Etisalat: Transitioning to the digital era with advanced network and technologies

Dr Ahmed bin Ali, group senior vice president, Corporate Communications, Etisalat takes us through the success journey and the evolution of connectivity over four decades

Etisalat, Telcos, 5G, Digital transformation, 4G

The telecom sector in the UAE have witnessed technological development over decades starting from the first telephone call in the 70s until the launch of the 5G network last year becoming the backbone for limitless connectivity for IoT and the fourth industrial revolution. 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.

In 1976, Etisalat began its journey on the formation of the UAE as the first national telecom provider and then launching the first mobile network. With technology evolution and as the needs of consumers evolved, in 1986, the first optic network was launched setting a path for next generation services.

The year 1989 also witnessed the launch of the Etisalat University (now Khalifa University). This was in line with our overall digital vision and strategy that encouraged strategic learning in futuristic technologies and play an essential role in shaping the talent landscape and identifying the right skill for new technology.

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The culture and collaboration within the organisation based on our core values have helped build future capabilities, skills bridging the gap between current and future digital requirements and accelerate digital learning expertise.

  • 1976: Etisalat established as first national telecom provider
  • 1982: First mobile network in the Middle East
  • 1994: Introduces Middle East’s first GSM service
  • 1995: First rollout of commercial Internet services in the region
  • 1999: Introduces first broadband internet service
  • 2000: Launces E-Vision
  • 2003: First 3G network in the Middle East
  • 2008: Completes roll-out of fibre optic backbone in UAE
  • 2011: First 4G LTE experience in the region
  • 2014: First 5G trial in the region
  • 2016: Launch of Etisalat Digital to drive digital transformation in the region
  • 2017: UAE ranked first globally in Fiber Optic network
  • 2017: Etisalat Open Innovation Centre, first of its kind in the region
  • 2018: First launch of commercial 5G in the region
  • 2018: First globally in Fiber Optic for 2nd year in a row
  • 2019: First 5G smartphones in MENA
  • 2019: First globally in Fiber Optic for 3rd year in a row
  • 2019: Most Valuable Telecoms Brand, and Most Valuable Consumer Brand in MENA, Brand Finance.
  • 2020: Fastest mobile internet network in the world, Ookla March Index

Transforming the network

With the beginning of the next decade, Etisalat has set global strides by diversifying its business, making a bigger impact with 5G technologies and laying the foundation for the next generation of technology.

This was all possible due to the solid groundwork by our predecessors in the 90s and leading the way in the regional and digital telecom sector. With the launch of path breaking services in the 90’s there was no looking back, consumers for the first time experienced cable TV services, mobile data, MMS and 3G.

The foundation of an advanced futuristic network was laid during the early 2000s with High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) technology that provided high-speed internet services through mobile phones and mobile data cards. It was part of the 3G evolution for mobile networks that followed the GSM/UMTS track. This was also a method to provide high-speed download to users.

Fostering innovation and innovators of tomorrow was always integral to our overall company philosophy of supporting the youth in leading digital innovations. Etisalat University became Khalifa University in 2007 providing a platform for future technology innovators and entrepreneurs. This was followed with the launch of the high speed internet service (HSPA+) in the year 2010 for the first time in MENA.

Today Fiber to the Home (FTTH) has reached 95.7 percent across UAE, maintaining the UAE’s position as a global leader. This was only possible due the efforts in building and investing on the infrastructure over decades. In 2011, the foundation of success on the network was laid with the implementation of 4G making Abu Dhabi the first capital fully covered with fiber optic.

This was followed by a series of achievements in 2013 with cloud computing services provided to SMEs, first optic layer in 2016 connecting the region with fast internet providing IoT services and establishing an IoT centre.

Etisalat’s partnership and investments have also given it a lead among competitors and in the region. The strategic partnership with Microsoft to deliver the comprehensive and trusted cloud from their first data centre in the Middle East, Etisalat data centres acquiring  PCI/DSS an international and global certification guaranteeing maximum safety of customer data at all times and for quality the prestigious TL9000 certification.

5G a reality for the next generation

5G is a reality today in UAE with Etisalat’s pioneering efforts in 5G to enable subscribers to enjoy and unleash highly connective technologies blending physical and digital realms from AR and VR to IoT, AI, autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics, 3D printing, wearable tech and more.

Our continuous investments and focus on enhancing and building one of the most advanced networks in the region have empowered digital transformation opening up opportunities to engage with our customers in new ways. Innovation was always at the core of our strategy and all our efforts on enabling connectivity based on speed and throughput, mobility, connected devices and IoT, energy efficiency, latency and reliability.

Etisalat Digital-Making digital aspirations a reality

The launch of Etisalat Digital was to actively contribute to the digital transformation market, which has a huge opportunity, especially in the UAE, for digital services. The government’s push for innovation makes UAE an incredible destination for everything digital.  The combination of Etisalat’s vast experience in the field of connectivity with enhanced agility for digital innovation led to the formation of Etisalat Digital. The prime aim of the unit is to enable digital transformation of enterprise and government customers.

There are several important projects the department has worked on in digital health, security and smart cities. Dubai Expo 2020 is one of these projects that supports the UAE’s long-term strategy in becoming the most sought-after global destination for trade, business and development.

The bespoke solution for Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) hosted and powered by Etisalat’s UAE based OneCloud a fully managed application enabled the authority to connect with their customer more effectively.

Etisalat Digital is also actively working on several interesting projects and has engaged with industry experts as well as acquired digital assets and platforms including data centres, cloud, digital and mobile payment, Internet of Things, big data and analytics engines. By providing platforms to its customers, Etisalat Digital enables businesses to get access to several technologies through a service model, instead of having to invest in the whole platform.

With nurturing innovation as one of the key goals for Etisalat Digital, it introduced its own programme called ‘Future Now’ to collaborate with startups, IoT developers, government entities, enterprises, and their end-users. Future Now has four key pillars: Scale-ups program, a Co-creation Lab, an IoT partner ecosystem and an Innovation Center.

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