Local boy done good

Mohammed Al Qamzi grew up in Abu Dhabi and has spent the last nine years of his time there working for Etisalat. In April he assumed the position of CEO, and Alex Ritman speaks to him regarding his faith that in the face of competition, Etisalat will remain a force to be reckoned with.

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By  Alex Ritman Published  May 30, 2006

|~|Al-Qamzi200.jpg|~|Etisalat's new CEO Mohammed Al Qamzi thinks the UAE's second operator will find it difficult to take a 30% share of the mobile market.|~|The move by long-standing CEO Mohammed Omran to the role of chairman at Etisalat is part of the operator's restructuring programme, which incoming CEO Mohammed Al Qamzi claims is still ongoing and is in response to the expansion of businesses at home and abroad. “This ship has to go faster,” says Al Qamzi. Even though Etisalat has always prided itself on being at the forefront of technology, he feels there is more to do. “We have to develop a lot of our network to be state of the art.” Using the buzzword of convergence, he points to access technologies such as WiMAX and fibre-to-the-home, as well as IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). “If we have an IMS platform, then we just add services.” Even venturing further a field, Etisalat has recently signed an agreement with Samsung to trial the South Korean version of wireless broadband, WiBro. “This can deliver 18Mbps, at a distance of 120km, while on the move,” claims Al Qamzi, who says he witnessed this first hand in Korea. Al Qamzi is inspired by BT's ambitious and expensive plans to rollout a Next Generation Network (NGN) across the UK. Etisalat is planning a similar, if smaller scale operation. Multi-vendor trials began last year, and there are now two switches each in the cities of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “These six are more than enough for the whole country,” Al Qamzi explains. Etisalat is now just waiting for the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to finally allow VoIP communication before it can provide NGN services nationwide. One thing Etisalat may be guilty of is failing to provide services that fully maximise its technological prowess, and Al Qamzi appears poised to acknowledge and modify this shortcoming. “There is a big movement in Etisalat towards delivering a lot of services,” he says, adding that he was one of the executives pushing this in his previous positions. Al Qamzi admits that despite already having an operational 3G mobile network in the UAE, Etisalat's offerings have hardly been eye-catching. “We started very early with 3G. We were earlier than the content. At that time the service did not pick up because there was not much for the customer to see,” he says. But new packages are being developed that should attract significant interest, he claims. “We're going to stream video clips, more entertainment and more value.” One of the first major announcements since his arrival was very much end-user focused; a deal with Canada's Research In Motion to introduce its Blackberry device into the UAE, giving corporate customers access to email on the move through dedicated devices. Push email to enabled mobile phones will soon be introduced also. “It's already available through a trial with Nokia,” says Al Qamzi, adding that full commercial availability should begin in the next couple of months. With regards the entry of competition in the domestic market, Al Qamzi remains visibly confident of Etisalat's ability to protect its leading position. There is growing doubt as to when du's commercial GSM services will actually be introduced. “First du said June, and now I hear someone saying September. I don't know.” Al Qamzi says that there are only a few minor details to be resolved between the two companies with regards to interconnection and it is really just up to du to roll out its infrastructure. Outside of the UAE, Etisalat now also has TECOM Investments to compete with for expansion opportunities, the latter having beaten Etisalat in the bid for a stake in Tunisie Telecom earlier in the year. Al Qamzi suggests that TECOM overpaid for the stake with a US$2.4 billion bid, but has no qualms in declaring that there are more than 17 markets that Etisalat is interested in, including Yemen, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Hong Kong. “There is no place on the Earth we don't think of.”||**||

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