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Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), the parent company of the "du" and "Virgin Mobile UAE" brands, hosted a GSMA meeting in Dubai on November 28 to execute candid discussions on aligning their visions for emerging innovations and technologies in the region that will have an impact on the telecom sector. Topics discussed include 5G, IoT, and e-SIM evolution.

The GSMA is an association representing some 800+ telecom operators from all over the world. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) aren't members of the organization, but other members include device manufacturers who are associate members, as well as representatives from the test industry, chipset manufacturers, and media technology sector.

"We bring the whole community together to discuss various aspects of the networks and devices to ensure that everything works together seamlessly across the world," said Doug Roberts, Chair of the GSMA Terminal Steering Group and Senior Manager Device Technology at French telecom giant Orange Group.

Doug chairs the Terminal Steering Group (TSG) which focuses on specific areas of the industry and facilitates discussions around certain issues raised by members. Member organizations, such as Orange Group or device manufacturers like Samsung, send delegates to the working group meetings to share their concerns and contribute to wider discussions on standards, etc.

"We have a specific responsibility to address issues that impact consumer devices and also Internet of Things (IoT) which is represented by an official subgroup under TSG," said Doug. "We focus on new technologies and we'll write requirement specifications, frameworks and deadlines to drive interoperability around the world so that operators can work with manufacturers efficiently."

The TSG has four meetings per year that take place in different locations around the world. The idea is to have them in different locations so that more of the local communities can come to the meetings and get involved with the work that the GSMA is doing. EITC hosted the meeting in the UAE to enable local manufacturers and operators to come along and join the conversation.

"We are a member of the GSMA and we participate in various initiatives," said Saleem Al Blooshi, Chief Infrastructure Officer at EITC. "We are partners for the Networking Steering Group and now the Terminal Steering Group. It's about defining specifications, and interoperability adds value to the relationship between customers, operators, manufacturers, and the ecosystem at large."

The UAE is leading innovation in the region with smart city initiatives, he added, and with initiatives focused on big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The GSMA is a key partner for EITC in this ecosystem and the company invited the organization to the region to understand the developments happening in an often underestimated part of the world.

"It's of vital interest to the GSMA to visit different parts of the world with these working groups because it brings a more thorough understanding," said Doug. "Whilst the operator I work for has an invested interest in the Middle East, other members of the GSMA don't have a connection to the region, so it's useful for them to come here and experience it first-hand."

The last group meeting was held in China where the GSMA had "good participation" from the Chinese operators. "It's an important aspect of the work we do - that we can reflect and understand some of the priorities and business needs because they vary across different regions and even within regions, particularly here in the Middle East," Doug said.

The meetings focus on discussions about 3GPP, the main standards body finalizing the first specifications for 5G. Another big topic discussed at the meetings is the evolution of e-SIM, which is expected to have a profound impact across the globe, as telecom operators prepare to restructure their business models to move away from SIM card sales.

The meetings are structured in such a way that any member can bring any topic to be discussed by simply submitting a document in advance. There are discussions on advanced technologies such as 5G but also discussions on legacy topics.

"Something that's being discussed in Europe at the moment is automatic emergency calling for cars," said Doug. "Another topic discussed by Chinese delegates was to do with high-speed trains and how to connect them. We help them address these issues by developing frameworks and standards."

The GSMA could soon include car manufacturers because of the move towards V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) communication. "That's something under discussion at the moment - how to handle this merging of the telecom and automotive sector," Doug added. "There have been specific projects undertaken by the GSMA regarding automotive to understand how cars can be interoperable with telecom networks."

Being part of the meeting group helps EITC to execute its vision and the direction the company is going, Saleem told Telecom Review. "It gives us an edge in understanding technologies that we are planning to introduce such as 5G. The GSMA is the organization that helps to define the standards for new technologies for which we can base our plans on."

"There needs to be an open and continuous dialogue with organizations to ensure that the services they envision come to life," Doug said. "Integration of different levels of technology - from licensed spectrum to unlicensed spectrum that operators work with - is going to be critical. The GSMA's role is to help facilitate that for its members around the world."

For example, the TSG is encouraging discussions on e-SIM so that operators can be ready for the technology when it becomes available to them. The requirements and test specifications are defined by the GSMA.

Claus Andre Madsen, Business Development Manager at German test solutions firm COMPRION, chairs the NFC (Near-field communication) working group tasked with defining the compliance process for e-SIM technology. "There is high attention on this because it will be a big change in the telecom world," he said, "and will have a huge impact on operators' business models in the way that they distribute to consumers."

The technology is both a concern and an opportunity for operators. "It's concerning in the sense that the only relevancy we have to our customers from a hardware perspective is our plastic SIM cards," Saleem said. "Changing this is complicated from a business perspective, but e-SIMs will definitely add value. It's an opportunity for growth where more devices will be connected, and it will be a great convenience for the end user."

The GSMA plays a role in this by bringing the operators, the manufacturers, the SIM vendors and testing industry all together to harmonize on requirements for devices and the way e-SIMs are going to work, explained GSMA Terminal Director, Paul Gosden. "We can put the test procedures in place and bring the whole industry together to embrace this new technology."

In fact, one of the reasons the GSMA created the Terminal Steering Group was because of the potential they saw in e-SIM technology about three years ago, Doug told Telecom Review. The manufacturers started to consider that the technology was something they could implement in the near future.

"Where mobile operators were concerned, they didn't want to be faced with multiple solutions for different devices - they want one solution that fits all," Doug said. "The GSMA's role is to harmonize that and make sure that the new technology works for the whole industry, and most importantly, works for the consumer."  

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