Fea­ture: Mo­bile In­ter­net

Tech­nol­ogy and cus­tomer de­mands are chang­ing. And with them, so too are the se­crets to suc­cess when it comes to mak­ing money from mo­bile In­ter­net.

Comms MEA - - Contents - by Ben Mack

Tech­nol­ogy and cus­tomer de­mands are chang­ing. And with them, so too are the se­crets to suc­cess of mo­bile In­ter­net strate­gies.

That more peo­ple are us­ing smart­phones than ever be­fore isn’t news to any­one. But there’s still a lot more room for growth, which means big money for tel­cos: ac­cord­ing to PwC’s Con­nect­ing the World re­port, the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of con­nect­ing the un­con­nected in the Mid­dle East alone is es­ti­mated to be at least US$380 bil­lion.

Tel­cos are mak­ing strides in con­nect­ing these peo­ple – and mak­ing money off it. By the end of 2017, the num­ber of mo­bile-cel­lu­lar sub­scrip­tions in so-called “least de­vel­oped coun­tries” (LDCs) had in­creased to about 700 mil­lion, with a pen­e­tra­tion of 70%, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union (ITU), a United Na­tions or­gan­i­sa­tion. At the same time, more than 80% of the pop­u­la­tion in LDCs live within range of at least one mo­bile cel­lu­lar net­work.

Houlin Zhao, ITU Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, says oper­a­tors sim­ply will not con­nect ar­eas if they do not think it will be prof­itable. As he told Comm­sMEA dur­ing an in­ter­view back in 2015: “If you do not get any profit, how can you ask them [oper­a­tors] to do it?”

Find­ing the right part­ners

Ac­cord­ing to Ea­man Al Roud­han, CEO of Zain Kuwait, an ef­fec­tive mo­bile In­ter­net strat­egy is not just about find­ing the right part­ner – it’s about find­ing “a group of right part­ners.” She ex­plains that, since busi­ness is more col­lab­o­ra­tive than ever be­fore, and many dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tions have dif­fer­ent spe­cial­i­sa­tions, it’s nec­es­sary to work with part­ners in or­der to de­velop and use the lat­est tech­nolo­gies, while at the same time max­imis­ing cus­tomer ser­vice of­fer­ings and prof­its.

Since 2017, Zain has had a spe­cial fo­cus on mo­bile In­ter­net, and in what Al Roud­han calls the part­ner­ship ecosys­tem to make the most of ser­vice of­fer­ings and profit op­por­tu­ni­ties. “We want to make sure that we are work­ing with the right part­ners.”

An ex­am­ple is Zain’s part­ner­ship with Eric­s­son for pro­vid­ing higher ca­pac­ity and im­prov­ing net­work per­for­mance in Iraq to pro­vide bet­ter mo­bile ser­vices for cus­tomers, a deal which was signed in Au­gust. Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Eric­s­son for the Mid­dle East and Africa, says the part­ner­ship will help im­prove dig­i­tal in­fras­truc­ture in the na­tion and cope with ris­ing data de­mands from new cus­tomers.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and shorter-term strate­gies

One easy way to quickly make more money off mo­bile In­ter­net is sim­ply to con­nect more cus­tomers. But with mo­bile pen­e­tra­tion rates in the Mid­dle East among the high­est in the world (the United Arab Emi­rates leads the globe at 173%, ac­cord­ing to Ham­burg-based re­search and in­for­ma­tion de­sign firm Statista, while Oman is third at 152.3%), the lo­cal mar­ket is al­ready ex­tremely sat­u­rated.

Saudi Tele­com Com­pany, bet­ter known as STC, has one pos­si­ble so­lu­tion for con­nect­ing cus­tomers to make money off mo­bile In­ter­net: in­tro­duc­ing new ser­vices af­fect­ing where cus­tomers can ac­cess mo­bile In­ter­net.

At this year’s GITEX, STC, un­veiled in-flight WiFi In­ter­net ser­vices for flights fly­ing over Saudi Ara­bia. STC is of­fer­ing the ser­vice through ground tow­ers, just as if some­one were at a bus sta­tion or else­where on the ground in a city.

Ac­cord­ing to STC key ac­counts vice pres­i­dent Riyadh Muawad, this is the first time this type of ser­vice has been of­fered in the king­dom, and will be a more af­ford­able op­tion than In­ter­net pro­vided via satel­lite.

