Has the IoT industry been impacted by the pandemic? How are IoT applications in this digital ecosystem serving complex needs in the crisis?
Massive IoT technologies continue to be rolled out around the world. 2G and 3G connectivity still enable the majority of IoT applications, but during 2019, the number of Massive IoT connections increased by a factor of 3, reaching close to 100 million connections at the end of the year according to the recent Ericsson Mobility Report figures.
ICT has helped consumers handle the uncertainties of the COVID-19 crisis, with more and more activities carried out and time spent online. Given this, both fixed broadband and mobile networks are experiencing greater demand than ever seen before. Critical IoT is used for time-critical communications in both wide- and local-area use cases that require guaranteed data delivery with specified latency targets. Critical IoT will be introduced in 5G networks with the advanced time-critical communication capabilities of 5G NR.
What are some of the challenges you face in terms of network capacity, performance levels, during COVID-19?
There have been drastic shifts in data traffic globally due to COVID-19. For instance, we’ve seen major shifts in data and voice traffic moving from downtown to suburban and residential areas, as a result of lockdowns and less mobility and movement in cities. We’ve also seen a significant rise in mobile voice calls, as well as bi-directional services, such as video calls and tools for smart working.
The massive disruption caused by COVID-19 has demonstrated the criticality of the network in today’s society and we are currently working closely with our customers to keep their networks running. During this period, our supply and service delivery has worked with limited interruption.
What are some of the trends that have emerged since the current crisis? Do you see some of these trends having future impact on your industry or IoT?
With more and more activities being carried out online, and greater numbers of hours spent connected to both fixed and mobile broadband, the internet has become a fundamental part of daily life – as critical as access to food and electricity. The fastest-growing mobile app categories during the COVID-19 period have been those related to the crisis, remote working, education/e-learning and wellness.
Multitasking between devices and networks while staying at home, for everything from work to socializing, caused the amount of data consumed on smartphones to increase. The daily time consumers spent connected to fixed broadband increased by two and a half hours during the crisis, while the time spent connected to mobile broadband increased by an average of one hour per day. As many as 46 percent have spent significantly more time on fixed broadband, while 16 percent have done the same on mobile broadband. Ericsson Mobility Report figures.
Digital contact tracking service grow very fast in Asia using IOT connected devices (cell phones, cameras). Mobile Operators and government collaborated to launch theses services to manage the spread of COVID 19. Mobile operators ensured they have excellent nationwide coverage and ability to collect and manage IOT data to launch this service.
With 74 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by Ericsson Consumer Lab saying that mobile networks were performing better or the same than pre-crisis, it is safe to say that despite all odds, they have managed to meet consumer expectations. But additional capacity offered by 5G would definitely have helped.
What are some of Ericsson’s plans regarding 5G and IoT after the pandemic ends?
From improving employee productivity to implementing IoT for smart buildings and production lines, our research shows that enterprises see potential in private mobile networks. The first 5G NR-capable IoT platforms have recently been released. Modules from several vendors are available, as well as tailored platforms for PCs and advanced wearables. In the second half of 2020 and during 2021, this is expected to expand to include use cases involving personal and commercial vehicles, cameras, industry routers and gaming. Such devices will initially support mobile broadband capabilities, but performance is expected to evolve towards time-critical communication capabilities where needed, via software upgrades on devices and networks.
How has Ericsson’s supply chain been impacted by the current crisis? Are there plans in place to remedy the impact?
Ericsson has a global supply chain set up, which ensures the company works close to customers through its European, Asian and American operations. Our main production facilities are in Estonia, Poland, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and the US. All main Ericsson production sites are currently in operation. Ericsson continues to follow the situation of the novel Coronavirus and recommendation from the local authorities and WHO, as the company assesses its supply chain.
Ericsson delivered a solid result during the first quarter, with limited impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. For Q2 2020, our assessment remains that we can cover currently forecasted demands, considering known implications and expected outcome from mitigations made following the outbreak.
Privacy/data security is a growing concern for many. What are the security factors related to IoT implementation in the MENA region today?
By 2025, we’re going to have more than 24.6 billion IoT connections in the world based on Ericsson Mobility Report figures. It’s a vast opportunity but it also brings vast risk. How do you keep billions of devices secure? How about the networks they run on? How do you make sure the data from all those devices isn’t compromised?
