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In an exclusive for Telecom Review, Karim Benkirane, chief commercial officer at du, elaborates on the context of how they, as a leading digital telco, are enabling continual transformation and helping partners and organizations to maximize the value of digital strategies.

As the official telecom partner of the Telecom Review Summit's 16th edition, how would you represent the importance of telcos in the digital economy? 

Digital transformation contributes to raising the competitiveness and sustainability of business in Dubai, thereby enhancing investor confidence and adding value to the economy. Networking provides the foundation for digital innovation and positions telcos at the center of the digital economy. We are the glue that holds the entire ecosystem together.

A digital telco can orchestrate, automate and accelerate the development of new solutions based on technologies provided by multiple partners. As a digital enabler, du helps organizations develop digital strategies that have a real impact on how they operate and the outcomes they can deliver for employees, customers and partners. Further, we collaborate and co-create solutions with partners that benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.   

For the year 2022, what have been du's key commercial milestones that have solidified the telco’s regional reputation?

The “digital first” strategy is at the center of what we are doing; du is significantly increasing investment to dramatically improve coverage, reliability and speed nationwide for 5G mobile networks. du, Nokia and MediaTek achieved successful carrier aggregation by combining spectrum used by three Time Division Duplex (TDD) carriers. During the test, the data speed reached 4.520 Gbps, which will provide the operator with a performance and capacity boost once widely deployed in the live network. It will enable du to provide high-speed internet connectivity to UAE residents through many 5G products, including its “Home Wireless” offering.

du successfully expanded its 5G offering while exploring opportunities in the IoT, the metaverse, cybersecurity and fixed wireless solutions. The results have been reflected in a growing subscriber base and exceptional financial results. In Q3 2022, du posted a 12.7% rise in net profit to AED 319 million for the third quarter of the year after expanding its customer base to more than 7.4 million subscribers. du's consumer broadband customer base rose sharply by 53.8% to 510,000, with at least 37,000 new customers signing up.

We also focused on forging alliances with global and local partners to deliver economic and social benefits to the UAE. du partnered with Masdar City, a global leader in sustainable innovation and development, to build a 5G Centre of Excellence in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi and deploy IoT solutions.

du partnered with IBM to leverage IBM security software and solutions across the telco provider’s Digital Trust portfolio and du Cyber Defense Centre. With world-class data security being an exacerbating challenge and organizational imperative in today’s digital-first world, this latest partnership with IBM will enable du to accelerate innovation in this field, scale and improve services and build further unique service solutions that meet varied end-user requirements.

As a key enabler of digital revolution and government entities’ digital transformation agendas, du partnered with the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) to enable telco services on TAMM, the Abu Dhabi government services website. Additionally, du has partnered with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) for fixed, ICT, special projects and long-term technical support. As part of the agreement, du will collaborate with RTA to enhance its fixed and mobile services and deliver the Digital Twin solution in Dubai Metro as well as additional mixed reality technologies.

These announcements were made at GITEX Global 2022, where du presented an innovative showcase under the theme “Powering Governments, Shaping The Emirates Reality,” featuring technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality, metaverse, blockchain, NFT and robotics.

How do you see du's business progressing in the years to come? Which business use cases will the telco heavily invest in?

du is leveraging technology as a platform for innovation to explore untapped emerging use cases from the digital transformation of industries such as government, finance, education, healthcare and retail.

Given the global pandemic, resiliency and business continuity have emerged as focus areas for organizations across the UAE. CIOs are looking at process automation, migration to the cloud and greater security to build a more robust infrastructure that will offer greater agility and cost less. According to IDC, more than 60% of organizations across the UAE are engaging in digital transformation projects.

Digital transformation is more than moving applications and data to the cloud. It is about enabling your organization to securely adopt new technologies, integrate data and processes and benefit from continuous transformation. We are enabling digital transformation and helping organizations maximize the value of their digital strategies. Today, these strategies might include cloud, IoT, blockchain, AI or the metaverse. Tomorrow, there will be an entirely new suite of solutions that are shaping our world.

