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Canadian-based Mitel is a provider of enterprise and mobile communications and powers over 2 billion connections every day, helping businesses to connect, collaborate and take care of their customers. The company has over 2,500 channel partners and regional headquarters around the globe. In a recent interview with Telecom Review, Mehmet Balos, vice president, International Sales, Mitel Mobility, opened up about LTE and its expansion in the Middle East, Mitel's mobile carrier solutions and its NFV technology, which is essential for the future of 5G.

What telecom operators do you work with in the Middle East and Africa? Can you tell us about any projects you currently have underway?
We have a legacy install base of SMSc and EIR in Zain Group, Airtel, Etisalat and du. We are working on introducing solutions for 4G networks such as VoLTE (voice over LTE) and VoWiFi (voice over WiFi) and diameter signaling controller for 4G data roaming.

What can you tell us about the current landscape of LTE in the Middle East region: deployment, consumer usage and finally the operator's revenue stream?
LTE is now getting widely adopted in the Middle East region. There are only a few countries where LTE is not yet available. LTE uptake is mainly driven by data usage. The carrier revenue stream is not necessarily increasing depending on the competitive landscape. Data bundles are increasing as the data demand is increasing, but subscribers are not necessarily spending more on data bundles.

Tell us about your portfolio of Mobile Carrier Solutions and the concept of converged voice and video solutions.
Mitel provides 100 percent software NFV (network function virtualization) based solutions for 4G networks. Based on IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) the same technology enables to provide services to different customer markets across multiple access technologies, not just 4G. Now, thanks to IMS, differentiated voice, video and messaging services can be provided to mobile customers, fixed line customers, consumers and enterprise customers from a single core network. This enables the carrier to unify its networks, reduce the complexity in maintaining and interconnecting networks, while at same time provide differentiated and innovative services for the various segments.

What is the future of mobile messaging in the Middle East and Africa, and how does it compare to the likes of Europe?
First, even with the competition of OTTs (over-the-top services), we still see an increase of the traffic in traditional messaging such as SMS and MMS (short message service and multimedia messaging service). This is linked to the fact that the demand has evolved over time. The increasing markets are now B2C (business-to-consumer). For example: banking, municipality services, parking and tolls. Even if the messaging technology is evolving toward richer services, SMSs are still the only technology that is compatible with 100 percent of devices.

In Europe, the consumer market traffic is not dropping that quickly as SMS is provided as an unlimited monthly package. This has enabled us to maintain the usage. That being said, messaging is now evolving towards RCS (rich communication suite) services. The adoption is still low as the business case against OTTs makes it difficult to justify investment. Nevertheless, mobile devices are starting to integrate RCS natively (Android, Microsoft). This should accelerate the network implementations.

With 5G expected to be implemented in 2020, operators will be expected to up their game and provide their customers with unprecedented connectivity. How is Mitel working towards developing 5G technology to cater to operators in this region?
Our EPC (Evolved Packet Core) is clearly built to evolve towards M2M (machine-to-machine) and IoT (internet of things). In fact, when we speak of NFV for EPC, IoT is the first market that comes to the carrier's mind as it requires price drop that only NFV and 100 percent software-based solutions can bring the cost down. Mitel has also invested a spin-off company targeting software-based RAN (radio access network). 5G, and more specifically the need to support billions of devices, is also driving the market towards cheaper solutions, which means more software-based solutions.

In 5G deployments, there will be an initial focus on the use cases which are closest to traditional carrier business models, such as increased bandwidth broadband access to address ever-growing appetites for video content.

However, the really transformational use cases will be driven by other ecosystem participants. In particular, 5G enables the move away from a one size fits all model and can build a network that supports a diversity of use cases via logical network slices.

Mitel is at the forefront of the NFV technology that is required to realize this 5G network slicing, but also in providing carrier grade services architecture to address the different verticals that will make use of these slices. Embracing these new business models where third-party service elements may operate within the network, an operator's network-edge datacenters will create many challenges and opportunities.

What does the future look like for Mitel in terms of LTE? Do you foresee any challenges ahead?
Our main challenge in LTE is to convince the mobile carriers that there is another credible player other than Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia. Mobile carriers are always reluctant to change their vendors. We also see mobile carriers willing to reduce the numbers of vendors. But, our success stories around the globe are helping us win more leading mobile operators in this region.

Another challenge that we see is the way that mobile handset manufacturers are trying to control their functionalities by having direct agreements with mobile carriers. This strategy was introduced by Apple. Microsoft is doing the same and we think Samsung is about to follow with Android 6.

This unfortunately introduces more complexity for the mobile carriers to introduce VoLTE and more specifically VoWiFi. It is not rare to hear that getting an agreement with Apple takes one year.

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