Etisalat builds a modern network for Expo 2020

Expo visitors will enjoy a seamless, cutting-edge, immersive digital experience with a state-of-the-art network that is highly available and resilient built exclusively on premise to serve the requirements of Expo 2020

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Customers wait inside an Etisalat store at a shopping mall in Dubai.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Customers wait inside an Etisalat store at a shopping mall in Dubai.

REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

UAE - Etisalat has built a dedicated modern network for Expo 2020 Dubai to meet its exclusive requirements and provide telecom services for the millions of visitors expected from around the world throughout the six-month event, its top official says.

Masood M Sharif Mahmood, chief executive officer of Etisalat UAE, said Expo is probably the most important event of cultural exchange and a catalyst for millions around the world bringing national and international exposure to numerous inventions.

"This event allows people travelling from across the globe to witness history in the making, with this unique celebration. Visitors at the biggest world are connected to the fastest, smartest and most connected place on earth," Mahmood told Khaleej Times during an interview on the sidelines of Gitex Technology Week.

He said Expo visitors will enjoy a seamless, cutting-edge, immersive digital experience with a state-of-the-art network that is highly available and resilient built exclusively on premise to serve the requirements of Expo 2020, all the participating pavilions and visitors.

"Etisalat’s network at the global event provides high-density coverage with access points particularly targeted at enhancing the digital experience for visitors with technologies such as AR/VR. Services being hosted on the private and public clouds is one of the key priorities to provide redundant, fast and available connectivity between Expo 2020, its site offices, partners, public and enterprise services," he said.

As the official telecom and digital services partner, he said etisalat is committed to provide a seamless services to Expo visitors.

"People visiting Expo 2020 Dubai will enjoy a network that is secure and reliable with low latency covering the area of 4.38sqkm. This was possible due to the deployment of over 8,500 mobile access points, over 8,000 Wi-Fi access points, 700km fiber optic connectivity, more than 800km cabling for mobile indoor and Wi-Fi network across exhibition and pavilion areas providing the highest throughput, capacity and seamless smart connectivity," he said.

Expo 2020 Dubai is etisalat’s first commercial 5G enterprise customer in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region to access 5G services. The site has more than 700km of highly resilient and multi-redundant fiber network, which is four times the distance between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Fiber cables will have the ability to provide more bandwidth for carrying more data.

Etisalat’s driving innovation

Mahmood said etisalat’s focus has been about moving from digital first to digital throughout by driving AI and automation, revitalising digital customer experience with increasing use of AI in customer interactions and evolve capabilities to support new value propositions.

"Customer care is one of the areas where technologies like speech, video analytics and robotics are used in back office automation to enhance the customer journey. Currently, there are several use cases identified and underway to bring this digital experience to reality," he said.

In reply to a question, he said there are robots automating back office processes conducting more than 800k transactions on a monthly basis. "Robotic process automation has brought about 98 per cent efficiency enabling employees to become creative, innovative and connect with customers to enhance their experience," he said.

"Blockchain technologies is another area we see immense potential that helps in cutting down intermediaries, costs, increase speed and reach offering transparency and traceability of business processes," he added.

"At etisalat, we are already actively working with industry players for example the financial sector who stand to benefit the most from the technology. Our partnership for ‘UAE Trade Connect’ has UAE banks on the blockchain platform, helping them focus on addressing risks of double financing and invoice fraud before turning to other areas of trade finance," he said.

‘Shahada’ is another revolutionary effort on blockchain for the education sector that will securely issue credentials, avoiding forgery of paper-based certificates and creating an education passport, he said.

Etisalat is also extending its efforts on blockchain to its loyalty programmes, enhancing the experience for consumers to convert their loyalty or reward currencies. This technology is also coming in play to customise communication and messaging for subscribers centralising customer information and verifying it.

In reply to a question, he said the application of cutting-edge robotics, AI and biometric technologies has also played a key role in improving business operations.

"There was an emphasis on transforming the brick and mortar experience to digital retail providing a digital experience to the customer. Digitisation in retail and self-service touchpoints expanded the rollout of ‘Smart Stores’ by upgrading the current stores," he said.

"There was an increased focus on driving the subscriber online with a revamp of our portal and application. Transactions today are also seamless with virtual technologies being implemented for consumer transactions. Etisalat’s new digital stores are an illustration of our efforts," he said.

Support to entrepreneurs, innovators

Mahmood said innovation is now embedded in "our operations, becoming an integral element of everything we do within and outside the company".

"Etisalat’s early adoption of technologies, striking the right partnerships with technology leaders and entrepreneurs in close partnership with government and private sector were key factors to push us to innovate and lead in this space," he said.

Mahmood said there is a serious effort internally in building an AI capability, etisalat has partnered with Microsoft, Accenture and EBTIC to build a team to lead the AI stream for the company and the industry.

"The team currently consists of young Emiratis working on internal use cases focused on increasing operational efficiencies mainly with planning infrastructure and optimising the network. The long-term plan is to focus on building the capabilities of the next generation of Emirati youth and AI use cases for internal use and will continue to increase efficiency, boosting productivity, and enhancing customer experience," he said.

As a telco, etisalat has taken the lead in creating a unique innovation hub, a first of a kind in the region, giving all visitors an opportunity to experience solutions applied to real-world scenarios and get a comprehensive view of technologies that deliver concrete business outcomes, he said.

Training next generation of Emirati leaders

Mahmmod said etisalat’s focus is always to keep people at the heart of its strategy.