“Cur­rently, air­lines pro­vide WiFi via satel­lite,” he says. “It’s ex­pen­sive. It’s un­re­li­able.”

Muawad says of­fer­ing WiFi through ground tow­ers will dis­rupt the in­dus­try in that it will pro­vide a far stronger, more con­sis­tent sig­nal and faster speeds for cus­tomers. The chal­lenge, he says, will be in mon­etis­ing it in a way that is prof­itable for both STC and par­tic­i­pat­ing air­lines, while also mak­ing sure pas­sen­gers get good value from the ser­vice.

He says the ser­vice will first be avail­able on flights trav­el­ling be­tween the cap­i­tal Riyadh and Jed­dah, adding it should be avail­able through­out Saudi Ara­bia by the end of 2019.

Mo­ham­mad bin Rashid Aba Al Khail, di­rec­tor gen­eral of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tion at STC, says amid a cli­mate of in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion, com­ing up with in­no­va­tive ser­vices is key to stay­ing ahead. He adds this is es­pe­cially im­por­tant as the world is wit­ness­ing rapid trans­for­ma­tions in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try and the dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion rev­o­lu­tion.

Find­ing new ways of mak­ing mo­bile In­ter­net avail­able is also some­thing South Africa-based MTN is do­ing through­out Africa. In Septem­ber, MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter an­nounced a new strat­egy to bring mo­bile in­ter­net to its cus­tom- ers in Africa. Known as “CHASE,” the strat­egy fo­cuses on cov­er­age, hand­sets, af­ford­abil­ity, ser­vices and ed­u­ca­tion/ease of use to im­prove cov­er­age, make hand­sets and data ser­vices more af­ford­able, and in­crease dig­i­tal lit­er­acy.

Shuter says the new strat­egy came about af­ter the com­pany re­alised many of its cus­tomers were not us­ing its mo­bile In­ter­net data ser­vices. “The first big chal­lenge to face is that the abil­ity to con­nect of­ten isn’t there,” he says.

We want to make sure that we are work­ing with the right

part­ners. The mo­bile busi­ness is be­com­ing much more in­ter­est­ing, and wide [open].”

Ea­man Al Roud­han, Zain Kuwait CEO

“When we look at data cov­er­age, it’s only 60% for 3G.”

MTN is Africa’s big­gest mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor, with more than 223 mil­lion cus­tomers and 71 mil­lion ac­tive data users, who use an av­er­age of 5MB of data per month.

But new cus­tomers mean new de­mands on ca­pac­ity and band­width. To meet the in­creas­ing de­mand, tel­cos will need to up­grade their net­works.

In­fiNet Wire­less is one com­pany of­fer­ing so­lu­tions for tel­cos look­ing to up­grade and plan for fu­ture cus­tomer growth. The com­pany has worked on projects in more than 130 coun­tries – such as pro­vid­ing wire­less ser­vices for large con­tainer ships wait­ing to berth in ports in

Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore and hav­ing to wait at sea, mil­i­taries con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions in re­mote re­gions such as the deep desert, and cat­tle mon­i­tor­ing in New Zealand – and spent much of the re­cent GITEX Tech­nol­ogy Week in Dubai show­cas­ing its so­lu­tions for fit­ting more data into a lim­ited amount of space. Global vice pres­i­dent Ka­mal Mokrani says this can be a game-changer for mo­bile In­ter­net.

“Broad­band of­fers much more ca­pac­ity over the same fre­quency,” he says, adding that In­fiNet of­fers a higher “spec­trum ef­fi­ciency,” mean­ing more wire­less data can be squeezed into a cer­tain ra­dio fre­quency (known as “spec­trum”), while min­imis­ing out­side in­ter­fer­ence. Mokrani adds such tech­nolo­gies can af­fect or­gan­i­sa­tions’ mo­bile In­ter­net strate­gies in that it of­fers more op­tions for what they want to do in terms of ser­vice of­fer­ings and pack­ages for cus­tomers.