When it comes to IoT, security requirements are unique. Connecting devices is different from connecting individual people and personal computers. To verify its identity, an IoT device can’t simply enter a password as a person would. Similarly, the systems that run our PCs are regularly updated, but IoT has to work all the time.
A reliable infrastructure is a must, and this is especially true for mission-critical applications. 3GPP technologies provide this reliability. The IoT expands rapidly, and security must be end-to-end.
What are some of the obstacles/challenges you might face when implementing IoT in the MENA region?
When talking about the challenges that companies are likely to face when starting their journey within Machine Learning and IoT, trust is a key component. Handling the IoT product lifecycle is very complex, and requires trust in three dimensions; internally, between the company and the end user, and lastly across your partners – the ecosystem needs to align and take a more active role in the co-creation process.
Furthermore, it is important to have a product mindset – to focus on the business problem you are trying to solve and work together with the ecosystem to bring the greatest possible value to your end customer.
How long will it take for the infrastructure to fully accommodate an IoT transformation? What countries in the region are leading the way?
To drive IOT transformation you need connectivity everywhere to collect data from devices, sensors, things, etc. In some countries in the region like GCC, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and others, the nationwide coverage is almost there. Thus, IOT transformation is taking place with solution for smart offices, smart malls, smart bus stops, healthcare apps and others.
The biggest impact of COVID 19 was on the human capital in several industries and enterprises. This caused a rise in demand for automation using industrial IoT for Factories, Ports, Oil & Gas, Transportation, and Mining. To drive industrial IoT you need a 5G connectivity due to the industrial requirements for ultra-low latency, high speed bandwidth, data security and edge computing.
There are several countries in the region that are starting to lead industrial IoT transformation like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. These countries have 5G coverage in major cities and are offering private 5G network for industries. I think you will see world class industrial IoT use cases implemented in the region.
Has the virus hindered your plans for 5G deployment?
While in some markets 5G subscription growth has slowed as a result of the pandemic, this is outweighed by other markets where it is accelerating, leading us to raise our forecast of global 5G subscriptions at the end of 2020. However, the success of 5G cannot be measured in subscriptions alone. The value 5G brings will be determined by the success of new use cases and applications for consumers and businesses.
We expect our industry to show resilience throughout the pandemic and we are well positioned with a competitive 5G product offering and cost structure. There is near-term uncertainty around sales volumes due to Covid-19 and the macroeconomic situation, but with current visibility we have no reason to change our financial targets for 2020 and 2022.
How is Ericsson working with telco’s and tech companies to ensure that IoT works seamlessly and securely during the pandemic?
Ericsson’s Cellular IoT solution addresses diverse use cases ranging from the more basic use cases such as asset tracking and smart metering to more advanced use cases such as drones, AR/VR, to even higher demanding use cases such as autonomous vehicles and collaborative robotics.
For enterprises, cellular IoT turns concepts into realities with shorter development times for IoT solutions, fast and simple deployment, and profitable growth at any scale. For service providers, it scales their IoT business by making it easy for their enterprise customers to connect and manage IoT devices locally and globally. And for ecosystem partners, it enables faster time to market a seamless integration into any ecosystem, supported by an existing global ecosystem that provides coverage in over 104 countries.
We are proud to partner with so many communications service providers (CSPs) who have selected our leading platform to provide IoT services to more than 4,500 enterprises around the world.
With IoT on the rise, what kind of role will Mobile Network Operators have?
The IoT market is rapidly growing and this indicates a substantial business potential for communications service providers, industries and enterprises. In Ericsson’s Mobility Report June 2020 , it is forecasted that there will be 5.2 billion Cellular IoT connections by the year 2025. Our report, the 5G Business Potential, shows that this is an USD 619 billion revenue opportunity for telecom operators by 2026. End-to end-solutions from Ericsson are supporting the MENA region’s telecommunications service providers as it accelerates its drive to digitalize business, industry and society. We empower both government and private sectors’ journey towards digital transformation, as well as accelerating the deployment of digital services, and expanding Internet of Things (IoT) usage.
Is Ericsson taking part in any social initiatives to implement IoT for those without access? (For example, education initiatives).
