PARTNER CONTENT: Ahead of GSMA M360 Eurasia 2024, we had the privilege to interview Zarina Zeynalova (pictured, above), CEO of Azercell Telecom LLC, host sponsor of the event. From enhancing its technical capabilities to forging strategic partnerships, Azercell has been at the forefront of shaping the telecommunications landscape in Azerbaijan. In this exclusive interview, Z. Zeynalova sheds light on her expectations for the upcoming event, the partnerships garnered from last year’s success, the company’s major projects, and more.

  1. GSMA M360 Eurasia returns to Baku for the second time in May. Why is Azerbaijan the right place to hold the event?

Azerbaijan’s selection as the host for the GSMA M360 Eurasia event for the second time reflects the country’s leading role in driving innovation and digital progress in the region. This decision resonates with Azerbaijan’s rapid socio-economic development and its strong commitment to embracing innovative technologies.

The country’s dedication to digitalisation is well reflected in its Azerbaijan 2030: National Priorities for Socio-Economic Development, which prioritises modern innovation and the adoption of new technologies.

Azerbaijan’s commitment to bridging the digital divide is showcased by the Online Azerbaijan project, a substantial initiative spearheaded by the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport. This project, operating on a public-private partnership model, aims to ensure equitable access to high-speed internet and innovative solutions, particularly in remote areas. The project’s success is already tangible, with broadband internet penetration surging from 8% at the end of 2020 to an impressive 74.2% currently among households and businesses.

I would also like to highlight the extensive efforts undertaken by Azercell in delivering exceptional network performance countrywide. Our Radio Access Network modernisation project stands as a cornerstone of this commitment. This initiative, spanning over 18 months, has significantly expanded Azercell’s LTE network coverage, with more than 300 new base stations deployed and approximately 1600 modernised throughout Azerbaijan. As a result, Azercell’s LTE network now encompasses more than 3,400 stations, ensuring robust coverage and enhanced user experience for more than 5 million subscribers.

I believe Azerbaijan’s strategic initiatives in digitalisation and its success in bridging the digital divide make it an ideal host for the GSMA M360 Eurasia event, offering attendees a glimpse into the country’s digital prowess and commitment to technological advancement.

  • What were the highlights of last year’s GSMA M360 Eurasia event; what made it special?

GSMA M360 Eurasia 2023 was a remarkable success. The event attracted attendees from 29 countries, bringing together regional leaders and international experts in mobile and digital spaces to discuss industry trends, opportunities, and challenges. The conference explored the best strategies, emphasising how to stay ahead in an ever-changing technological environment.

Overall, the event provided an excellent platform for exchanging views and opinions on safeguarding critical infrastructure, investing in future growth, and capturing value. Moreover, it created opportunities for building new connections across various verticals, contributing to the overall success of the industry.

As the host sponsor, Azercell was proud to play a key role in this milestone. We observed the positive impact it had on fostering collaboration among industry leaders and experts.

  • Turning to the significance of the annual M360 Eurasia event for Azercell: As the largest mobile operator in Azerbaijan, Azercell’s continuous involvement as the host sponsor underscores the event’s strategic importance. Could you provide more insights into why the M360 Eurasia event holds such significance for Azercell?

As Azerbaijan’s leading mobile operator and a systemic player in the local market, our contribution to shaping the country’s digital ecosystem is one of our top priorities. Our goal is to elevate the industry not only by delivering quality service and seamless mobile connections but also by innovating customer experience and modernising our technical capabilities. This perfectly aligns with our strategic purpose of ‘Easing connectivity, empowering lives.’

For instance, last year we introduced technological innovation such as the AI-based virtual assistant, AiCell, offering comprehensive services in the Azerbaijani language. To support such innovation and ensure the robustness of our IT system, we have initiated a large-scale transformation program, investing significantly in cutting-edge technologies. This effort includes revamping our Business Support System (BSS), the core component of our IT operations, to provide enhanced customer interactions and more advanced tariff plans.

Going back to your question: the M360 Eurasia event holds immense significance for Azercell as it serves as a platform to exchange experience, engage with industry leaders, and gain insight into emerging trends.

On the sidelines of this conference, we also established collaborations with several partners. I would particularly like to mention the strategic partnership we forged with “e& international” (formerly known as Etisalat Group), which has provided us with wide access to extensive international market experience.

  • What can you say about the main theme of this year’s event ‘The Power of Digital’? Why is it relevant today? What trends and developments are likely to dominate discussion at the 2024 event?

The event captures the transformative impact of technology on our world today. The theme is particularly relevant nowadays as we witness the digital era centralising data and making information readily accessible, catalysing a shift from a process-driven to a data-driven world. This transition presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation and growth across industries, necessitating the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as cloud computing, RPA, and AI/ML into our daily operations.

I would like to stress that the subjects to be discussed at the event are highly relevant and timely for our country, as they closely align with key areas emphasised in Azerbaijan’s 2030 socio-economic development plan. These areas include modern innovation, competitive human capital, and a clean environment for ‘green growth’.

Thus, the discussions will shed light on digital transformation not solely from a technology perspective, but also from the viewpoint of the capable and adaptable workforce. Therefore, we will explore the concept of Digital DNA, highlighting the essential skills and capabilities necessary for thriving in a digital-first era. Azercell will be represented in these discussions, showcasing how we ensure our employees stay at the forefront of these changes, supporting our organisational structure and strategic goals.

Moreover, with the event preceding COP29, there will be a dedicated focus on our commitment to the ESG agenda. This will highlight the crucial convergence of digitalisation and climate action, urging industry-wide efforts towards sustainability and net-zero goals. Insight from global telecom leaders will demonstrate the importance of digital innovation in driving environmental responsibility. During this session, we will unveil our ESG report, highlighting Azercell’s dedication to sustainability and corporate responsibility.

  • The event’s captivating agenda is enough to catch attention. However, maybe you want to elaborate on why people should consider attending this event?

This year’s event promises even more impactful discussions, thought-provoking panels, and networking opportunities aimed at driving actionable strategies for a greener, safer, and more connected future. Building on the success of the previous edition, the 2024 edition features speakers from the top management of a wide range of international companies across various business verticals. Thus, the event will present an exceptional chance to gain insights from industry leaders, network with peers, and contribute to shaping the future of digital innovation and sustainability.

Most importantly, you will have an opportunity to visit Baku, a unique city where the East meets the West, and ancient history seamlessly combines with dynamic progress.