Music has always been an important part of civilization; transcending the boundaries of culture, race and gender. Known for its ability to induce profound emotional experiences, music often touches us because it has the ability to capture and frame day-to-day moments in life.
Music streaming has elevated entertainment, enabling listeners to discover a larger diversity of tracks from all over the world. Undoubtedly, this has been a great source of comfort amid the current pandemic that left most of us with little or no connection to the outside world.
Anghami, was established as the first legal music streaming platform and digital distribution company in the Arab world. Today, the company has over 90 million downloads. It provides unlimited Arabic and international music to stream and download, as well as other entertainment features.
Inside Telecom met with Anghami Vice President of Business Development, Choucri Khairallah, to find out more.
Tell us more about the way Anghami began as a startup and evolved into a thriving business, gaining millions of subscribers?
Anghami started around 8 years ago when there were no legal streaming services in the region. The founders Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib created this platform based on the idea of enabling users to access the music they want in a simple and convenient way.
Before the company’s inception, no big international players were available in the region and people were used to listening to music from unofficial websites. This ultimately inspired the concept of Anghami.
Over the last 7-8 years, we have had 90 million downloads, achieved mainly through our diversified partnerships which helped us grow to become the number one streaming service in the region. The companies that invested in Anghami include, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), Mobily in Saudi Arabia, du in the UAE, SAMENA Capital and MBC, the biggest media group in the region.
Our competent, highly-qualified team is based in Dubai, Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Cairo, Morocco and Algeria. They work incredibly hard on the products and partnerships, users and subscriptions.
Launching partnerships with mobile operators in the region has been instrumental in our progress; offering an easy payment solution to our users who want to subscribe to Anghami Plus.
Tell us about some of your more recent partnerships?
Currently, we have more than 34 telco partnerships, working directly with the mobile operators, covering the whole region from North Africa to the Levant and the GCC. The reason for working with them is to offer carrier-billing services, so our users can very easily subscribe to the Anghami Plus subscription from their mobile credits – a very convenient method for users in the region.
We worked on many marketing activations with telcos by organizing live sessions with artists and letting subscribers win trips to watch concerts and sessions in different countries, as well as arranging ‘meet and greets’ with their favorite artists. We always participate in unique activities with mobile operators to keep our users entertained and engaged.
Another way to benefit from operator partnerships is by bundling Anghami with telco services. For example, recently, we launched a bundle with Mobily in Saudi Arabia by offering Anghami Plus to Raqi subscribers as part of the benefits they get.
How does your platform differ from other streaming services?
We understand what users in the region want, and have identified their listening habits by gathering data about how they consume music, which differs a lot from country to country.
Algorithms and machine learning drive our music recommendations, so we are able to suggest the music that people from different parts of the region would like to listen to. The music tastes in Algeria to Saudi Arabia to UAE differs a lot, therefore it’s important that we tap into the cultural diversity and experience and offer music to suit everyone’s personal taste.
On top of that, we develop features specific to the region. During Ramadan, we allow users to switch the app to a “Ramadan mode” for those who do not want to listen to music and who wish to access more religious content and receive parts of the Holy Quran on a daily basis.
If you open Anghami and compare it to any other service, you will notice that we have many social features, like stories that show you what your friends are listening to and chats to interact with people, even connecting you to others that share a similar taste in music. We’re also launching a major feature that will allow users to go Live and interact with each other in a very fun and engaging way.
How important is it for music streaming services to attract older audiences?
It is important for us to address all age groups. We want to provide a convenient service that can be accessed from one single platform, so they can enjoy music on any device whether on mobile, laptop, TV, in the car or at the gym
What is interesting regarding the older segment of users is their higher purchasing power. The 5$ a month subscription fee for Anghami Plus is inexpensive to them, yet offers them access to all the music they want at any time of day in a very simple and convenient way.
The service you provide does not require ‘online mode’, can you tell us more about that?
There are two ways of using Anghami: being a free user without paying any subscription fee, which requires 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection and does not enable offline access to music. The free user is also subjected to advertising in-between songs in addition to other restrictions.