Working with our partners to develop IoT use cases for education has always been in focus for Ericsson. In fact, in response to how the global COVID-19 Pandemic has disrupted education and learning around the world, Ericsson has joined the UNESCO-led Global Education Coalition and launched Ericsson Educate which is a digital program delivering online learning content focused on improving digital skills for students in secondary schools and universities. This digital learning program has the potential to benefit students all around the world who are currently disadvantaged due to lockdowns and home quarantines. The program includes different learning paths, customized to the educational needs and maturity level of the target audience, and can be accessed free of charge via web portals specifically created by Ericsson.
Kian Gould, CEO and Founder of AOE
Kian Gould is the CEO and Founder of AOE and is responsible for strategy, vision and growth of the company since 1999. AOE develops digital business, E-Commerce and marketplace solutions based on open source technologies. Gould is a regular speaker at many global conferences, and a well-known expert in global E-Commerce, telecommunication, airport digitalization and agile management.
Q: You established a long-standing partnership with Deutsche Telekom. What are the key elements for a superior telecom customer experience?
We started working with Deutsche Telekom twelve years ago, when they had just launched their secondary brand congstar into the market. The vision of congstar was to become an attractive brand to a younger generation of mobile users that wanted the best network but more flexibility than the flagship carrier was providing; putting the power in the hand of the user. The motto was “what you want is what you get”. This required a complete rethinking of telco architecture for this new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Allowing customers to change their contracts anytime within the billing cycle, adding products, removing products, etc., meant the need for a never-before-seen flexibility in architecture from campaign through commerce to provisioning and billing. It was an amazing opportunity for AOE to build a new generation telecom E-Commerce framework from scratch. Over the years, more and more units within Deutsche Telekom wanted to rebuild and modernize different parts of their infrastructure and so our projects spanned from innovation projects for T-Systems-customers in the automotive sector, to building the new headless frontend framework for the main flagship E-Commerce platform to assisting with Deutsche Telekom’s biggest digital hub in charge of FTTH (fibre to the home).
What we have learned throughout the years is that there is major frustration from customers if a telco shows that they are not flexible and lock you into static and long-term contracts. Indeed, there is nothing more frustrating than having to find the right person within a giant organization to fix your problems. Many of the projects we have been working on have had a major impact on improving processes, customer satisfaction and flexibility and have enabled e.g. congstar to win best mobile carrier in Germany for nine years in a row. Our highly adaptable architecture solutions that we have co-developed with Deutsche Telekom and congstar over the years have led to superior customer and service experiences. One great example worth mentioning here is that congstar is one of the few telcos that enable customers to cancel their contract with one click. As a customer, it feels great knowing that your provider wants to make it easy for you and not lock you in by cumbersome processes – waiting for hours on customer hotlines. All these initiatives have also meant a major reduction in call centre- and support costs and ticket escalations.
Q: What do you consider to be the most pressing technology issues in telecom customer service and management?
To be frank, the telco business is a business that requires significantly leaner, faster and more agile software and development processes than the majority possesses. This has led to MVNOs taking over significant aspects of the market as they offer more customer-centric and flexible solutions without the burden of running and maintaining their own networks. Flagship telcos cannot leave this playing field to innovative MVNOs and need to innovate at a much faster pace. With much of the market becoming commoditized, innovation through convergence products, higher contract flexibility and bundling are the future. These require very different commerce, provisioning and billing systems that largely don’t exist in today’s telcos or are architecturally so complex that new features take months if not years to roll out. So, in most cases, telcos need to and have started to look at how they can decouple their systems more, work with microservices, more flexible agile development teams and methods, DevOps, etc. And as pioneers in those sectors or agile IT, we are often asked to help with those transformations from the inside. Not only as consultants who make suggestions but as agile transformation teams that work hand-in-hand with internal teams. Furthermore, telcos would also greatly benefit from taking advantage of our solutions, which can be flexibly integrated into existing BPM- and CRM-systems such as AAX and Salesforce Vlocity.
Q: Where do you see AI/ML taking a foothold in telecom process improvements?
There is a huge amount of work that happens within a telco that could be automated more: Many different legacy systems, call centre staff needing to log into multiple systems to find a customer, not being able to make automated process optimizations, etc. One example that we have recently been working on is escalation prediction. With relatively simple machine learning algorithms it is possible to predict – with a very high degree of accuracy – that a certain new or migrated customer will run into an escalation, which can then be addressed before the customer even has to find out. Other areas include analysing usage behaviour, making automated suggestions to more customer-beneficial contract options or personalizing the shopping and upgrade experience more. These are all fields where we are currently active.
