Etisalat’s digital capabilities changing customer experience?
Customer experience remains at the core of everything we do, Etisalat is now looking at 5G to harness technologies to provide a customised and connected consumer experience by unifying data, taking advantage of AI-powered insights and creating personalised consumer experiences.
Robotic process automation within Etisalat delivers automated solutions for greater efficiency and enhanced customer experience. This was part of our endeavour to bring digital transformation across our services. The ‘Robotic Center of Excellence’ focuses on performing monotonous tasks more accurately, securely and reliably. Software robots are supporting back office agents to complete repetitive tasks about 70 percent faster making sure that along with the robots work is carried out efficiently.
The centre has software robots performing millions of autonomous transactions in Etisalat's Business Care and Order Management back office functions.
With 5G, such a centre will get a further boost to address the evolving needs of our customers, with services improving overall efficiency, speed and accuracy of our back office team, with the aim of further enhancing customer satisfaction.
Etisalat has also worked closely with financial entitites to make the best use of technology by bringing in flexibility and enabling a cashless economy. The launch of eWallet, a new digital payment service is aimed at empowering UAE customers with safe, convenient and a flexible payment solution using a mobile device.
5G network and technologies will also transform the entertainment industry with fast download speeds, users can now enjoy seamlessly watching 4K and 8K videos on their 5G enabled connected devices. 5G will also facilitate and improve the gaming experience on the network, online and cloud boosting the development of VR and AR gaming devices.
What can you tell us about Etisalat’s international footprint and future expansion plans?
Currently, Etisalat’s international portfolio spans over 16 countries in Asia (Pakistan and Afghanistan), Middle East (Saudi Arabia and UAE) and Africa (Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Niger, Central African Republic and Chad).
Our geographic footprint today continues to present substantial opportunities. As a group we have always acted diligently to protect the long-term interests of our shareholders by optimising and maintaining a healthy business portfolio and continue to seek good opportunities to grow as a company.
Maroc Telecom recently acquired 100 percent of Tigo Chad and Onatel successfully launched 4G services in Burkina Faso.
With our vision focused on ‘Driving the Digital Future to Empower Societies’, Etisalat is bringing digital transformation across our entities, business and services.
Etisalat Digital’s recent acquisition of Help AG will accelerate the growth of both companies whilst enriching Etisalat’s cybersecurity services. This acquisition is in line with Etisalat’s strategy to enhance and diversify the Etisalat Digital portfolio.