The offline mode is available if you are a premium subscriber (Anghami Plus) which costs an average monthly fee of $5. People can download as much music content as they like and play all the music they want without interruption or restriction.
Is your streaming service accessible to users in any location?
Anghami is available worldwide but the only difference is that if you are in the Middle East and North Africa, you can play both Arabic and International music. If you are an Anghami subscriber outside the region, you can only listen to Arabic music because the licenses we’ve acquired for international music only permit streaming in the MENA region.
The Arab diasporas in the United States, Europe and Brazil who use Anghami, constitute around 20% of our user base.
What are the most prevalent market trends in streaming?
On the music level, we are working very closely with local rising talents and seeing new Iraqi artists achieving great success in the Gulf region. We are also witnessing the growth of the hip-hop/rap scene in North Africa and Egypt, in addition to trendy genres such as Egyptian Mahraganat taking over the Arabic music scene.
The company has collaborated with Emirati and Saudi artists who are gaining traction, and we are interested in fostering these talents more on our platform.
Some streaming services provide multi-gaming facilities. Are you planning to diversify your services?
In the past few years, we introduced many features including a partnership with OSN offering series and movies on Anghami.
We are not only thinking of music but also looking at other forms of entertainment. We have dedicated a section to podcasts which are becoming very popular, so we are working closely with podcasters from the region to create more content.
We are trying to make Anghami more of an entertainment platform where you play music, watch series and movies, listen to podcasts, watch live shows and experience thrilling artist and audience interaction.
How is music streaming changing the music industry?
Since Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures, we believe that the music industry will gravitate more to online concerts and events.
Moreover, having diversified entertainment features in one service will help the industry grow bigger. The music business will no longer remain dependent on ticket sales and live events – music streaming services will also become a major contributor to this industry.
Did Covid-19 affect your streaming services? If so, how?
The lockdown did not affect us negatively; however, there was a shift in the consumption. Playing music continued but driving and listening to music stopped in all countries given the lockdown. Working from home led to the shift in consumption from car to laptop and on TV, as well as playing ‘workout’ music while exercising at home which became more of a trend.
Anghami also created a tab called ‘stay at home’, to help people get through the day with different music content and podcasts. Educational podcasts about Coronavirus – how to prevent it and the measures to take – were included as well.
Do you have a contingency plan in place to buffer the effects of Covid-19? How has your strategy changed?
The company had a plan ready before the lockdown and started working from home very early because most of our work can be done remotely. We also made different tools available for the team like ‘Workplace’ by Facebook where you can see everything happening in the company, the projects, chats, create different groups with different teams.
We are still working from home and will continue to do so for the coming months with a gradual plan to return to the office. However, this has not affected our workflow and productivity, in fact, we saw an increase in productivity during lockdown.
How will deployment of 5G enhance your business and the services you provide?
Anghami works on all bandwidths, from 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G. The launch of 5G will impact more people using cellular data and will offer a faster connection from home for those who don’t have fiber or ADSL, thus 5G will enhance that and will push people to use more online entertainment services. Overall, it will enhance the quality of the experience but Anghami already has very good quality music on any network.
Are you supporting any local initiatives?
Our company is working closely with many NGOs and we launched different initiatives during the lockdown to support local businesses and artists, under the slogan: “Together We Will Overcome”. We offered around $3 million worth of free advertising to support small local businesses in the region, and we received positive feedback from all those involved. The ads reached around 13 million people in the Middle East. We also offered support to local artists who were impacted by the lockdown and couldn’t perform their usual concerts and events, allowing them to promote their content and amplify their reach.
Stefano Linari, Founder & CEO of Alleantia
Internet of Thing (IoT) is a technology that will transform daily life. How does ISC software and Plug & Play integrate with any device?
What we agreed on since our inception in 2011, is an IoT integration platform, creating the tool needed to integrate industrial devices with enterprise application and cloud. It is a pretty unique proposition in the market because we neither produce data nor use it, but we are a gateway in the middle for the purpose of making the integration process as simple, fast, and as inexpensive as possible.
