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As always, Etisalat had a very strong presence at GITEX, bringing some of the world’s most unique, specific and impressive technologies and use cases to light for people to see and experience for themselves.

Telecom Review managed to secure an exclusive interview with Khalifa Al Shamsi, Group Chief Strategy and Corporate Governance at Etisalat, to discuss the telco’s presence at the exhibit, how they weathered the storm of COVID-19 and the evolving and fast-growing role of 5G.

The pandemic came as a shock to everyone, especially to telecom operators. What was Etisalat’s immediate reaction to the covid-19 outbreak and what strategies were implemented to curb its effects on both the company and its subscribers?

The pandemic was definitely a shock for all of mankind- not just telecom operator or Etisalat in particular. Our reaction was very fast. From one angel, we have our business continuity which we always maintain and refresh for various types of challenges but this challenge was definitely one of a kind.

Once the pandemic hit, we managed to quickly enforce our strategy which related to maintaining our own staff, business continuity and staying connected outside the office. Being an operator during this time meant that we had the right tools and connectivity to deal with the crisis very quickly.

On the other hand, we managed to maintain our services to our customers but ensuring the best quality of service. The first thing we did differently and accelerated on was increasing the international bandwidth for our customers. The initial kickoff in China gave us a couple of weeks to deal with the wave before it hit the Middle East and allowed us to also enhance our international bandwidth, to be ready in comparison to normal consumption.
From a connectivity perspective, the UAE is quite unique because the country is fully fiber. The UAE is ranked among the top countries globally when it comes to fiber penetration to the homes and offices so the whole country is fibered out. This also helped us ensure that the connectivity was ready.

When the government took the decision for the education sector to conduct classes remotely and for other businesses to enforce a work-from-home policy, this caused the opening up of more applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Etisalat’s own Cloud Talk platform. These applications, among many others, were ready to shine in a very strong and healthy network. In the pandemic’s initial days, we complemented the use of these applications by giving a lot of offers to our own customers and increasing speeds.  

We provided fixed broadband to the homes that did not have it in an effort to ensure that students could all maintain their education. In addition to this we white labeled a lot of websites related to education so that people could consume all kinds of data without worrying about packages. Similarly, with the pandemic continuing to hit a lot of industries, we sat down with our customers virtually to support them in relation to services which include security and cloud-based services. We were very flexible in the way that we were able to help a variety of sectors.

Overall, the pandemic was a shock as a start, quick recovery from our side, we have built on the strength of our network, business continuity plans and our tools. We prevailed in the end- Etisalat came out as a winner, especially from a reputation perspective.

As we have seen today, 5G is becoming more of a reality. This has been made possible due to Etisalat’s efforts in the 5G space. Could you provide us with a comment on this?

5G is a very special generation. It comes after 2G, 3G and 4G environments.

5G is set to transform the whole industry. 2G, 3G and 4G might have transformed the way we interact and made great strides in connectivity and where we surf the net; but 5G will not only do that, it will boost connectivity and emphasize the connectivity experience. The DNA of our industries are changing and 5G is going to be the blue energy that comes in and transforms them- our excitement for 5G came as a continuation.

Etisalat has always been the first in the region to launch a lot of these services. From launching the mobile phone in 1994 to being the first to launch 3G and 4G, Etisalat has always ensured the best network quality. Today our deployments in 3G are 99% and 98% in 4G. We also first launched 5G in May 2018 and were the first in the region to bring in the devices to support it and for our customers to experiment with. 5G is still in its infancy so the focus is now on ensuring a very fast mobile broadband experience through our upcoming 5G devices, especially with the upcoming launch of the new iPhone 12.

What excites us the most about 5G are the use cases and solutions that we are showcasing at GITEX this year such as the Internet of Things related to mobility, remote working, smart factories, retail, education and healthcare. 5G will be powering the future of the Internet of Things. By virtue of the billions of sensors that will be in a small square kilometer areas, connectivity will be boosted and so will the response times for a variety of applications. We are using 5G now as a proof of concept for a lot of industries, be it oil and gas, Transportation, Logistics, ports, police, or smart city implementations. We are betting that, down the road, a lot of the future growth and opportunity for telecom operators will come from business to business, government-based applications and will work to boost the customer experience in general.

At GITEX, we are shouting out to all partners to come and join us to co-create, to innovate and bring solutions to help mankind and to bring us all together.

Tell us about Etisalat’s presence at GITEX this year? Which part of the exhibition are you most excited about?

GITEX 2020 has been very special. We were eagerly waiting to hear back from the authorities on whether the event was going to take place physically or not.

GITEX has always given us opportunities and a platform for interaction with our customers, not only to exhibit the solutions we have developed and deployed, but also to discuss ideas, innovations and ways in which we can co-create with our customers. Etisalat plays the role of the technology master in that it brings this complexity in one platform and integrates capabilities in being able to also bring different partners from various industries into one ecosystem and bring it to our customers. We always look for insights to enrich our customers’ experiences.

This year, we are focusing a great deal on industry-specific solutions; from retail to education, all the way through to manufacturing, mobility and healthcare.

What excited me the most about our GITEX presence this year is the engagement that we have in our Internet of Things area which is focused on industrial IoT, as well as mobility and affordability for fleets for city management, public safety, and the list goes on. This is transforming the focus of telecom operators from connectivity for the individual, to the connectivity of things.

At the moment, we are now in the millions of connections for the UAE and we are bringing this unique experience and this solid operational efficiency to accelerate our potential growth and opportunities in this area.

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