Sharing lessons

The Arab Advisors Conference focused on convergence, but in gathering the region's top telecoms players, it also put the spotlight on many diverse challenges facing the telecom sector

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By  Derek Francis Published  June 9, 2008

The Arab Advisors Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference has come and gone once again for another year. In a sector saturated with industry coverage and events, this annual soiree is unique for its dense concentration of high-profile industry players.

And Jawad Abbassi, founder and general manager of Arab Advisors Group, should be given much of the credit. The telecoms consultancy and market intelligence field is littered with experts, but Abbassi has entrenched himself firmly into the industry as an immovable force. He's on first name terms with many of the CEOs and performs the party host routine down to a tee.

As a result, you can see that compared with many other events such as GITEX and MECOM, where major new services and products are launched, this is an event where lessons are learnt. And this year, there was plenty of insight dished out to hungry attendees.

First Zain's Saad Al-Barrak executed a hugely informative keynote address about Zain's growth plans. While declaring his company's ambition to be a global player by 2011, Al-Barrak also made sarcastic remarks about government regulatory policies and their general intransigence - and based on the amount of guffawing around the room, this was something that many attendees were acutely aware of. He also pointed about that a growing youth segment was vital to the telco's future strategy. "You should be proud of your fertility rates," he quipped.

Amid these exciting times when the Middle East and Africa region shows signs of staging growth levels hitherto unseen, the focus of the conference - convergence - aimed to give people answers to the unknown.

How will telco players thrive with new competition and non-traditional companies now competing in the same revenue space? How can they differentiate their offerings? How can they meet the challenges this transition in technology and go kicking and screaming into the all-IP era?

Different speakers focused on different segments of the same equation: Qualcomm's Pertti Johansson spoke of the significance of evolving 3G terminals to open new markets. Bo-Erik Dahlstrom, president and CEO of Ericsson Middle East, concentrated his speech on the importance of the youth demographic. According to him, these ‘digital natives' are born with technology and therefore understand and need it more than the older generation. Arguably, with an average age of around 40-45 years-old in the conference room, Dahlstrom inferred that the telco industry was currently out of touch.

Dr Wassef Masri, general manager, Optimiza, looked at the growth of mobile banking trends in the region as a crucial way of driving uptake and creating new revenue streams. For Fayed Abu Awad, Nokia Interactive, mobile advertising has profound implications for the mobile sector, if operators can get it off the ground and give advertisers key data about their target market.

As technologies go, wireless broadband did seem to emerge as the driver to further growth, which has been carried by increasing levels of mobile telephony products and services. But while it seemed that every person had a slightly different answer to the many challenges facing the sector, the one thing everyone in the room agreed on was that something needed to be done - and fast.

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