This can be done by creating the driver concept in an industrial space, like when you buy a $50 printer, you receive the driver inside the package or directly from a website. Every application can use this physical resource to the driver, and before Alleantia, the concept of drivers was aimed at commercial hardware not for an industrial one. Thus, we decided to propose our standard for this XPANGO format, meaning a driver which needs communication, semantics, commands, and other information that allow every application to use this industrial device independently from vendors and technology.
How does IoT help data acquisition and connection between machines? Increase speed and efficiency of applications?
This is the main objective for IoT: reducing the data input from humans, whilst someone can obtain precise and fast data about your production. As such, this is the first stage in which we are replacing human input with an automatic one. The second stage is trying to transfer massive quantity of data that humans are not able to acquire – creating big data whilst learning to understand how the machine can be optimized and how one machine can be integrated with others along the supply chain, up to predictive maintenance.
I don’t see that real implementation of predictive maintenance is able to predict a lot of failures, but the reason is not because the model is not running, but because you have to see when machines breakdown more often to configure items. It’s just a matter of time before we can accumulate our statistics and for this reason, which is our third rule, IoT can improve production by creating the database, which many companies are accumulating production data for.
Can you explain more about IoT apps and the way it helps connect IoT edge with any business application via cloud?
Let’s simplify it, we can consider our ISC software to be like the Android operating system and the gateway that ISC runs inside a machine to be like the smart phone carrying that OS. What we allow for our partners, is mainly independence of their vendor or software.
The app can be installed over the gateway together with our ISC accessing certain subsets of the whole data; just like when people install any app on their phones and it requests accessing the contacts, pictures etc. This is what Alleantia does. Then this data is streamed through this application.
The main advantage of this approach is you don’t create an umbrella environment when you get the gateway cloud platform or analytics from one tender but creating something that is more scalable. In this case, you can install an app for each specific usage.
Can IoT software prevent errors and problems from happening? And if problems are present, how can they be solved immediately?
IoT can prevent a certain set of mistakes. Thanks to a proper IoT app, when you launch a production of a certain material, all the recipes needed along the production chain are uploaded to each machine, thus the system is ready to prevent errors.
Another important thing is that what you can prevent is not really an error in terms of production but error in terms of procedure for cyber security. So you can upload files directly from the cloud to the machines.
“One click is enough to create a real revolution.” Give us more insight about the benefits of digitizing our activities?
What we are looking for is to create a simple solution that allow machines to speak with IT words in 60 seconds, in just one click. People have to select a name and an item from our catalogue then insert and click connect.
The first exercise that we suggest to our customers is when you have plenty of data from your machines, just take two of those and automatically fill them into our ISC software – that usually comes later. By just saving the data entry, which is possible in a few minutes, you can start to use other handles of data that you have. Ultimately, with a few clicks, you will change your organization.
Tell us about the XPANGO technology?
XPANGO technology is the idea from which Alleantia was born because we wanted to create a solution that really sets the standard, for the mere fact that every institution is focusing to create a common language in terms of “bit and bite”, to connect industrial devices together then connect them to the app.
No one at the moment is taking care of the semantic data, the usage of a certain value has to be treated in a certain way and this number translated from one unit to another, later transferred to all machines. All this information is addressed by XPANGO which is not just a matter of data exchange but information exchange.
How do we use the XPANGO driver?
When we have to connect the device, you have to select the proper driver like a printer for your pc and click connect; that’s it. If you have to connect to a new device that has never been connected to Alleantia, we provide driver editor and online tools for free, thus creating and distributing your driver over our public library. We are working on an ecosystem and promoting it to create drivers that are freely available.
What are the key IoT trends defining Industry 4.0?
Increase productivity for the end user and for factory owners, increase the OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency), reduce time and activate a predictive maintenance strategy.
IoT is used to increase the topline of your balance sheet, increase revenue, save money by reducing the number of employees in factories due to the coronavirus and enabling better remote ability and enhanced maintenance.
There are even banks that are interested in this process because if you have a smart product, you would pay in a smart way. If the machine is an industrial device, you need a financial institution that helps you create a sort of labor use. Many banks are integrating IoT in their financial services.
Data security and privacy is a growing concern. What is your company’s guarantee for protecting data?
We usually address and solve such problems, but there is always the risk of data theft by cyberattacks which requires adding multiple fire walls and many tools to prevent such malicious activities.
