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Etisalat is on a mission to drive the digital future in the Middle East and this has been apparent through a variety of initiatives, which the service provider launched over the years, along with its readiness and eagerness to deploy the latest and greatest in tech.

Telecom Review sat down with Etisalat’s Group Chief Business Officer, Salvador Anglada, to discuss the service provider’s latest innovative projects, smart infrastructure and the role they play in supporting SMEs and startups.

It is no doubt that one of the UAE’s primary objectives is to become the ultimate place to live, work and do business, and Etisalat’s utilization of these technologies has been a significant driver in making this objective a reality. The country’s willingness to deploy the latest smart city technologies has put it at the forefront of innovation within the MENA region.

“We currently have the highest fiber to the home (FTTH) penetration in the world. More than 99 percent of UAE households are covered by fiber. In fact, the quality and coverage of our mobile network is among the top 5 in the world,” said Anglada.

Indeed, the UAE is home to one of the most advanced markets of the MENA region, with smartphone penetration at around 96 percent, which is essentially critical to the usage of digital services.

“From the way we provide our services in a digitalized society to how we develop smart platforms, we have created an Etisalat that has made possible to provide state-of-the-art digital services not just in the UAE, but also in other countries within the region. I think we, as a company, have made a fantastic effort in driving the digital future,” said Anglada.

During the interview, when asked about how the business scenario changed over the past year in terms of services and technology, Anglada said, “It has changed a lot; it is indeed a never-ending story. Technology is driving immense changes and I think the last 15 to 20 years have been amazing; innovation has accelerated at such an unprecedented rate.”

He added, “First, it was mobility then the cloud and now it’s artificial intelligence, which is completely changing the competitive landscape. In the past, people used to communicate via SMS or voice, but that is not the case anymore. Everybody currently uses social networks and messaging apps and downloads content from streaming sites such as Netflix and YouTube. This has changed our landscape completely and it has put a great deal of pressure on us in a good way because we have realized that we need to place greater emphasis on improving the way in which we capture the attention of our customers.”

At this point in time, network technology has been evolving incessantly.

“What is coming next is also very exciting because 5G technology is being deployed as we speak and it is going to further disrupt the landscape, especially when it comes to business and the government.”

Throughout 2019 alone, Etisalat installed more than 1000 5G basestations and has worked extensively with Expo 2020 in Dubai, as it will be covering the entire area with the aim of making it the fastest, smartest and most connected sites on earth.

5G will bring with it colossal changes and a great deal of efficiency. It will enable us to create private networks and priority in terms of services. This is going to be especially prevalent and useful in the healthcare industry as once deployed, it would enable remote surgeries to be executed from anywhere in the world.

“I think this is the next industrial revolution. 5G is going to come with a big change and I think that operators will have the opportunity to help enterprises and the government to improve the ways in which they provide their services,” remarked Anglada.

In reference to Etisalat’s strategy to ‘Drive the Digital Future to Empower Societies’, Anglada stated that while it is an ambitious statement, Etisalat was up to the challenge and was determined to be at the forefront of innovation.

“We decided to be bold enough to say that we want to actually drive the digital future rather than to simply ‘support’ it. This means that we want to steer companies and people with their digital transformation journeys, help them recognize new revenue streams and to ensure greater productivity.”

In an effort to achieve this aim, about three years ago, Etisalat Digital was established.

Etisalat Digital, the business unit of Etisalat, has been actively driving digital transformation within the region by helping enterprises and governments to smarten up through the use of the latest emerging tech such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, and big data and analytics.

The company operates in the UAE and KSA where it provides end-to-end solutions to encourage smart infrastructure deployments and developments in a variety of sectors in an effort to create a smart economy for the region.

Anglada said, “This initiative has been very successful and we have seen that companies are growing quite fast. We are involved in the country’s most emblematic projects such as the Expo. We are fully involved in the deployment of 5G in the Expo 2020 area and just recently, we began to deploy this next generation technology in DMCC, one of the free zone areas of Dubai, in an effort to make it the first smart digital district in the country. We are doing this through providing services such as smart traffic management, smart lighting, smart digital building managing systems and even smart digital marketing. We believe that this is all happening because of the platforms, technology and people we have at Etisalat Digital.”

Another initiative Etisalat Digital has taken to further the progress of digital transformation within the region is ‘FutureNow’, their innovation platform that deals with all the initiatives related to startups as well as third party companies that come with technology and solutions.

“One of the things we have been working on, which is very important to Etisalat Digital, is creating what we call the scaleup program which essentially allows us to publish challenges which could be resolved by technology. This would not only help us solve our problems and inefficiencies but also the problems and inefficiencies of our customers.”

FutureNow has launched over 15 challenges over the past two years, in emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, big data, cybersecurity and internet of things, resulting in a thriving ecosystem of companies, 30 percent of which are all UAE or GCC-based companies.

“This has created great traction. We have discovered some amazing talent within the country,” concluded Anglada.

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