Yousef Abu Mutawe, CTO, Zain, is delivering the opening keynote on Day Two of the Broadband MEA 2013 conference, taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE, Dubai, UAE. Ahead of the show we learn about Zain’s activities in the past year, why wifi offload is crucial for it and of which technologies it is making use.
What major developments have there been for the broadband industry in your region over the past year?
In the past year the major step for Zain was the introduction of HSPA+, which delivered a significant speed boost for customers with compatible devices. With an eye on continuing evolution we have also begun some LTE trials. On the fixed line side we have started rolling out Ethernet-to-the-Home (ETTH) and Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH).
Is FTTH really necessary for businesses and consumers, and what are the stumbling blocks to rolling it out?
From our findings there is a lot of demand for FTTH. However, the high cost of constructing an FTTH network is really a major obstacle. Having to lay down fresh cable is costly, but the use of overhead cables and partnerships with utility companies may significantly reduce TCO. In addition, micro trenching is making it a more feasible option.
How important is wifi offload to your rollout plans?
Wireless broadband delivered through HSPA is reaching the congestion stage, so wifi offload is an important part of our strategy. More of our customers are beginning to rely on wireless broadband as a replacement or an alternative for fixed broadband and this extra demand is creating an additional challenge for us. At the moment the adoption of LTE is too high due to prohibitive spectrum costs. Wifi has therefore become the most viable option for offloading part of our traffic given that the TCO of wifi is low and that it can serve localised areas more efficiently.
In areas of high demand high contention ratios can affect performance. What steps have you put in to ensure that you have enough capacity to deal with this?
Using compression tools for data is useful on the access part, while caching engines help save on international bandwidth. We also have policies in place to throttle the connection of customers that might be abusing the service.
Where does fixed wireless come into your planning and if so what technologies will you be using?
This year, we have started deploying FTTH using the micro-trenching excavation method. In addition, we have started the ETTH using and we have a smart buildings solution, which the DSLAM cabinet is located near to the building. We are also working with regulators on opening up the local loop, which will help to give customers more choice.
What are the biggest challenges you expect to be facing over the next 12 months?
Data growth is clearly the biggest challenge in today’s telecom market and as an operator we have to invest heavily in order to keep up and to grow the data network. The real balancing act is that operators have to manage investors’ expectations in the short term while building to generate a ROI for the long term.