The main problem is data ownership. When one customer decides to use Alleantia, he/she is deciding to choose “access rights” when using IoT apps and who sees the data– similar to installing an app on your mobile.
Nigel Bayliff, CEO of AquaComms
Based on your many years of experience in the subsea cable industry, what are some of the most prevalent trends? What disruptive trends might affect your operations in the future?
The industry has seen a move away from Carrier Consortia towards smaller private consortium models, with one or two carriers. A number of ‘traditional’ system investors have moved to an asset light model, especially those based in Europe, where hyper-competition in home markets has forced a re-focus. On technology, open systems with more fibre pairs per cable (following a fibre pair investment unit model) are now the norm – they are simple to establish, straightforward to operate and allow quick decision making and flexibility. These changes support our move into offering professional services that range from the planning and design phase of a new cable project, to being the landing party through to operating the cable system to a fully outsourced model on behalf of the investors.
You recently stated that different elements in the supply chain have had different levels of innovation. What new opportunities in technology today would you like to utilize the most?
By way of example, repeater housing design has remained static for a few decades, with the exception of some new contender designs; more innovation is needed to create larger bodies with more compact amplification designs. Also, vessel service life and relative infrequent new building has meant that we largely use the same techniques as ever for laying the cable; accuracy is better, but apart from surveying (with autonomous vessels) the model is still highly weather and people dependent.
The forecasted annual traffic growth for the Trans-Atlantic market in 2020 is an impressive 50%. How does Aqua Comms plan to capitalize on this growth?
Aqua Comms owns/operates two strong Atlantic routes; AEC-1 and AEC-2, we have started the process of enabling AEC-3 (more details to come throughout next year) and have plans in place for a possible AEC-4. The huge growth rates and general market growth support a small number of independent players in this sector and we strive to be the best in both efficiency, route diversity and quality in the North Atlantic market.
In an earlier virtual roundtable, Aqua Comms directly addressed the challenges affecting telecoms during the coronavirus pandemic. Can you brief us on the main content of the roundtable? What alternative solutions have you proposed to cope in these challenging times?
Aqua Comms established from the outset as an organization able to operate efficiently in a multi-remote scenario. Our model combines the decades and decades of experience of our executive and management teams, with flexibility and efficiency of automation, outsourcing and remote management enablers. We designed an organization and processes that support this, with no dependency on physical location, time zone or specific human resource. This meant our response to the pandemic was just another simple step in this model – we did have a headquarters office, but less than 50% of the company worked there weekly. All our team have home-office capability and we have a wide range of tools to ensure connectivity and connected-ness internally within our team, with our support partners in technology and remote activity roles and with our customers and partners. We were able to expedite orders and deliver multiple terabits of capacity during the main lockdown period in record time to service urgent market needs using this remote-capable, efficient operating model.
How has COVID-19 affected the subsea cable industry in general? What is the economic impact of delays in deployment?
For projects in final implementation stages (cable in ships, being laid) delays have been minimal with some inevitable disruption due to quarantine routines which has affected crew changeovers. For projects in manufacturing stages, these seem to have seen delays due to factories closing during harsh lockdown periods but are maybe only delayed by a few months. Projects which are in the early phases have made some progress, but physical location visits and planning for shore activity has obviously been affected. The unknowns are the projects that are aiming to get to a contractual close – typically these involve many multi-faceted whole group meetings, which have not been easy to hold virtually, to bring all factors to a conclusion so we may expect a quarter delay in this area. By and large, the industry and our sub-sector seem to have fared very much better than many other sectors (transport, leisure, hospitality, etc.) because internet access is all the more crucial in a remote world, as caused by the pandemic.
Your North Atlantic loop offers an array of diverse services between the US and Northern Europe. Can you tell us more about the services offered with the loop and the benefits that each service yields?
The North Atlantic Loop offers connectivity services, typically 10G and 100G wavelengths, with 400G waves on the horizon, between multiple locations in the US and Northern Europe. This includes core routes such as New York to London, New York to Dublin but also now connecting New York and New Jersey to Denmark, as well connecting Ireland to the UK and Denmark on new, diverse and unique routes. These routes support the major data centre and traffic hubs across the US, the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, all of which are seeing significant growth from the content, cloud and carrier businesses.
