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During the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2021, Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP of mobility and IoT business at BICS, talked to Telecom Review about the importance of uninterrupted global communication during the pandemic, the broad transformation that the pandemic has catalyzed in telecoms, and how BICS is contributing to the deployment of next-generation technologies like IoT and 5G.

As a leading international communications enabler, how has BICS been working with its clients to ensure business continuity amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are one of the leading enablers of global communications. We have a global footprint; a fully-owned and fully-managed network that bridges the largest community of mobile operators and MVNOs with the digital environment of internet players, cloud communication providers, enterprise IoT players, and device manufacturers. So, as you can imagine, we were working intimately with our partners to address the heightened connectivity challenges the pandemic presented.

Over the course of the last 18 months, and even before then, we worked with our clients across the spectrum to adapt to the innovation changing the shape of the sector, and also the growth of increasingly bandwidth-hungry consumers and enterprises.

The pandemic saw massive changes in the way individuals and enterprises consume communications services – but as with a lot of the issues we’ve seen, it catalyzed an already existing trend rather than giving rise to it. The rapid shift to a new home-working reality put the domestic networks of MNOs under far greater pressure to deliver the increased capacity, security, and reliability people needed. To compound matters, operator revenues were also strained due to a decrease in human roaming traffic caused by pandemic restrictions.

This is not to mention the ongoing imperative CSPs, in particular, have to safeguard existing revenues by securing their infrastructure and protecting their subscribers from increasing fraud and security threats.

To help CSPs manage the challenges of the pandemic as they also orient themselves for the digital, 5G-enabled new era of connectivity, we have worked hard to deliver solutions, such as a suite of programmable communications and global A2P termination. These are geared to assist them in streamlining their operations and reducing costs on their legacy services, while also supporting the introduction of new wireless technologies and cloud solutions to help capture new revenues.

BICS is enabling operators to enter into the cloud communications ecosystem through services like Cloud Connect and helping them tap into the growing IoT market by delivering secure wireless connectivity for machines, through a SIM for Things with borderless 5G capabilities.

During this time, we’ve also had the privilege to work with a variety of enterprise/state partners on a number of critical use cases. Our solutions have facilitated the tracking and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines across borders and we’ve worked with public health institutions for the secure and dynamic delivery of public safety guidance.

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a bright light on our greater reliance on seamless connectivity, while also challenging service providers within the market to deliver more with less. We’re watching these trends carefully at BICS so as to be able to support our partners in delivering value.

What is the major contribution of BICS globally and particularly in the MENA region with the ongoing digital transformation and deployment of next-gen communications?

In the past year, we saw an acceleration in digital transformation strategies by all manner of business. Operators had to quickly adapt to new enterprise connectivity demands that came from a huge shift away from office-based working. This included ensuring high-standards of reliable connectivity in disparate locations and also working to support the greater number of collaboration and communication tools workers depended on.

Cloud-based communications emerged as the pre-eminent solution to ensure businesses had sustainable connectivity, and it will stay that way as long as online collaboration remains the predominant way of conducting business in our agile business environment.

We are enabling the largest cloud communication players to ensure global communication for their own users. So, when a cloud application needs a local phone number or mobile number to be used inside the application, BICS is able to provide them with these numbers. Once they have been delivered, end users can use them to make or receive voice calls or SMS service. Currently, we offer cloud numbers in more than 120 countries and in doing so, help worldwide businesses to scale and grow.

We are also transporting all the voice and messaging traffic from these applications to the rest of the telco world; being able to terminate or exchange voice with any fixed and mobile networks in the world. That's mostly what we do with cloud communication enablers.

We have also launched a set of programmable communication that can be used by enterprises and software developers to develop their own application and to embed all those capabilities inside their own IT environment and applications. In MENA, we've been working with mobile and fixed operators to ensure the right level of connectivity for voice and messaging but also to source numbers for application developers. In addition, we are also working on some very specific IoT projects in the region.

We are working with companies all around the world, especially the ones who operate in the MENA region. Generally, these companies are global organizations.

How does BICS ensure the best level of connectivity in a post-pandemic era?

Our mission is to connect communities and enable seamless and borderless global communication for people, machines, and applications. The tagline of Connected Impact in MWC 21’s edition is essentially in our DNA. Therefore, what we are doing is to ensure the best level of connectivity; not only on the existing 2G, 3G, and 4G environment, but on 5G as well.

I mentioned our position in the middle of the communications ecosystem; we remain committed to helping partners ensure their successful transition to a post-COVID world. A world where they’ll need to work together to bring new use cases such as IoT and 5G standalone (SA) to market whilst supporting rapid digital transformation, and capturing value from an increased reliance on the cloud.

5G SA is a particularly exciting area where we’re playing a leadership role. We announced the first intercontinental 5G roaming relationship between Asia, Europe and North America over a year ago and just a couple of weeks ago, we announced the launch of a new 5G Lab to accelerate progress towards 5G SA roaming. We’re now providing the fundamental technology and environment for ready partners to test their solutions as we advance towards these next generation services.

We are doing the same also with other wireless technologies, which are being rolled out to support more IoT use cases.

Low-power wide-area networks, such as narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) coupled with LTE-M, are designed to enable even more IoT use cases, with a better power consumption scheme, and it’s also on our agenda. This technology would allow any device to be up and running for more than 10 years and our role is to ensure that hardware makers and IoT solution providers on a global basis can access these new wireless technologies.

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