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The telecom industry in the past year has embraced innovation and technology, helping launch and define products/services to create a market differentiation and bring digital transformation. During the post-COVID era in the new normal, the telecom wholesale community has done the same, as it is the enabler/provider of inter-connectivity between networks and entities, capacity services, access, exchange of traffic, delivery and data centre services, continuing to play a pivotal role in the future.

Ali Amiri, Group Chief Carrier and Wholesale Officer, Etisalat, said, “During COVID-19, it was evident that the wholesale business played a critical role in making things work for the world. We witnessed its ability to accommodate the surge in data and SMS traffic which was triggered by a huge increase of all kinds of online activities such as e-commerce, gaming, remote work/study, video collaboration, etc. All these were made possible by having a well- established wholesale ecosystem.”

“The focus moved towards working closely with cloud players, API enabled collaboration and striking the right partnerships. With future telcos looking at optimising connectivity, wholesalers had to enable this for them, as connectivity and infrastructure is the backbone to make this a reality.”

Etisalat telecom wholesale drives digitalisation

With communication and connectivity gaining significance and demand more than ever during the pandemic, telcos play a critical role in closing this gap of digital readiness by becoming the engines of resilience and innovation. Moving ahead, network modernisation and digital transformation are required to bring this change to society.

Etisalat’s vision to ‘drive the digital future to empower societies’ has led its network to join one of the most robust and digitally equipped, showcasing infrastructure preparedness and ability to adapt and implement during today’s extraordinary times. With overall data traffic on the telco network surging exponentially, Etisalat’s resilient advanced network remained dependable and secure to proactively assess and manage anticipated increases in bandwidth demand. During the peak of the pandemic, there was an overall growth in video conferencing and VoIP on both fixed and mobile network of more than 250%. The traffic in streaming services and video increased by more than 50%, while for social media and gamin, traffic rose to more than 80 and 200%, respectively.

To cope with high bandwidth requirements, low latency apps and a world where everything computes, Etisalat invested in 5G technologies which complemented its services portfolio. With the convergence of virtualisation, IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics, and the capability of the 5G network, Etisalat was able to deliver smart solutions across industries and verticals. This 5G digital revolution enables end-to-end solutions for industries, bringing to reality the vision of a smart city with smart factories, smart utilities or smart retail.

Etisalat C&W embraced this 5G digital evolution with its wide roaming coverage across its network. Today, its 5G network is the fastest growing with 59 worldwide operators in 33 countries specifically for seamless international roaming services.

SmartHub plays a major role in critical functions

Etisalat’s SmartHub’s IP exchange (IPX) exchange has facilitated regional traffic especially during the peak of the pandemic, enabling faster speeds mandatory for critical applications.

The IPX exchange managing the traffic between mobile networks is the latest mobile carrier exchange taking the fourth position globally and the only one in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Etisalat’s wide roaming presence has supported the industry with better quality of service and managing the traffic by adding more availability distributed in more regions. With regional localization at the exchange, it eliminates failures from happening due to cable outages across continents.

Etisalat also expanded its SmartHub presence in UAE with three data centre locations providing new space and enabling global players to expand their presence in the region adding business diversity to carrier business. The state-of-the-art Tier 3 data centre facilities will bring digitalisation, implement cloud transformation initiatives, accelerate connectivity and capacity reach across Europe, US, Asia, Middle East and Africa.

Stressing the importance of opening data centres during this period, Amiri said, “During this unprecedented period that has challenged both health and economy, global markets are looking at enhancing interconnectivity and adding new capacities for businesses and the entire community. As one of the biggest neutral carrier hotels, Etisalat’s SmartHub data centres will be an ICT bridge between continents, always supporting business critical activities of global customers.

“Thanks to the UAE vision and Etisalat's goal of enabling digital transformation, our network was prepared to address the unique requirements making it possible for businesses to work remotely, millions of students to enjoy distance learning and all citizens having access to vital services.

“The launch and expansion of infrastructure, power, and space of our data centres in such a short time frame is a testimony to our efforts of meeting the growing demand from existing global customers. We are committed to making ‘SmartHub’ a preferred location for carriers, cloud service providers, Internet exchanges, and companies looking for carrier grade data centres.”

The addition of the space and high power capacity in Fujairah, Kalba and Dubai will triple the supply of space and power with possibility of scalability, and all of that setup with diversified power grid supply complemented with backup systems (N+N power redundancy).

SmartHub Kalba is Etisalat’s third wholesale data centre, following the opening of facilities in Fujairah and Dubai. The new data centre aims to offer geo-redundant ecosystem for global players to expand their regional presence. Additionally, the new facility is also selected to be the landing for Africa-1, a new subsea telecom system connecting Africa, the Middle East and Europe. This gives SmartHub Kalba a pivotal role in catering towards facilitating faster connectivity to various global partners. The Fujairah SmartHub will meet future demands including landing of a new generation of submarines as well as becoming a disaster recovery hub for Etisalat’s customers.

SmartHub is strategically a right fit for industry verticals such as financial services and gaming. SmartHub’s secure digital capabilities support interconnected clouds and low latency environments directly connected to global networks has the potential to offer diversified and low latency route connectivity to more than 2 billion people in less than 30 milliseconds.

Digital wholesaler is the way forward

A digital wholesaler will be able to provide services on demand using easy to use customer portals and applications. This will be enabled by virtualisation of the network to serve new types of customers in addition to telcos such as CPaaS platform providers, content providers, gaming and financial services sectors. The digital wholesaler will be able to create a platform and ecosystem that can offer many services with a single access (e.g. cloud connect, IoT platform, SMS, etc.).

The future of telecom wholesale

The pandemic has emphasised the crucial role of interconnection and wholesale as relevant infrastructure in dealing with capacity and demand. The COVID crisis has also exposed new opportunities as well as accelerated the mega trend-driven change of the telecoms industry. With shifts in technology and customer behaviour, the future will comprise immense opportunities for players willing to reinvent their network and service capabilities to ultimately drive growth.

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