Q: What are the main reasons why telcos are not able to innovate quickly enough?
One of the main reasons is certainly the way that big corporate IT used to be structured. Big silos, separation of development and operations and far too much interdependence between very large legacy systems. Very few telcos are able to take the route of congstar and build a new IT in a complete greenfield approach. So, what most telcos have to do is to carve out certain parts of their business and develop those on a new greenfield approach, do it continuously and step by step make their IT more agile, move away from classic enterprise IT paradigms to leaner IT, API-first and loosely coupled vs. deeply integrated solutions. This requires not only a different mindset concerning software development, but also a much closer engagement on a partnership level with their vendors. In my opinion, true partnership is the strongest asset we have.
Q: What are the biggest USPs for telcos in a highly saturated market? Where do you see convergence products playing their part?
As stated earlier, I believe that telcos need to keep up with the quick innovation of MVNOs in their respective market. Of course, you could take the stance and say “my network, my terms” but many markets have shown, that as soon as strong regulation comes in, just being the network provider and being forced to resell your network to MVNOs at fixed rates can quickly leave you in a situation where the MVNOs are able to derive more value for their customers than you can. As such, I strongly believe the big telcos have to start rethinking their value proposition to their customers. Claims such as “best network” or “no dropped calls” are outdated and no longer excite customers in an oversaturated market. People want choice. They want device flexibility, they don’t want lock-ins, they want convenient convergence products at attractive rates, they want flexible data solutions that also meet their home needs, they want their relationship with their telco to adjust to their life circumstances. So, I strongly believe a combination of more convergence products and higher flexibility with truly personalized customer service are key to growing the business in the current climate.
Q: What kind of impact is digital transformation making on the retail value chain? How has the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the ongoing changes?
I would say we need to separate immediate impact from long-term impact. Of course, during the first lockdown phase, and I am saying “first” on purpose because I don’t think we have seen the last of it, companies relying heavily on their retail footprint have been essentially decimated to dust. In a retail world where you might be working off a five percent EBITDA margin, losing 25 percent of your annual turnover, is, needless to say, an unbelievable exogenic shock. As we are easing in and out of lockdowns, that impact differs between retailers depending on their omnichannel capabilities. As such, the impact for a congstar, that has no stationary retail footprint and can do anything and everything digitally and remotely is close to nil, whereas carriers relying on people to walk into their stores to purchase contracts have been hit much harder. Outside the telco space, brands and retailers with strong E-Commerce presence have seen a dampened effect, whereas luxury retailers especially, have suffered tremendously as they refused to go digital in the past. In many cases, all their airport sales disappeared overnight and they are virtually incapable of selling to their target audience.
The next few years will see a lot of statements being made about how COVID-19 put the last nail in the coffin of retail but I believe the reality is that Omnichannel, or unified retail, was the only one with a future even pre-COVID. Pure downtown retail was already on its last breath in many categories and had survived on selling and re-leasing real estate assets, etc., rather than innovating the customer experience. From an overall retail perspective, retailers who have invested at an appropriate clip, both analogue and digital, have built the ability to collaborate into their ecosystems. Retailers need to be more customer-centric. Having no customer-centricity equals failure. So, in my view, all that COVID has done is to stop delaying the inevitable decline of the legacy retail as well as the rise of the new breed of retail.
Q: How important is it for retailers to implement a customer-led strategy? How does the Omnichannel experience help achieve this?
I think the answer is very clear: A customer-led strategy is the most important factor for success. Customer expectations have grown significantly over the last few years. Whether that is healthy or not is a different subject, but the fact is that companies such as Amazon have led a revolution of customer-centricity. Have you ever heard of anyone having had a bad experience with Amazon’s return policies or their speed of resolving your problems for you? With a razor-sharp focus on customer satisfaction before profits, they have become the most customer-centric retailer in the world. Now, we shouldn’t concede the whole world of retail to Amazon but we can certainly learn from the fact that putting the customer first is one of the strongest investments in the future. Customers that are loyal to you as a brand or retailer don’t check prices anymore but build relationships that last.
Q: You transformed Frankfurt Airport into the first Omnichannel airport. What are some of the key organizational factors to consider before undertaking a transformation of this scale? How will airline retail strategy change post-COVID?
