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In an increasingly hyper-connected world, the need to navigate through this transformational change with minimal friction seems to be everyone’s endeavour. Cisco has been at the forefront providing the latest in technology know-how and resources to give its customers the tools to thrive in the digital age.  In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Ali Amer, managing director, service provider sales, Cisco Middle East and Africa, talks about Cisco’s role in the digital transformation globally and regionally.

Currently, only 35% of developing countries have access to the internet, compared to 80% in developed economies, what has been Cisco's strategy in facilitating global connectivity?

Cisco’s Annual Internet Report predicts that by 2023, machine-to-machine communications will make up 50 percent, or about 14.7 billion of all networked connections. This mass connectivity, along with other technological advancements such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI), promises opportunities beyond what we can currently imagine.

However, being involved in the business of connecting and protecting, we also know that each country is at its stage of digital readiness, and that to reap the benefits of the Internet, we need to see more equal access to resources and technological infrastructure. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to Internet expansion will not work in every market.

We build upon our years of experience in the field and work alongside local service providers on-ground to understand national priorities, as well as needs at a business and basic human level. Our strategy is focused on tailoring our products and services to meet the individual requirements of a country and to consider how we can best positively impact a wider audience.

Above all, we believe that technology plays a pivotal role in powering an inclusive future – especially as digital connectivity determines access to economic and social opportunity. This connectivity is critical to creating a society and economy in which all citizens can participate and thrive. Our mission is to help governments, businesses and individuals collectively contribute towards creating connections, forging new opportunities and opening avenues to include all.

What is Cisco doing in terms of new market penetration in the region?

Across the Middle East and Africa, Cisco is currently empowering 74 nations to leverage the power of technology and transform their digital strategies across sectors including education, healthcare and government services.

We support digitization agendas through investment and collaboration with national leadership and academia, as part of the Cisco Country Digital Accelerate (CDA) program. The CDA program is currently running in countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and South Africa. As can be imagined, ensuring the right networking infrastructure is in place is a key priority for all nations – especially in light of the past year, which highlighted just how important it is to invest in digital.

To penetrate any of the markets in which we operate, first and foremost, we have to communicate value to local stakeholders. The marketplace is full of choice, so ultimately it comes down to experience and value add. We are in a unique position where Cisco solutions have security built into their very DNA – rather than being a mere afterthought. So securely connecting businesses and people forms a large part of our value proposition.

Local partnerships are extremely important to us. To ensure we reach the right audiences, we work with organizations on-ground within the communities in which we operate. This allows us to tap into government insights, service provider goals and what end-users demand at a granular level – to truly provide an offering that benefits all parties.

Please tell us about the innovative digital solutions that Cisco is offering to its consumers and enterprises.

On the traditional networking front, Cisco’s ‘5G Now’ portfolio for service providers includes multi-cloud, IP core, 5G packet core and service edge, access, client services, security, and professional services, offering a cloud-to-client approach for 5G networking.

Our approach involves offering an open, hyper-programmable architecture that slims down a customer’s multivendor, multidomain network into a more agile and unified system – completely eradicating usual complexities.

We have used our breadth of understanding across multi-cloud, IP routing, 5G core, service edge, access networks, IoT, and security to create 5G services and networking which offer real value to our customers. By delivering traffic engineering, bandwidth management and greater network control can be achieved – these are the objectives we empower our customers to achieve via such solutions.

Among a host of other solutions that promote connectivity, one of the most prominent and widely used is the Webex collaboration platform. Webex has a rich history of helping employees and individuals innovate and remain productive wherever they are. Since the pandemic, Webex has not only continued to help businesses thrive, it has also been an integral collaboration platform for governments to continue to lead remotely, doctors to meet with patients safely, and educators to teach students at a distance. The future of work and smart workplaces will involve hybrid working models. We have a clear vision of how technology can help customers realize the future today and create a more inclusive world for all.

Our reimagined Webex platform provides a single secure place for users to not only connect, but also be more productive. Among our new features, we have noise cancellation and speech enhancement. Webex automatically detects and suppresses common noises such as loud typing and the rustling of papers to keep users deep in their train of thought. We have also removed the need for extensive note-taking. Our transcripts are searchable, so team members who miss a meeting can quickly catch up.

We will soon be unveiling in-meeting gestures, where AI translates motions such as a thumbs up into an on-screen alert for all to see. Speakers will also be empowered to talk in over 10 languages (including Arabic), with real-time transcriptions provided for all attendees on the call.

What has been Cisco's zero trust methodology when it comes to cybersecurity?

At Cisco, we believe that zero trust is a vital approach to security. Traditional security approaches assume that anything inside the corporate network can be trusted. The reality is that this assumption no longer holds, thanks to mobility, BYOD (bring your own device), IoT, cloud adoption, increased collaboration, and a focus on business resiliency.

We can no longer assume that internal entities are trustworthy, that they can be directly managed to reduce security risk, or that checking them one time only is enough. The zero-trust model of security prompts you to question your assumptions of trust at every access attempt.

Our Cisco Zero Trust platform offers a comprehensive solution to secure all access across applications and environments, from any user, device, and location. This complete zero trust security model allows users to mitigate, detect, and respond to risks across your environment.

Security teams can make it harder for attackers to collect user credentials and network access and to move laterally, and users can get a consistent and more productive security experience – regardless of where they are located, what endpoints they are using, or whether their applications are on-premises or in the cloud.

What are the challenges that you foresee for the telecom industry in the future?

Countries across the Middle East and Africa (particularly those in the Gulf region), have performed well regarding facilitating the substantial shift to digital infrastructures over the past year. Technology and local service providers have worked collectively, in close collaboration with government entities to ensure that networks are designed to always keep users connected and also be one step ahead of cyberthreats.

Looking ahead, Cisco’s Annual Internet Report predicts that by 2023, MEA will have 611 million Internet users, up from 381 million (24 percent of regional population) in 2018. Alongside this, the region will have 2.6 billion networked devices/connections, up from 1.7 billion in 2018. As expectations for faster and more secure connectivity only continue to grow, nations must further accelerate investments in areas such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and cloud.

We are seeing decision-makers across all nations regionally seeking to strike a careful balance between managing data concerns, while promoting an open arena for communication and a culture of innovation. To overcome such challenges, we need to see continued momentum and cooperation between regulators, technological facilitators and service providers to ensure secure and scalable digitization.

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