As businesses today are shifting the way they operate in the digital economy, they will need to innovate by harnessing technologies that drive exceptional customer experiences, operational excellence and data monetisation. They also need to leverage agile, resilient, secure and scalable digital infrastructure solutions built on a foundation of hybrid and multi-cloud, in-country datacenter services and software-defined enterprise networks. Our portfolio includes Infrastructure Services, Cloud Management, Data Center Solutions and Connectivity Solutions.

All of these solutions will be underpinned by 5G and eventually 6G networking. 5G’s massive download and upload speeds accelerate application performance and enable new digital solutions to be developed and delivered. 5G will be instrumental in making Industry 4.0 a reality. Private 5G networks are changing how manufacturers operate. 5G connects core solutions like IoT, EDGE computing, ERP systems and automation. Further, 6G will connect everything and create a data-rich ecosystem that will be refined and optimized via AI and other emerging technologies. 

From a commercial perspective, what are the essential tools for telcos’ success? How is du maximizing these tools?

du continues to transform services in the public sector, cloud migration and the adoption of technologies such as blockchain and 5G. du is focusing on networking the ICT services of the future, supporting and implementing smart city infrastructure, facilitating visualization and optimization, and grounding its commitment to the betterment of UAE business communities. Throughout, du is set on utilizing industry partnerships to spearhead innovation that will drive industry success for stakeholders and partners.

Through our managed services portfolio, we are able to focus even more on delivering new products to our customers while ensuring that our subscribers enjoy better quality and speed as part of a superior customer experience. du continues to promote innovation across all services, drive business excellence and play a vital role in enhancing well-being and economic and societal progression.

Partnerships are essential for telcos to develop vertical-centric solutions. We combine world-class partners with local knowledge to deliver unique solutions that serve a variety of industries. Partnerships deliver agility, efficiency and innovation. They enable us to move quickly to develop new solutions while benefiting from specialist skills and insights.

du is cultivating a partner ecosystem that is continually evolving and adapting to changing customer needs and opportunities. A healthy partner ecosystem is essential for enabling and accelerating digital transformation. Together with our partners, we are collaborating and co-creating solutions that are more than the sum of their parts.

What are du's aspirations for the upcoming year?

In line with our continuous efforts to improve national digital infrastructure and ensure all segments of the UAE avail the best experiences in the world of communication, we aim to continue building on recent progress and deliver even greater value moving forward.

5G networking is our core, and we’re going to layer more services on top of our infrastructure. During the second quarter of 2022, we achieved 91.49% coverage of the 5G network throughout the country, and we anticipate reaching 93–94% by the end of the year. The deployment of 5G networks in 2022 is expected to progress at the fastest rate since 2021. This achievement is the result of our efforts to drive the 5G agenda in recent times, with huge investments allocated to develop the 5G network, enhance performance and efficiency, and ensure customers avail the very best communication services. In 2023, we’re going to accelerate our 5G rollout, expand our fixed wireless offering and continue to develop and deliver new solutions for vertical industries.

Further, we have evolved our portfolio of offerings and will continue to focus on supporting our customers' digital journeys through connectivity, hybrid multi-cloud, state-of-the-art datacenters, cybersecurity (Next-gen SOC), IoT/Industry 4.0, DevSecOps plus the transformation of our clients’ business apps. We’re going to explore new solutions that incorporate cloud, blockchain, AI, collaboration tools, IoT and a range of emerging technologies and use them to serve education, manufacturing and healthcare locally as well as MNCs globally.

There will be a growing number of partnerships that support these verticals while expanding our solution set. We will work with global leaders as well as local innovators. Overall, we aren’t just enabling digital transformation but also continuing transformation. We want to help our customers begin their digital journeys, not just see a single project as an endpoint. Transformation never stops, and digital strategies must continue to evolve.  

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