Aqua Comms has maintained a presence in recent industry events – as seen from your participation in Subsea World. What significant insights have you gained and how did you apply them?
As previously mentioned, it’s been gratifying to see that many of our colleagues in other companies are also coping with a remote world well, our sector is generally buoyant based on a realization that connectivity is even more important in a pandemic. It’s been interesting to see different approaches – some companies who have enormous headcount, generally focused in many large offices, have completely reversed their policies and expect homeworking to be the new normal for them – others are aiming to go back towards an office environment more quickly. These changes and policies need to be supported as a cultural transition, as the physical set-up often dictates how things are done culturally in such cases. Because we established ourselves with the goal of being multi-country, a remote working enterprise with a flat structure and rapid decision lines, we have that cultural trait embedded in our core. One other change likely is that our cooperative culture – enabling many parties to come together to build these large infrastructure projects – is also going to have to modify because the reliance on physically meeting each other a few times a year in far-off destinations is certainly suspended for the next half-year or so (still), and may never return to the way it was in the past. The longer we operate (and cooperate) successfully in a remote model, the less likely that the past model will return to the same extent.
Your flagship product is FOCUS – Fibre Optics Cables Under the Sea. How has your product developed over the years? In what ways do you expect to see it grow in the future?
This strapline is more our philosophy, than a product in itself. Fiber Optic Cables Under the Sea. It signifies that we choose to focus on a specific segment/layer of the telecommunications industry – that of undersea fibre optic cables, connecting countries. We don’t focus on terrestrial fibre infrastructure, we only obtain what we need from others, to connect the sea landings to the major cities and distribution hubs. We don’t sell any IP services, telephony services or services below a pure transport capacity. We believe in being the very best at the very specific thing that we choose to do and never competing with our customers.
What are the implications of having Aqua Comms now directly available at 1025Connect’s colocation facility?
We have had presence at 1025 for a couple of years as a pass-through location on our backhaul towards New York. As major users start to move away from Manhattan as a service location, we have augmented and substantiated our presence there, given its proximity to multiple cable landings, no MRC cross-connect model and carrier-neutral status.
What are the implications of installing SMART cables? Do you think they are the future?
The SMART cable initiative is intended to gather some basic situational data from telecommunciations cable systems (temp and pressure at amplifier housings), along with derived information (vibrational analysis due to subsea earthquakes/sea level changes) inherent in the optical signals and structure of the cable to provide long-term measurement of such items for the scientific and governmental institutes. This enables one to better understand ocean parameters, enabling better prediction and notification of major events (tsunami/earthquakes) and better modelling of our changing climate and oceanic activity. As with any new technology in submarine, this will require demonstrator projects (some of which have started), development and standardization of new sensors and adoption of the requirement by the operator and developer community.
Many predict that the future of Subsea cable deployment will be taken over by tech giants such as Facebook and Google. What are your thoughts on this projection? And what would that mean for Aqua Comms?
Throughout my career it has been apparent that the people who need submarine cables most are the people who then get together to develop and build them. It was voice cables in the 80-90’s, so the PTTs were the dominant force in building. Later in the 90’s, it was for data and internet, and private companies consolidated and aggregated demand to build systems. Then, larger ISPs (L3, GX, etc.) also built their own private cables whilst the PTT/Carrier consortia lessened. The 2010-20’s sees large private companies building for their own needs (same as during the 2000’s) but alongside some private developers (like ourselves) who aggregate smaller demands together with those carriers with large infrastructures. So my answer would be that those with the biggest need for capacity will always look to build at an infrastructure level for best cost, and there will always be space for those, like Aqua Comms, who choose to FOCUS on serving the needs of the rest of the market.
Roya Ghafele, Executive Director of Oxfirst
The Supreme Court has held that the English courts do have jurisdiction to determine the FRAND terms of a global license to standard essential patents (SEPs).
Tell us more about Standard Essential Patents. What does this ruling mean for SEP holders?
