LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 MIDDLE EAST: The heads of some of the biggest operators in the region agreed they need to change their thinking in a big way to reap the rewards of an IoT future and must play a major role in the delivery of new services.
In a keynote session focused on ‘Industrial IoT and Smart Cities’, there was no doubt that the traditional operator business model won’t work in the future.
“We have to move beyond just connectivity, it is a matter of survival almost,” claimed Osman Sultan, CEO of the UAE’s second largest operator Du.
Sultan was keen to talk up his company’s new partnership with Smart Dubai, focused on the creation of smart city services that he hopes will give his company an edge over larger rival Etisalat.
“This is a different kind of infrastructure – we must move into system integration, we have to be more like data scientists in our space,” said Sultan, before warning that operators still have a long way to go. “We as telcos haven’t done this layering that we need to. We are at the beginning of the journey – we need to move from this spaghetti to lasagne, it will take time. There should be a clear precedent for all of us to move beyond the connectivity space.”
Dr Khaled Biyari, CEO of STC, outlined how the IoT space is very fragmented right now, with both hardware and software players moving in from different spaces in an effort to secure a slice of the pie. In Biyari’s vision, “the telecom operators sit in the middle, providing not only connectivity but also an enablement layer – that’s what STC has been doing over the last couple of years.”
Biyari noted that operator networks were traditionally built for voice and basic data services, “but now virtualisation becomes very important.”
No obvious task?
Etisalat’s chief business officer Salvador Anglada doubted whether all operators recognised the size of the challenge ahead. “I don’t think it’s an obvious opportunity. Providing connectivity is [obvious to operators], but providing services, end to end solutions to customers in different verticals isn’t obvious. I don’t believe connectivity is just the end game.”
Anglada also teased the imminent announcement of Etisalat Digital, the operator’s new business unit to help drive digital transformation at enterprise and government level.
In terms of major IoT markets, transportation and utilities were flagged by the operator execs as holding strong potential. Etisalat cited security and surveillance, also adding that it is involved in the launch of the world’s first ‘smart theme park’, due to open in Dubai in the next few weeks and supporting such applications as smart parking and ticketing.