Some of the key learnings are mainly that software alone cannot solve organizational transformation challenges. Agility and innovation have to be driven mainly by mindset and culture, not process and software. The aviation travel retail industry as a whole has long stood by and failed to innovate on a relevant scale. The results were a continuous decline in spend per passenger and an increased disinterest in the proposition. Post-COVID, airlines and airports will have to do more with less, which means that driving non-aviation revenues will be key for survival. So, while investment and CAPEX are extremely difficult for the aviation sector right now, investment in digital commerce solutions will be key to their survival; the result: We will see more and more airlines developing their brands and making them stronger. We have seen this transformation pre-COVID and it will be accelerated post-COVID.
Q: What were the main challenges you faced with AOE during the pandemic and lockdown?
We essentially transferred the entire operations to remote work within two days and were almost surprised at how seamless it went. Teams didn’t only maintain their velocity (output) but in some cases even increased it. So, from a purely operational point of view, we saw no adverse effects. However, where we did get affected badly of course was our aviation division where traffic went quickly to zero. Our E-Commerce platforms at major airports and airlines suffered strongly and so did the revenues from those customers. Luckily, some of our customers had already launched the ability to offer home delivery without people flying and they have been thriving at levels manifold to that of pre-COVID. However, the ones that still relied on people to travel to purchase saw their sales disappear within weeks. Recovery will be slower than expected, but we are bringing new low-investment solutions into the market as we speak, in order to make sure the recovery is a digitally led one.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with AOE in the next few years?
AOE has proven multiple times that it can move industries to a new level of customer-centricity and innovation. From the early days of building some of the first global subscription services such as PlayStation Network, to changing the telco business in Germany to making airports and airlines operate as Omnichannel retailers. We love to innovate and create customer value, led by agile transformation. We aim to continue our footprint in the telco space within Europe and become a leader in the aviation space. Additionally, we have multiple parallel innovation units around the topics of ML/AI, IT Security, Life Sciences and FinTech, which we plan to grow to substantial units as well.
Choucri Khairallah, Anghami Vice President of Business Development
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.
Imad Kreidieh, Chairman of Ogero
Since 2014, Telecommunications in Lebanon has seen vast improvements in mobile coverage as well as internet speed and market penetration. However, network technology is constantly evolving and must react quickly to the changes in consumer behavior and demand.
Although countries have been quick to jump on the 5G bandwagon, deployment of the new technology requires a strong investment strategy to enhance and modify network infrastructure for faster more efficient services.
With many anticipating 5G as the new standard in cellular networks, countries like Lebanon are asking whether 5G fast-track aspirations are even possible, given the challenges caused by political instability and a slowed economy.
What are Ogero’s plans for future deployment of 5G in Lebanon? Do you have the capabilities to achieve this?
For now, Ogero does not have plans to deploy 5G in Lebanon, because it is a wireless technology and we are currently using 4G to deliver telecommunication services to end-users. Deployment of 5G is also now less likely because we are passing through an economic crisis in the country.
However, we have the capabilities to achieve it, as we have already demonstrated 5G in Rafic Hariri International airport and it has proven successful. The legal framework for Ogero to deploy a fully-fledged wireless network is not yet in place, however, it should be part of the telecom law 431 that is under review by all political parties. Once approved, we will start considering such opportunities.
Beirut airport was the first in the ME to launch 5G for travelers, what are the benefits of such an unprecedented move?
It was done to offer people the chance to experience 5G as a broadband service.
It has been conclusive because travelers and people working at the airport felt the difference in terms of speed, latency and responsiveness of the technology. It was a good example of what we can do and what is possible in terms of 5G in Lebanon.
How will 5G change the wireline architecture that currently supports 4G mobile backhaul?
The endgame for Lebanon and Ogero regarding broadband services is the wireline, namely the fiber optic. We have seen that in some areas, the cost barrier is so high to deploy cable because there is a very low density of subscribers.
Therefore, we have opted for the “fixed wireless”, i.e., setting up LTE-A 4G wireless cells, providing service to users mainly in rural areas.
5G would make sense as a fixed wireless only if the economic feasibility is there, so we need to compute cost versus the return on the deployment of this network.
