Telecoms Bonanza

Unlike Etisalat’s participation at last year’s event, the corporation did not focus too heavily on its foreign ambitions, highlighting instead developments of domestic plans such as the GSM coverage set to be offered to commuters on Dubai’s metro network when it is launched in the coming years.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  November 27, 2006

|~||~||~|The inaugural GULFCOMMS event that took place as part of the hugely popular GITEX annual show between November 18-22 marked the full recognition that telecoms, and IT within the telecoms sector have well and truly come into their own in the region. What was most striking to me at the show was the calm confidence exuded by the more than 130 exhibitors on hand within the Zabeel Hall, of their products and services, and the context of these offerings within the wider Middle East and Africa market. Outside of the expected excitement generated by the inauguration visit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE vice president and prime minister, and ruler of Dubai, the exhibition was quietly busy, as exhibitors mingled with clients, partners, business prospects and the general public. Much of the buzz generated at GITEX 2005 surrounded the licensing of the second all-service operator in the UAE, and the forecasted launch of the operator dominated much of the proceedings at GULFCOMMS 2006. Disappointingly du did not rise to the occasion and the company’s CEO Osman Sultan was unable to fix a date for commercial launch. Market commentators forecast it to be early next year, should issues related to mobile number portability and infrastructure sharing be overcome in time. Another burning topic at the show this year was the provision of voice over IP (VoIP) services to consumers by third-party providers in the UAE. While the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority had been expected to announce the part-liberalisation of VoIP provision in the UAE, the director general Mohamed Al Ghanim took the opportunity to confirm that Etisalat and du would be the only providers permitted to offer such services on a commercial basis. The looming launch of du has still had an impact on Etisalat, which is the last remaining incumbent behind Qatar’s Qtel in the Gulf to face competition. “The stand has been divided into two distinct areas – one representing business users and the other consumers,” commented Essa Al Haddad, Etisalat’s chief marketing officer, during the event. “There are not too many products on display. What we are trying to show is that in the last 30 years we have been building our technology, now that technology building is complete and we are focusing on offering services to the customer.” Unlike Etisalat’s participation at last year’s event, the corporation did not focus too heavily on its foreign ambitions, highlighting instead developments of domestic plans such as the GSM coverage set to be offered to commuters on Dubai’s metro network when it is launched in the coming years. “We want to show that we care for the UAE market as we do for international strategy we are undertaking,” Al Haddad stated. Part of this emphasis on the UAE market is a segmentation programme that Haddad believes will give different subscribers different services, as they require them. The operator is also looking to push dedicated services such its Wayek portal, which offers access to content on the move, as well as showcase enterprise solutions such as Blackberry and its IP VPN connectivity partnerships. Such is Etisalat’s enthusiasm to offer tailored services to all segments in the market the operator announced the launch of services for individual with hearing difficulties. The vendor community also made a strong showing at the show, with suppliers such as Alcatel, Nortel and Nokia highlighting how significant business in the region is to their global operations. “Our presence here shows our continuing commitment to the region, in which around 97% of our workforce is local,” said Vincenzo Nesci, Alcatel’s vice president for the Middle East, at the show. The company’s commitment is evident in projects such as its Cairo Content Development Centre, which allows small and medium size enterprises to develop content using Alcatel facilities and with Alcatel support. “Six companies have already developed applications using this programme, and now it is our intention to open it up to the region,” Nesci says. “I believe a lot of content is required, and we are doing the best to help nurture brilliant ideas. ||**||

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