LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 MIDDLE EAST: Operators are no longer the “cash cow” that governments and the media believe, insisted Hatem Dowidar, CEO, international operations, Etisalat, as he slammed the industry for failing to grow in the technology value chain.
In an honest overview of the mobile players’ current status, speaking in a keynote speech at Mobile 360 Middle East in Dubai, Dowidar hit out at a common misconception that being an operator was “fancy”, and they were “having a great time”, given the amount of money generated.
Accusing government of “milking” operators because of this, through taxes, spectrum prices and excise duties, among other fees, Dowidar revealed, out of the 18 countries Etisalat operates in, it is only generating “real profit” in four.
This, however, doesn’t mean it could stop investing and, citing analysts that estimate a $1.7 trillion capex spend on mobile networks and fixed infrastructure over the next five years, he suggested the situation could get worse, unless operators begin to evolve beyond pure connectivity.
“The big investment is not creating the returns we would hope for, or that we would like to see,” he said. “We want to be more than just a pipe. In the new world we want to be a hub of it all. We hope we are a bigger part of the value chain.”
Commenting on Apple’s evolution from hardware, to software, services and even payments, Dowidar said operators had “failed to grow in the value chain”, in the same way, while urging mobile operators to stop focusing competition on each other, and look at new competitors that were emerging.
He also had a few choice words for regulators.
“In the new world we are not only competing with the operators in the same regions, we are competing with Amazon, Google, their cloud services, IoT platforms and other applications,” he said. “This is a message to regulators to be open minded about what you allow the operators to do. Today we are smothering the operators’ capabilities to compete.”