Fifth generation technology would have a faster return on investment in high dense and urban areas where Ogero does not have a license to operate.
Has the fiber optic plan been implemented? As we have noticed the extension of the fiber network.
Fiber optics went through different phases: first was to connect the exchanges of the Ministry of Telecommunication altogether with the fiber optic with no impact on the end user.
As for phase 2, we initiated a project in November 2018 to deploy fiber optic to the user with three companies all over Lebanon.
Today, we are almost ready to connect 92,000 subscribers to newly deployed fiber optic network.
What are the numbers of fixed line connections and how much have they decreased with the emergence of messaging apps? What about the internet connections?
The number of fixed line connections in the country is around 870,000, decreasing by 14% with the emergence of messaging apps. We are following the international trend; Lebanon is no exception to other fixed line operators worldwide, as everybody is noticing a slowdown in the subscribers because WIFI is in every house.
Regarding the internet connections, the legally claimed number of internet subscribers that Ogero and other internet service providers has data of, is 470,000. However, this number does not give us a clear indication of the internet penetration at home, because there are a very large number of subscribers that are being served with illegal distribution.
What is your vision for a competitive, digital customer experience? Do you have a strategy in place?
Since I took office here, we established a road map including paving the way for a digital society. When you talk about a digital society or economy, you need to have a reliable and sustainable infrastructure.
We have been preparing the infrastructure for the past 3 years, to push the other stakeholders to embrace digitization, because without it, nothing can be done.
We often hear the term ‘the digital divide’ which defines the gap between those who are connected and those who are not? What is the current reality in Lebanon? And what more must be done to close this gap?
If you take the mobile penetration number, which is high, and if we combine the legal distributed broadband over wire, plus the illegal distribution, the gap is minimal.
We should be in the first category of countries where the internet penetration is impressive, as everybody has access. Simply using the instant messaging app “WhatsApp” means that you are connected and acquainted with the digital environment.
Instead of using the term bridging the gap between the connected and unconnected, we need to increase people’s awareness of the culture of digital environment, which the Covid-19 crisis did. The lockdown period promoted the idea of working and taking courses online, utilizing tools like Microsoft teams and Zoom, which are new experiences.
Moreover, people should know they have alternative ways to do their daily things by going digital. In parallel with changing the culture of people and asking them to rely on those platforms that are available but not sufficiently used in the community.
How will cloud services help facilitate government entities in Lebanon?
It is a dream to reach such a level. Ogero owns two cloud platforms and we are waiting for the pricing decree in order to start offering cloud computing to small-medium enterprises and government entities, as well as working on a trial basis with the Ministry of Administrative Development (OMSAR).
Once the pricing guidelines are made official, we will start marketing the availability of cloud. We are also counting on a rise in demand so that we can enhance our strategy in this regard and expand the platform to make it available to everyone.
You have been working extensively on providing faster internet speeds in areas around Lebanon. Tell us about your most recent project?
Whenever you talk about the speed of internet, there are two approaches: internet quality is not good everywhere but it is not very bad everywhere also.
For example, in Bet Misk where the community is completely fiberized, people can reach a speed of 1Gbps. In areas like Ras Beirut, Hamra, Ashrafieh, Hazmieh people are getting ready for 200 Mbps internet connectivity; which is fast.
In some areas where we started deploying VDSL, people who are close to the exchanges by a radius of 500 meters are getting a 45 Mbps speed, which is a very acceptable speed.
We will only witness a drastic improvement on a national level in speed, once our entire infrastructure is fully deployed.
The objective of Ogero telecommunication is to make significant developments, especially after starting in 2017. The speed has so far, multiplied (nationally) seven fold. Today, we are at 9 Mbps per user, with a target of 50 Mbps.
Will we see more progress regarding broadband speeds?
We will witness continuous progress in speed as long as we are still deploying and executing the fiber to homes, buildings and public spaces.
How important is it for Lebanon to drive the digital economy and are we doing enough to support innovation and entrepreneurship?
The private sector is self-driven, and as soon as you provide it with the appropriate infrastructure, the sector will buy in and start using and maximizing digitization. Having a public cloud is very important.
What is really hindering the process of the digital transformation is the lack of decisions being made at government/national/administration level to embrace a digital economy. If the government does not embrace automation first, then the digitization of its activities will become a burden for the next phase of Lebanon’s digital strategy.
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