In an ever-evolving yet diverse socio-economic market such as the MEA region, telecommunications serve a purpose like no other.

The industry’s impact became absolutely instrumental during the pandemic as business continuity and social distancing relied on having advanced networks that were suitable enough to cater to the change in consumer demands.

Telecom Review interviewed Rima Manna, head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia. She provided some in-depth insight into the region’s most fruitful market opportunities, Nokia’s rapid response to post-pandemic network requirements of telecom operators, and the pivotal role 5G plays in economic recovery.

You have been recently appointed as head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia. Congratulations! What are your roles and responsibilities and how do you see market opportunities in countries under your Market Unit?

Thank you! As head of the Middle East Market Unit at Nokia, I drive the business and growth strategy for this unit comprising countries including the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan.

The market in these countries is dynamic and evolving. We continue to build on our business momentum working with all telecom operators as well as private and public entities to provide world-class services with our end-to-end technology portfolio. There are early adopters of new technologies such as 5G in this region whilst others are actively on the path to adopt it, and Nokia is supporting them in their network evolution towards 5G. In addition, there is always a strong need for end-to-end solutions including fixed wireless access solutions, fiber infrastructure, backhaul upgrades in IP and optical networks, cloud native core applications, end-to-end security management and customer experience management (CEM) solutions for operators to achieve superior network performance and customer experience. Innovation is in our DNA and is very much at the heart of what we do. We are committed to bringing innovative technologies to operators and enterprises across the region, enabling new services that enhance all aspects of our lives.

COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every industry in some or the other ways. How has it impacted Nokia’s business operations in the region and what measures did you take to deal with the pandemic-induced challenges?

Indeed, COVID19 has unleashed truly unprecedented times. While the telecom industry is doing better than most industries, no industry or sector has been immune to the impact of the pandemic. We at Nokia have been closely working with our suppliers and partners to successfully navigate through this very challenging period, ensuring business continuity for our customers.

Nokia set up a special task force to address supply chain challenges such as logistics and transportation and to co-ordinate with our multiple factories and suppliers across the globe, ensuring equipment availability for our customers. Also, from a services delivery perspective, we managed very well with our Global Delivery Centers that continue to operate and serve our customers very effectively with employees working from home. Our strong commitment and expertise in digitalization, automation, Robotics Process Automation and artificial intelligence have ensured continued and smooth running of these Centers. In cases where work required physical presence of engineers, for example, in essential field works, our engineers were available onsite without compromising on Nokia’s high standard health and safety guidelines.

Following the pandemic, telecom operators needed to respond quickly to network requirements to address surging voice and data traffic. We closely worked with the operators to help them respond swiftly to the first phase by reducing network congestion and keeping the networks up and running, as reliable and seamless connectivity became a necessity due to the emergence of new work and lifestyle pattern. As we witnessed, social distancing and lockdown meant people had to stay at home. Hence demand for home working, online education, video streaming resulted in an exponential increase in voice, data and video traffic growth for both fixed and mobile broadband networks across the region. From this initial phase of securing the network, our focus shifts to work with the telecom operators to scale their network and then to stimulate economies by helping operators prepare towards a more automated and digital world.

Given the current situation, many operators and vendors have had to reshuffle their priorities in terms of strategy. What is Nokia’s current strategy for 5G deployment in these countries throughout the rest of 2020? How has it changed since pre-COVID times?

During the initial phase of this situation, our focus was on providing essential response to the immediate situation on hand by supporting telecom operators in ensuring robust connectivity for all their subscribers. We also saw a number of operators offering free enhanced data volume and free calls to help their customers during this phase.

Then we, together with the operators, moved towards accelerating digitalization to enable teleworking, remote learning, telemedicine, augmented reality amongst others. Despite a short-term change in priorities of the operators, we see that the 5G momentum of operators is not letting up as the technology is a key enabler for some of these use cases because of its high reliability, stability, ultra-low latency, extreme broadband capacity and speed. 5G will, therefore, serve as a key pillar of economic recovery and remains a key focus area within 2020 and beyond, and we continue to actively engage with operators to help them roll out and expand their 5G networks.

Many are of the belief that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on a variety of industries. We have seen several industries get catapulted into their digital transformation journeys due to the unprecedented situation. What’s your stance on this? And how will Nokia, as a vendor, cater to the challenges and opportunities that will arise from it?

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, importance of the digitalization has been well understood by organizations and society. As we see businesses and society gradually opening up again, we see that the use of digital services further increase and digitalization will not reverse. Consumers will continue to appreciate services such as remote learning, remote health, online financial services as great complements if not substitutes to their previous lifestyle. Enterprises will continue to embrace the use of digital channels and tools to allow remote working, efficiency and drive automation.

Telecommunication technologies will play a pivotal role in this global digital transformation, and the advance of 5G will be a clear enabler for the transformation.

Today the need for telecommunications, the network infrastructure and digitalization are stronger than ever. Nokia, as a leading global telecom network technology company, has a vital role to play to address the need. Firstly, we closely work with our customers to ensure reliable connectivity through high performing, secure networks. Secondly, we collaborate with them to enable cloud-native applications and connect businesses to the network. Thirdly, with our strong services capabilities and expertise, we support our customers to transform their network and businesses.
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