5G and longer-term strate­gies

Much ink has been spilled dis­cussing how the devel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of 5G ser­vices will dis­rupt al­most ev­ery aspect of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and tech in­dus­tries – in­clud­ing mo­bile In­ter­net. Ac­cord­ing to Ji­had Ta­yara, vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness devel­op­ment and part­ner­ships, new busi­ness and in­no­va­tion at du, 5G will play a role in tel­cos’ mo­bile In­ter­net strate­gies in that there’s a need to be ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion in terms of de­vel­op­ing and of­fer­ing 5G ser­vices to the pub­lic.

“5G is way ahead of what peo­ple want now,” he says. “And this is our chal­lenge as an in­dus­try. The strat­egy is to make it avail­able, and the peo­ple will come.”

Safder Nazir, Huawei’s re­gional vice pres­i­dent for smart cities and IoT in the Mid­dle East, says 5G will af­fect mo­bile In­ter­net strate­gies in that build­ing the in­fras­truc­ture and cre­at­ing the de­mand – and then de­ploy­ing 5G in a va­ri­ety of ar­eas, such as broad­band of­fer­ings, telemedicine, smart cities and more – will re­quire oper­a­tors, sup­pli­ers and ven­dors to work to­gether to cre­ate a strat­egy that works for every­one.

“It’s all about the ecosys­tem – every­one has a stake in the value chain.”

Azz-Ed­dine Man­souri, gen­eral man­ager of sales at Ciena Mid­dle East, says some­thing sim­i­lar. “To­day’s con­sumers spend the ma­jor­ity of their dig­i­tal lives on their smart­phones, putting pres­sure on mo­bile oper­a­tors to meet the in­creas­ing need for data,” he says.

“5G has the po­ten­tial to solve data ca­pac­ity and speed con­cerns, but in­tro­duc­ing the next

gen­er­a­tion of mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity will re­quire a large fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment. Build­ing an adap­tive net­work can help al­le­vi­ate the cost of run­ning a 5G net­work by tak­ing ad­van­tage of au­to­ma­tion, in­tel­li­gence and in­tent-based poli­cies to lower op­er­a­tional costs by pro­vid­ing pre­dic­tive data us­age re­quire­ments in real time.

“For mo­bile net­work oper­a­tors, 5G of­fers a num­ber of ben­e­fits and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties via new use cases and as­so­ci­ated ser­vices. In ad­di­tion to much faster down­load speeds and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced la­tency, there is the key ben­e­fit of guar­an­teed end-to-end net­work per­for­mance over both the wire­less and wire­line do­mains, from smart­phone to data cen­tre.”

In Bahrain, Ab­der­rah­mane Mounir, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer for Batelco, says 5G could also af­fect his com­pany’s mo­bile strat­egy dra­mat­i­cally – and there’s a need to har­ness it quickly to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. “Of course we’re go­ing to have to do 5G. It has a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Pos­si­bil­i­ties are one rea­son why STC first an­nounced and demon­strated 5G in Saudi Ara­bia. “In these ar­eas, it’s very im­por­tant to be the first,” says the telco's key ac­counts vice pres­i­dent Muawad.

“It will be dis­rup­tive. We have to adapt.”

The fu­ture

Nat­u­rally, the devel­op­ment of 5G and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of mo­bile ser­vice of­fer­ings has mas­sive im­pli­ca­tions for the fu­ture – but the ef­fects may not fully be known for years to come, at least as Man­souri tells it. “5G has been the big­gest topic in our in­dus­try so far this year and we see no sign of this slow­ing down,” he says.

“As cer­tainty around 5G builds, we will see car­ri­ers in­crease net­work in­vest­ments to en­able the tech­nol­ogy.”

Re­gard­less of the tech­nolo­gies that arise and cus­tomers’ data habits, the Zain Kuwait CEO Al Roud­han says some things will not change, both in the near and far fu­ture. “The mo­bile busi­ness is be­com­ing much more in­ter­est­ing, and wide [open],” she ex­plains.

And one of her so­lu­tions is un­likely to change, ei­ther. “I believe in strate­gic think­ing.”

5G is way ahead of what peo­ple want now. This is our chal­lenge as an in­dus­try. The strat­egy is to make it avail­able, and the peo­ple will come.” Ji­had Ta­yara, du vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness devel­op­ment and part­ner­ships, new busi­ness and in­no­va­tion

Ea­man Al Roud­han, Zain Kuwait CEO.

One way to make more money off mo­bile In­ter­net: of­fer con­nec­tiv­ity in more places.

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