The Supreme Court of England and Wales and lower Courts before, have done their best to issue a multifaceted and rich judgment. But there may be a couple of issues with this judgment. For me, this judgment once more emphasizes the need to come to grips with the novel market dynamics presented by international economic integration. The borderless world is a business reality, but the law has yet to catch up with it.
The standards, which this ruling addresses, are core to the telecom industry. 3G, 4G/LTE but also WiFi (which this judgment does not address) have paved the way for real time interaction across the globe. Where the further evolution of such standards will take us, remains yet to be seen. For sure, 5G will be instrumental for next generation technologies such as the Internet of Things.
Patents that read on standards, also called standard essential patents, are subject to the FRAND commitment. This is because they can be prone to anticompetitive behavior. FRAND stands for ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.’ In the case at hand, the IPR policy of ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute played an important role. This policy seeks to set out how patents that read on ETSI standards are to be treated.
In this case, the Court adequately recognized the commercial tensions that prevail in this sector. As such, the Court argued that FRAND is a balancing mechanism. On the one hand side adequate access to standards need to be assured, on the other hand side patented inventions should also be incentivized. Royalty stacking was also recognized as a key aspect of FRAND. Royalty stacking can be described as the risk of a cumulative royalty payment a downstream innovator may be faced with. This is explained by the fact that there are many different patent owners who claim their stake on a standard.
I tend to think that the ruling will attract litigation into the U.K. This will be good news for the local litigation industry, but may have adverse effects on the larger economy. In the difficult times we currently face, the UK needs to assure it does its best for its consumers, its start-ups and scale ups, SMEs and local industry. The UK also cannot neglect its international trade position.
What are the repercussions for the licensing of intellectual property in the telecoms sector?
This sector has experienced a lot of litigation over standard essential patents. The press has labelled these disputes as ‘patent wars.’ For both the licensor and the licensee, the commercial stakes are significant. After all, these standards formed the baseline of a novel way of doing business around the world. It comes hence as no surprise that Court awarded damages have been significant.
How will this jurisdiction affect consumers?
Consumers in the UK may be faced with less choice. This is because technology companies may be carefully considering whether to expose their global licensing requirements to the scrutiny of the UK.
What would have been the implications if the decision went the other way?
The decision rightly points to a host of unresolved issues. It points out how highly complex today’s international business relations are. Had the British Courts decided that they can only issue a national licensing rate, existing market practice of pursuing legal disputes in a couple of key jurisdictions would have continued.
How will the decision impact implementors?
Downstream innovators need to be able to adequately access standards. Patents should not be an obstacle. The decision shifts the burden of proof and this is very expensive. Also, the decision sanctions a global FRAND licensing rate with an injunction in the U.K. Downstream innovators may carefully weigh risks and benefits against each other.
How will the ruling help turn the UK into a global hub for patent litigation?
That the UK is in a position to issue global FRAND rates, is an important value proposition for a patentee. It appears that this will now not be necessary as the UK is in a position to issue global FRAND rates. If and to what extent other countries will accept this remains to be seen.
Do you think technology companies will be prompted to reconsider their market position in the U.K?
This may be a possibility. In TQ Delta vs Zyxel, the defendant declared it would rather accept an injunction and exit the UK market than accept a global FRAND rate set by the English Court. (See: TQ Delta vs Zyxel. Case No: HP-2017-000045. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2019/562.html, Skeleton Argument on behalf of Zyxel. Claim Numbers: HP-2017-000045 and HP-2019-000009, p. 11 as well as hearing on April 17 2019, p. 97-99 and hearing on March 18, p. 51- 52)
How will this affect negotiations over Brexit?
There are 25 European countries that are trying to set up a Common Court for cross border patent enforcement, called the UPC (Unified Patent Court). The UK left UPC in July 2020. If and to what extent the UK will need to find its own governance structures once it has rejected the acquis communautaire remains to be seen. I foresee here a potential for conflict. I await with interest the further evolution on this topic.
Do you see more FRAND litigation on the horizon?
I do not expect this sector to come to peace any time soon. The commercial stakes are important and the sector is traditionally very litigious. Unless the underlying business SEPs protect diminishes significantly, I see no end in sight to the disputes over standard essential patents.
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