LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360-MIDDLE EAST: The head of the UAE’s largest mobile operator added to the growing chorus of telco execs urging the industry to work more closely with Over-The-Top (OTT) rivals and improve their customer experience.
“Going to a telco retail store is like going to the dentist – you only go if you need to,” quipped Etisalat’s CEO, Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar (pictured). “But people want to go to Apple shops,” he noted, suggesting that telcos would benefit from revamping their consumer stores.
Julfar then compared the current operator vs OTT battle as similar to one fought in the airline industry over a decade ago. “In 1999 the airline industry was enjoying significant growth but had great risk; financial commitment was made years in advance of service launch; ROI would be over several years; there was significant depreciation of assets and infrastructure,” he noted.
“The Internet start-ups [such as Lastminute.com and Expedia] threatened to distance the airline service provider from their customers. They provided greater choice and flexibility, eroding margins. Powerful brands were able to negotiate preferable deals with carriers.The service provider would resemble a ‘sub contractor’, not essentially the core of the service.”
But Julfar said this situation did not end up as a worst case scenario – indeed, the competition improved online and offline customer experiences in the aviation industry, saw the emergence of popular brands and marketing, and created consolidation and partnerships.
“In mobile, we must change the conversation,” warned Julfar. “We must work together to address common challenges – there needs to be a leap of faith between the [operator and OTT] industries.”
Julfar admitted the OTT players have to “give” something back to operators, but claimed operators must also change too. “We need to focus on entreprenuership and innovation.” And if that change can occur, the Etisalat CEO claimed “operators have the ability to empower society and create significant value within economies like never before.”
To that end, he touted this week’s plan to make Dubai a top 5 ‘smart city’ and local ambitions to ensure all government services are delivered by mobile technology by May 2015.