Cities around the world are in a race to become the 'smartest'. Etisalat CEO Saleh Al Abdooli speaks exclusively to CNME on how the UAE's biggest telco and ICT service provider is partnering with the government to elevate the country on the global stage.
The traditional metric of urban performance is gradually losing its clout in favour of a slicker, technology-driven approach. Yes, physical infrastructure will always be vital to city competitiveness, but ICT, and its use to generate social and environmental capital, is what is defining the power states of tomorrow.
Such a transition has afforded the opportunity for emerging regions like the Middle East to leapfrog their Western counterparts in leading the next generation of global influencers.
As the business and technology hub of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, the UAE is naturally pushing ahead with its own impressive plans to lead this charge.
Technology vendors from across the world are lining up to grab a piece of the action, but at the front of the queue is none other than Etisalat, which has achieved the admirable transition from flagship telco to national ICT enabler and service provider.
"With evolving market dynamics, changing ICT trends, and the need to meet government aspirations, Etisalat is committed to transform from a national, telecommunications-centric flagship carrier to a regional ICT experience provider, proactively initiating and spear-heading progressive plans to benefit the national economy," says Saleh Al Abdooli, CEO, Etisalat, who took the top UAE job last year after leading the group's Egyptian operations for five years. He says the UAE possesses key fundamentals that can foster ICT industry growth and competitiveness.
He's not wrong. The nation boasts a world-class telecoms ecosystem, which has been supported by continuous investments by Etisalat over the years, including over Dh19 billion to lay out the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network. Coverage currently stands at 80 percent of households with high broadband penetration (65 percent), which along with broadband speeds are considered to be amongst the highest rates worldwide.
Furthermore, the UAE is among the countries with the highest mobile penetration in the world, currently exceeding 170 percent.
"Keeping up with this trend," Al Abdooli says, "Etisalat realises that the future is based on services available via smart devices."
The UAE government is already playing an active role in creating a 'smarter' environment by promoting digitisation initiatives across key sectors, including health, education, energy and financial services.
And Etisalat's contribution has already been felt. With the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the company recently launched the 'Smart Nol' service, which gives Dubai commuters smoother travel via NFC-enabled mobile phones.
Such a service, Al Abdooli explains, is in line with Etisalat's long-term strategy to support mGovernment and initiatives raising the profile of the country, as well as impacting the lives of the people of UAE.
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