Ooredoo says it’s OK with Huawei

The Ooredoo Group is the latest telco to dismiss security concerns and announce Huawei as a supplier for its 5G deployments.

For operations in Kuwait, Oman, Indonesia, Tunisia and Maldives, Ooredoo will make use of Huawei’s 5G Single RAN radio solution with advanced Massive MIMO technology, as well as its 5G Cloud Core technologies. Having already launched 5G in Kuwait, Ooredoo plans to bring the next generation of connectivity services to the rest of its footprint through 2020.

“With Huawei’s leading 5G network solution, we will be able to improve our network’s operation efficiency and provide limitless opportunities to our customers,” said Waleed Al Sayed, Deputy Group Chief Executive Officer and CEO of Ooredoo Qatar

“Users will enjoy a more streamlined and personalised experience and businesses will be empowered to develop the smart, connected cities of the future.”

While 5G is still in the very early days for Ooredoo, the telco said it applied the technology at the Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, during the FIFA World Club Cup final in December. As part of the demonstration, Ooredoo delivered a with a Virtual Stadium at shopping mall in Qatar during the build-up and also showcased a connected ambulance.

Ooredoo has christened itself as the champion of 5G across the region, and while some might disagree, it has pointed to the quarterly financials as a justification. Aside from improved 4G take-up in various regional businesses, the management team pointed towards the launch of 5G in both Qatar and Kuwait as one reason for improved financials across the period. Full year revenues for 2019 were reported at c.£6.3 billion, while revenues for the final quarter surged 8% year-on-year to c.£1.6 billion.

Saudi Arabia drives fibre penetration with open access network

Saudi Arabian regulator, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has managed to get all telcos on the same page to join an open access network initiative.

While the theory of an open access network is one which can be appreciated by many, the realities of making such initiatives work are another matter. Not only does the appropriate frameworks have to be put in place, all the telcos have to agree. This is a significant hurdle, but it seems the CITC has negotiated it quite effectively.

“The adoption of an open access model will increase the use of our fibre-optic infrastructure through the development of commercial agreements that make it easier for subscribers to move from one provider to another,” said Mohammed Al Tamimi, Governor of the CITC.

The objectives of the agreement are to promote competition in the market, support investment by the telcos to improve fibre connections and also improve the quality of the service. Through this initiative, the CITC hopes to add more than 3 million households to the fibre networks, allowing subscribers to choose their broadband supplier independently from the infrastructure owner.

As it stands, Saudi Arabia can boast of FTTH penetration of 41.8%. There are of course several nations who can told this, but this is considerably more advanced than the vast majority. Across the Middle East region, the numbers do look very attractive, especially compared to Europe where the average for the 28 member states of the EU is 13.1% penetration.

While the Middle East region is not one which is often discussed in the global telecoms space, progress is looking very steady in Saudi Arabia. Alongside the ambitious plans to drive 3 million FTTH connections, the telco regulator also claims there are now 5,797 5G base across 30 cities, with three service providers offering 5G contracts.

Etisalat goes big on OpenRAN with Parallel Wireless

Operator group Etisalat is trialing OpenRAN tech across its markets in Middle East, Asia and Africa in partnership with ORAN specialist Parallel Wireless.

One of the reasons for this sudden keenness on ORAN, which seeks to unbundle the components and software inside the radio access network with a view to making it cheaper and more flexible, is apparently the concept of ‘All G’. That refers the convergence of all generations of cellular technology onto a single software platform, which would both save cash and simplify network management.

“Today’s announcement is a global achievement setting a technological benchmark across our markets,” said Hatem Bamatraf, CTO of Etisalat International. “This is in line with our long-term strategy and vision of ‘Driving the Digital Future to empower societies’ that has translated to provide the best-in-class customer experience and deliver best value to our shareholders.

The global trials of OpenRAN with Parallel Wireless reiterate Etisalat’s commitment to our vision encouraging us to take the lead in OpenRAN by conducting field trials with various leading technology partners to create an innovative ecosystem in all of our markets. This is also the world’s first ‘All G’ OpenRAN set to provide efficiency and cost benefits for 4G and 5G in addition to setting a roadmap for the next generation of telecom networks.”

This looks like a significant win for Parallel, which is all-in on ORAN. Most of the telecoms industry (bar, maybe, the big RAN vendors) is keen on the concept of commoditising the RAN such that you can pick and choose your components and software. But we still seem to be some way from ORAN being able to support commercial mobile networks, so the key for companies like Parallel is to maintain momentum and interest while the technology evolves.

“As one of the leading communication providers in the emerging markets, Etisalat understands the true potential of greater leverage to their business, in both high end and low-end markets with a greater buying power by shaping the telecom ecosystem and embracing new network architectures, such as OpenRAN,” said Amrit Heer, Sales Director, MENA at Parallel Wireless.

