Ahead of the Broadband MEA 2013 conference, taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE, Dubai, UAE, we speak to Maen Haddad, Director/Product Marketing, Etisalat on the latest broadband developments in the region and his views on issues such as piracy and FTTH deployment.
What major developments have there been for the broadband industry in your region over the past year?
Etisalat has played a key role in Broadband growth in the UAE with the latest fibre optic technology being implemented across the country. This major initiative involved rolling out a fibre network throughout the UAE, providing customers with high-speed internet of up to 300Mbps.
As demand from consumers and businesses for broadband in the MENA region increases, the number of broadband lines is expected to increase exponentially. The UAE has reached a broadband penetration level that is on par with many advanced nations. This is a key indicator for national competitiveness and economic development.
Which would you choose? Investing in coverage or investing in increasing speeds to existing customers?
To be able to provide maximum value to its customer base, Etisalat has adopted a two-pronged approach where both coverage and speed are improved. Conducted in phases, the initial focus was on covering the UAE with a fibre network and later, offering variety of high speeds and bundled services that are designed to suit all customer needs.
To what extent does wifi offload come into your thinking?
As mobile broadband adoption increases rapidly, demand for data traffic has also simultaneously gone up. Therefore, wifi offload is a solution for the industry today not only for data offload but also for voice and messaging, offering a wider opportunity for the usage of wifi within our service portfolio.
Wifi services today are a value-add in our broadband product portfolio. This enables customers to connect to the Internet anywhere and at anytime. Customers choose to use the wifi instead of 3G due to different price structures.
Are curated, operator-managed OTT/IPTV services the best way of reducing piracy?
OTT and IPTV demand will trigger increasing pressure on broadband access to providers to increase delivery speeds and the permissible download volume. Content providers and distributors will have to make major decisions about how consumers will access content to reduce piracy.
In the best case scenario, content providers enjoy greater audience aggregation opportunities, while consumers benefit from more flexible and possibly more diversified access.
Piracy rates can come down when consumers perceive that they can benefit from new options, including the ability to select and pay for specific content rather than having to pay for tiered service containing plenty of undesired content.
Telecom operators in the region face credible threats to core revenue streams and piracy is indeed one growing threat. They have responded by reducing availability of “free” content and enhancing availability of content to paying subscribers. Some incumbents also have resorted to strategies including caps on monthly downloads and new service tiers based on download volume.
OTT and IPTV alone, however, cannot successfully compete and defeat piracy unless more aggressive enforcement tactics are carried out, e.g., suspension and termination of end user subscriptions and blocking access to specific sites.
Is FTTH really necessary for businesses and consumers and what are the stumbling blocks to rolling it out?
FTTH is necessary and very important for businesses and consumers in the UAE, especially since the country ranks the highest in terms of internet penetration in the region. At the same time, the stumbling blocks to FTTH blocks have been:
- The customer’s availability and willingness to install Optical Network Terminal (ONT) in his/her home.
- Putting fibre in the relevant areas where it is needed.
- The ability to monetise from an early stage.
Are there enough services out there to drive adoption of faster speeds and is it up to the operators to get involved?
Yes there are enough services, and there are always more bandwidth-hungry services in the pipeline. Operators have a critical role to get involved. Etisalat is a regional player and based in a country with a high subscriber base so it clearly understands that there is limited opportunity for growth of revenue by only adding new subscribers. The focus is now expected to shift to other areas such as higher mobile data services adoption and value-added services. Mobile data services adoption will be driven by the availability of compatible mobile devices, affordable data plans and the rapidly rising mobile internet user.
Today a high number of ecommerce transactions taking place in the UAE are through mobile devices. With an increasing penetration of OTT-delivered services and multiscreen access to TV and other video, marketing innovation to drive revenues through these growing use models is the winning strategy.
Etisalat has taken a lead in investing in futuristic technologies especially LTE, to meet these increasing demands in the market. With this investment, Etisalat has also continuously launched a great value added services meeting the requirements of consumers as well as enterprises.
Where does fixed wireless come into your planning and if so what technologies will you be using?
Currently Etisalat is using WiMax and is trialling LTE for triple-play services. Due to the portability of the WiMax technology, it has seen high adoption among enterprises in the region. It can be quickly deployed to remote locations. In terms of costs it cuts down investments on the network, when compared to GSM and 3G, enhancing speeds and operability at greater distances.
The commercial offering of Etisalat’s LTE service began in December 2011 with the launch of LTE USB modems that enabled customers to access LTE (4G) super-speeds of up to 150Mbps. To date, Etisalat has integrated hundreds of base stations with complete mobility to the 3G network, covering 80 per cent of the populated area of UAE. In 2012, Etisalat successfully tested the world’s highest 4G LTE speeds of 300 Mbps.
Do you see customer resistance to bandwidth caps, line throttling and traffic management?
Currently Etisalat doesn’t have bandwidth caps on fixed services and at the same time have a fair-usage policy to ensure high quality of service to all customers.
What are the biggest challenges you expect to be facing over the next 12 months?
With the upcoming Bitstream project, we expect the competition to increase leading us to bring to market solutions satisfying the needs and requirements of customers.