"We are currently focused on making investments in our teams to bring in special skills to facilitate digital transformation in the organisation. The focus is on re-educating our existing workforce and looking for specialised skillsets like data scientists, data architects, and subject matter experts across each vertical," he said.

Etisalat has made great strides in training a large segment of talented Emiratis on various advanced practical and scientific skills as well as hands-on experience on emerging technologies. It was great to see inspired and curious graduates develop their skills on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IOT) big data and cyber security and adapt them to real life situations.

"Etisalat Academy, established more than two decades ago, is the region’s largest single-source provider of total telecom and business training and courses, technical training, consultancy services and events management. It can accommodate more than 25,000 trainees annually, with plans to expand the capacity to more than 75,000 trainees over the next three years. Since its establishment, the academy has trained about 300,000 trainees, including 200,000 Emiratis, through many partnerships with government and private agencies," he said.

As an incubation hub for emerging tech and non tech talent, he said etisalat is training the next generation of tech leaders among UAE nationals as part of its continuous efforts to invest in our citizens and support their career growth.

"These young and promising Emiratis are looking to build a greater tomorrow with etisalat to drive the digital future," he said.

Etisalat stand at Gitex Global

"Every year, we get the best and most futuristic showcases to Gitex, that are set to mesmerise visitors with many of the exhibits making a presence for the first time globally on our stand," Mahmood said.

"We are bringing the future of transport, healthcare, retail, education, home entertainment, business, showcasing 5G use cases across these verticals and how innovative solutions can be applied in our environment becoming a digital reality," he said.

He said the mobility area is a show-stopper every year, giving visitors an insight into the future of autonomous transportation, and in robotics.

"Many of the transformative technologies will highlight how they can enhance lives of the differently-abled with a wearable robotic exoskeleton while witnessing how humanoid robots interact with visitors and how 5G robotic assistants can support industrial operations with VR capabilities," he said.

Visitors also get a sneak peek into the future of healthcare with robotics that help complex and sensitive procedures; in the post-pandemic era, the role of robotic technologies in making education an interactive learning experience, and also re-defining the smart home with immersive technologies, he said.

Retail is another area which converts the brick-and-mortar experience to digital retail with 5G-connected solutions, virtual shopping, and drone delivery set to transform consumer retail lifestyle. "Many of the use cases are focused on AI, machine learning and computer vision with Etisalat’s payment functionality, demonstrating our capability of providing complete end-to-end solutions in this domain with enhancements like biometrics, wearables and facial recognition for payments," he said.

"With our theme this year focused on ‘Shaping the new Digital Era’, these showcases will take the visitor on a journey of the future, where they will witness the impossible of the past, which has become the reality of today," he said.

Etisalat contributions to economy

With the UAE’s ambitious ICT fuelled vision aiming to transform the country to a digital economy, there have been great strides in digitalisation of services across different verticals like education, retail, tourism, banking, oil and gas, health and logistics, according to Mahmood.

"Etisalat on its part has continuously focused on innovation as part of its strategy ‘Driving the digital future to empower societies’ embedded within its DNA manifested across the business. Etisalat’s philosophy since its inception was about revolutionising the telecom sector in the UAE, which has pushed us to explore new opportunities, focus on strengthening our core business while transitioning to the digital era, and being well geared for the future," he said.

"Today, we have made global achievements in 5G, setting benchmarks for the industry. This was backed by the infrastructure accomplishments made in the past that have complemented the 5G network," he said.

During last year’s Gitex, etisalat achieved the world’s fastest 5G download speed of 9.1 Gbps. In 2020, our subscribers were able to access super-fast speeds on 5G fixed networks from their homes, enabling them to stream high bandwidth 4K videos, enjoy cloud based gaming and low latency to meet the accelerated need for immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality.

Making the first live 5G video call from the world’s tallest and iconic tower ‘Burj Khalifa’ to becoming the first operator to enable an international airport and the etisalat metro station in Dubai, transforming a smart district to empowering an international racing track like Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2019 with 5G connectivity, every milestone was a result of a long-term planning and investment in one of the most advanced networks in the region. Etisalat also achieved a new speed record with download throughput touching over 3.1Gbps on the 5G Stand Alone network.

Etisalat was among the first telecom operators in the region and globally to deploy the 5G network, setting a major benchmark in the industry by becoming the first telco in Mena in May 2018 to launch the commercial 5G network providing fixed wireless service in the UAE. This was followed by another major breakthrough in its 5G journey by connecting and partnering with Expo 2020 as the first major commercial customer in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region to access 5G services.

In May 2019, etisalat was the first telecom operator in Mena to enable its customers to experience the power of the 5G network and release the first 5G handset before many others. Etisalat also became the first telco in Mena to provide indoor 5G coverage in selected buildings in the country.

Another noteworthy effort was the etisalat’s network being recognised as the world’s fastest mobile network and fastest fixed network in the GCC. UAE was the only country from the MEA region to be ranked in the top 20 countries globally in fixed broadband index with the fastest average download speeds. Etisalat’s efforts have positioned UAE to have the highest penetration rate in Fiber to the Home (FTTH) globally for the third consecutive year.

"This global recognition is a result of the endless efforts of UAE leadership for the past 50 years and is a shining example of nation building with the growth and development achieving endless success. This is also in line with the late Sheikh Zayed’s vision to lay the foundation for future generations to build on," Mahmood concluded.

 

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