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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Cisco’s Mohamed Tantawi, managing director - telcos and service providers for Middle East, Africa and Turkey, spoke about the key offerings the company has that make it ideal for the telecom industry. He also spoke about how relationships with partners are maintained in the region and highlighted some of the major challenges that the telcos and service providers face in today's digital transformation.

Mohamed emphasized that Cisco is known for delivering a very unique customer experience and new solutions. These are used not only to build the network of the service providers but also help them capture market opportunities.

How is the relationship between Cisco's partner telcos and service providers maintained in the region?

In the region, Cisco has built strong, long-term relationships with all tier 1 and tier 2 service providers and we have been proudly part of their strategic plans for over 20 years. We’ve been an integral part of their transformation journey across multiple layers and transformation phases by helping them develop key industry transformation areas like telco cloud, mobility, and IP transport.

In addition, we have been helping service providers pursue critical transformation projects in markets such as healthcare, education and other areas.

What are the key offerings that Cisco have that make it ideal for the telecom industry?

Cisco looks to the entire lifecycle of the solutions for service providers in a far more comprehensive way. We don't just provide the solution itself, we also help our customers deliver true business continuity and better total cost of ownership. 

An example of this lies in how we create truly automated networks at a large scale. At Cisco, automation and orchestration are major transformation drivers for self-driven networks. We also have a clear understanding of the top priorities and investment areas of service providers, particularly on how they monetize assets. Thus, we have a huge contribution to the buildout of 5G and the telco cloud.

In the case of transport and optical layers, we are coming with break-through innovation that will help our customers transform and deliver true TCO savings.

What are the major challenges that telcos and service providers face in today's shift to digital?

Connectivity has become the lifeblood of economies and societies and service providers are at the very heart of the digital transformation in all countries.

Their strongest asset is that they deliver, whether on the wireline or the mobile, coverage of all services — regulated and non-regulated.

The digital transformation for any vertical requires one to consider a lot of factors on how to deliver unique services that would meet customers’ expectations. COVID-19 accelerated the use of online services to a large extent. This eventually became the norm for us; that we deliver each and every service based on a digital platform.

Another challenge is how we help enable them to monetize assets and translate these investments into platforms with services that would deliver value. For instance, we see a lot of service providers going for heavy 5G investments, whether from licensing or from a coverage point of view. They go for a lot of FTTx investments and fiber laying. Despite that, the ARPUs are going down and the EBITDA margins are challenged, which is normal for any industry that's highly deregulated. Therefore, we focus on helping them monetize and make the most of their assets.

In addition, transforming customer experience is another difficult task. Service providers, whether for enterprise customers, retailers, or consumers, are always looking for ways to offer unique value-added services.

Last but not least, there are also challenges like how to build a pervasive and easy-to-manage network. You have a lot of vendors across the table, you have a lot of technologies: how do you make them talk to each other in harmony? This is where our customer experiences and services teams come into action to offer expertise and advice to service providers.

Can you elaborate more about the Cisco cloud-to-client approach and how it unifies multi-vendor solutions?

It became crystal clear for everybody in the industry that having a multi-vendor environment is a mandate. With this in mind, telco cloud would actually enable true transformation for all our service providers, not only for the present, but for the future too.

Multi-vendor means that service providers need to abstract the layer of service delivery and work based on open APIs - that's a massive challenge. In response, we are helping service providers we work with, to become software-driven and adopt a software development platform that they can integrate with all vendors across open APIs. So, they build a layer where they can integrate each and every part of the orchestration.

Cisco is the best positioned in the market to deliver that with our services, offering virtual functions, quick onboarding, and at the same time orchestrating the underlay in the best shape and form for our customers.

We are already implementing these solutions with several customers in the market. This gives us the opportunity to learn from these experiences and help develop easier integration layers into all areas of the solution.

If we talk about automation itself, it has a lot of other benefits. It reduces human errors, gives visibility on network performance, and helps foresee where to invest in the future. That's a massive benefit for service providers as they understand how to utilize CAPEX and OPEX in the most optimum way, in order to move forward.

In your perspective, in the next five to ten years, what would be Cisco's standing within the telecom industry in the region?

With the acceleration of digitization, all areas of life, including healthcare, education, government services, safety, security, roads, industries and more will be completely transformed in the next ten years. This will bring a lot of changes in our lives, not only for the service providers but for us as well, as citizens.

As Cisco, we will continue helping service providers transform the customer experience and become very strong players in the cloud, gaming, apps, and DevOps areas. One of the critical areas is how we will deliver on the business continuity aspects, considering the extremely diverse environments.

We believe that Cisco has always been capable of delivering a very unique customer experience and new solutions. We are helping not only build the network of the service providers, but also helping them capture market opportunities — to go beyond the national infrastructure and accelerate GDP growth in the countries.

Luckily, we have amazing presence in the Middle East and Africa on what we call our digital acceleration programs for our partners and customers, especially the large countries. This is where we help each and every economy to develop more capability for digital transformation.

In a nutshell, we're acting based on our principles of trust, choice and innovation and I believe that together with the service providers, we're going to be an integral part of shaping the future.

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