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Telecom Review hosted a virtual panel ‘Beyond 5G: The endless benefits of 5G to operators’ on 20th May 2021. A panelist of industry experts participated in the discussion to break down and explore the areas where 5G rollouts have been crucial.

The panel was moderated by Toni Eid, Founder and CEO, Telecom Review Group.

The esteemed panelists were the following:

  • Alex Sinclair, CTO GSMA
  • Dr. Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO, TELUS
  • James Kirby, SVP & Head of EMEA Business CSG
  • Dr. Mohamed Madkour, VP Global Wireless Networks Marketing and Solutions, Huawei
  • Mohamed Al Marzooqi, VP Technology Synergies, Etisalat Group

Considering that OTT platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Netflix are changing the way end-users consume content, carriers are faced with a dilemma whether to join forces with OTTs or act alone to generate newer revenue streams.

Starting from this point, the first question for the panelists was: The competition between OTTs and mobile operators has been fierce. How can 5G support operators' positioning against OTTs' domination?

Taking on the first question, Alex Sinclair said that 5G was not just another consumer broadband. He said, “It’s not about competing with Disney and Netflix to take the last dollar from the consumer wallet, it’s much more about positively disrupting every other sector.”

“We want to make them all truly wireless and truly mobile for the first time, and that’s by definition a new business. It’s not owned by Netflix, Facebook, or WhatsApp. Nobody owns it as of yet. So, there’s an opportunity for operators to lead. Given the pace of rollouts of 5G, we’ve got about 157 live commercial networks in 62 countries, that’s despite the Covid restrictions. That opportunity starts here and it starts now,” he added.

Mohamed Al Marzooqi said that he slightly disagreed with the view that OTTs and operators were at war with each other. “I think both entities are trying to connect the world from different angles. So why don’t we cooperate?” he surmised.

He said that operators have to think of OTT as a new opportunity to increase revenue. “Whoever can add value to the economy, will add benefit to the telecom industry,” he stressed. With regards to the GCC region, he said that Etisalat was moving in the same direction. “We operate in 16 countries, we have sufficient infrastructure to support the OTTs. We can either cooperate with them, or we can establish our own OTTs somehow, but the old school thought of blocking them and considering them as a threat is going to vanish soon,” he concluded.

Joining the conversation, Dr. Ibrahim Gedeon said that it was tough to agree or disagree on the opinions. To strike the right balance, he said that operators have been fighting with each other for the longest time and now there was a revenue stream that operators had not looked at and that the hyperscalers had occupied this vacuum.

“So, I agree with Mohamed that the key is a partnership because of some stuff that we are not good at. We never go to a butcher to get vegetables in the same vein why would you come to the operators for the hyperscaler-type activities?” he reasoned.

“As operators, we need to focus using 5G for our clients, and hyperscalers are coming up with great ideas, the question is with whom you want to partner the most?” he asked. “It would be great for us as operators to be a bit more empathetic because if you look at the end customers everyone is talking about digital, cloud, and 5G. All this has to come together because if they each evolve on their own, the industry is going to suffer. The pandemic has proved that we have to get our heads together and do something purposeful out of all of this,” he contended.

“A little bit of reinvention is needed,” said James Kirby. “If it’s just about the pipes getting faster, then probably there is going to be money left on the table and the operators aren’t going to be taking that money, somebody else is going to be taking it from them,” he said.

He felt that there are some lessons to be learned from previous network generations (3G, 4G), but said that 5G was changing the game. “With 5G, it’s not just about the speed but underneath that there are some interesting use cases, probably always not apparent from a consumer perspective but in the business environment, we need to take that into account,” he said.

He felt that the operators needed to embrace the different business models whether it was financial trading or autonomous cars requiring ultra-low latency, or things behind this. “In some cases, enterprises are going to be key to 5G than consumers. The enterprise sector is probably one of the most underserved from a digitalization perspective. As we look to reinvent ourselves, the B2B and enterprise side of operators need to look at this and those that do look at that will be the ones that will succeed beyond just providing a data byte,” he opined.

Being the last one to take on the question, Dr. Mohamed Madkour said that he completely agreed with what had been said so far but felt that industry has to move on from the current state of the relationship between OTTs and operators and see 5G as a wonderful and strong tool that will allow operators to control their pipes and provide a wide range of services in different market segments.

“It’s kind of a greenfield opportunity now with no incumbents and the carriers are well-positioned to continue providing services from pipe perspective, cloud or even ICT service,” he said. In the context of the Middle East, “We are expecting to have about 8 million subscribers for 5G by the end of this year. By the Rogers theory of diffusion of innovation, once we reach 20% next year, it’s going to be huge in the Middle East when it comes to consumer space,” he said.

“We have 720,000 broadband subscriptions, lease line exceeded 9000 5GtoB lines. We see enormous space and leveraging of 5G. OTT doesn’t have anything to do about that. We care about collaborative competition,” he explained.

He said that by deploying 5G to ports, coal mines, airports, and mines, etc, Huawei was able to cut the number of resources underground by 50% thereby cutting the risk of putting people in dangerous operation areas. “So, 5G not only provides technical benefits but also commercial benefits, societal benefits, as well as social responsibility benefits. The space is enormous and I think we are yet to see huge applications and that’s going to be remarkable,” he concluded.

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