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Informa’s Middle East Com conference in Dubai on September 29–30 saw Middle East operators set out their plans for cloud, smart city, and IoT services.

Operators are targeting IoT, cloud, and smart cities

It was evident at the Middle East Com conference that major operators in the Middle East are increasingly looking beyond traditional telecoms activities such as providing voice and data connectivity to work out what their positions are in today’s more diverse digital environment.

UAE-based Etisalat recently launched an IoT application development and device management platform that it says is the first of its kind in the Middle East. According to Shady Saeed, director of M2M at Etisalat, the new platform will help Etisalat differentiate its service offering from other telcos and deliver revenues.

Saeed urged operators to act soon to establish themselves in the IoT market or risk being cut out of the action by other industry players moving more quickly to develop IoT strategies and services. Google, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Huawei, and Samsung are among those strengthening their positions in IoT.

“Telcos need to invest in IoT before it is too late,” Saeed said. “A lot of manufacturers are starting to integrate connectivity out of the box. If we don’t provide connectivity then IoT is going to pass us by.”

Etisalat also sees an opportunity in cloud services and has been expanding its service offering in this sector. According to Ragy Magdy, vice president for enterprise sales at Etisalat Group, the existing capabilities of Etisalat and other operators are well suited to data storage and the connectivity aspect of cloud – or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). Etisalat can offer an end-to-end service in IaaS and is building private cloud services for customers such as local banks. But, according to Magdy, establishing this kind of capability requires significant investment.

For Du, the UAE’s second operator, the main focus areas for developing new services are – in order of priority – smart cities, M2M/IoT, big data, and commerce. This was according to Carlos Domingo, senior executive officer for new businesses and innovation at Du. He explained that smart cities top the list because government-backed smart city initiatives in the UAE create opportunities in this field.

Earlier this year, Du deployed a public Wi-Fi service called “WiFi UAE,” which forms part of the Smart Dubai initiative launched by local authorities in 2014. WiFi UAE is available in a number of public places, primarily in Dubai but also in Abu Dhabi and a number of other locations in the UAE. It offers a choice of free, lower speed Wi-Fi access for up to 60 minutes. There is also a faster, paid-for connection option.

Domingo expressed concern that many operators seeking to develop new services were outsourcing software development rather than handling it themselves. This is a problem because software development is central to most new digital services, according to Domingo. So operators looking to develop digital services might benefit from extending their software development capabilities.

Although operators in the Middle East have become increasingly active in digital services, they still provide little information on how these services are faring. Saeed said that Etisalat’s M2M revenues were growing, but the company did not disclose further details about its M2M business or other digital-service businesses.


Further reading

Etisalat: Connected Commerce Services and Strategy, TE0003-000872 (September 2015)

Middle East Market Outlook, TE0015-000327 (July 2015)

Service Provider Snapshot: Etisalat, TE0005-000646 (September 2014)

Digital Operator Profile: Etisalat, ME0002-000288 (August 2013)


Matthew Reed, Practice Leader, Middle East and Africa

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