“We are proud to have partnered with Etisalat for these engagements to deliver coverage and capacity without making extensive capital investments associated with legacy network deployments. We are proud to have been selected to support Etisalat in reimagining wireless infrastructure to be much lower cost ensuring access to innovative digital services in the region.”

ORAN is one to keep an eye on in the coming months and years. It represents a significant threat to the business models of the big RAN vendors, who sell ‘closed’ RAN solutions that require you to go all-in with them. At the very least the prospect of ORAN is a useful stick for operators to beat their vendor partners down on price with and we had expected it to be a major talking point at MWC 2020.

What will define the future of 5G in MENA?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Francesca Greane, Marketing, Content and Community Lead for 5G MENA 2020, discusses the evolving 5G ecosystem in the MENA region.

According to a recent report by Ovum, some of the key trends that can be expected in the MENA region in 2020 and beyond are largely driven by the diversity in the region. Indeed, whilst several Gulf states are among the first in the world to launch commercial 5G services, elsewhere in the region there are still a significant number of people with little or even no access to basic communications services.

In a region with such disparity, the question around the future of 5G in MENA is one that doesn’t have a simple answer. Indeed, whilst increased investment in 5G wireless network will be a “priority” for global telecoms operators in 2020, the true direction of the region remains, as of yet, undefined.

We’ve already seen Etisalat, the UAE’s biggest telecoms operator, become the first service provider in the region to offer a 5G network, supporting smartphones for commercial use, in May. This move was soon followed by the country’s second telecoms operator Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, or du as it is commonly known, and Bahrain’s Batelco.

Commenting on progress in the region Chafic Traboulsi, Head of Networks for Middle East and Africa at Ericsson noted that “In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), commercial 5G deployments with leading service providers have taken place in 2019… and more deployments are expected in 2020 and beyond. As a result, by the end of 2025, we expect 90 million 5G subscriptions in Mena, representing around 10 per cent of total mobile subscriptions.”

However, according to Matthew Kendall, Chief Telecoms analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, “5G roll-out is dependent on the timely release of spectrum and no small amount of hard cash”. Given the existing “low margins and cost pressures” experienced by many operators – some of whom continue to focus on boosting 4G speeds, availability and geographic coverage – take-up of 5G is likely to be slow next year, Mr Kendall explained.

So, what is the future of 5G in MENA?

In collaboration with 5G MENA 2020, Ovum are looking to help service providers answer their business-defining questions by conducting their annual 5G MENA Market 2020 Survey, which delves into critical topics including:

  • The Reality of 5G Deployment
  • The Business Case for 5G Deployment in MENA
  • The Commercial Opportunities for 5G in MENA
  • The Regional and Global Opportunities for 5G
  • The Revenue Opportunities for 5G in MENA

You can have your say on the key trends, opportunities and challenges for 5G in MENA by taking ten minutes to answer the survey now. To say thank you, all respondents will receive a free copy of Ovum’s 5G MENA Markers Report, which will provide insight into the emerging 5G ecosystem in MENA that operators and solution providers need to stay ahead of the curve. You can complete the survey by clicking HERE.

 

Join the destination for 5G game-changers by claiming your FREE pass to 5G MENA 2020 (29-31 March, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai) now.

Orange opens new Africa and Middle-East HQ in Casablanca

Orange has announced it has opened its new headquarters for the Africa and Middle-East region in Casablanca Finance City Tower in Morocco.

The Africa and Middle has been gradually offered more autonomy as a unit since 2015 and opening a headquarters on the continent is as much a symbolic gesture of this trend continuing. With 125 million customers across the region already, Orange is certainly making progress in an often challenging market.

“Orange is one of the rare international groups to have made the strategic choice, 20 years ago, to seek to develop in Africa and the Middle East,” said Group CEO Stephane Richard.

“We have always been convinced of the immense potential of this continent. In many ways, it can be seen as a model for digital transformation; mobile money is a great example of this.

“One of the key success factors behind new services is to develop them in Africa so that they are adapted to specific local requirements and so meet the needs of our customers. That is why we have decided to organise the management of our business in Africa and the Middle East from within the region directly from the African continent.”

While many telcos have desires to cash-in on the under-developed markets around the world, few have made as obvious a success of the ambition as Orange in Africa.

Looking at the most recent financial figures, revenues for the Africa and Middle-East business rose 7.6% for the third quarter of 2019, bringing in €1.447 billion. For the first nine months of 2019, revenues across the unit accounted for €4.185 billion. Orange now has 22.5 million 4G customers across the region, up 49% year-on-year, while a third of 44m Orange Money customers are active.

Looking forward, the prospects are looking very favourable for Orange. The team has launched 4G in 17 markets, while investing €1 billion in the networks across the year will certainly see some new developments. The team is also heavily targeting the agricultural industry with IOT services, hoping to increase revenues between 10-30% on average.

Looking at the Engage 2025 strategy, Africa and the Middle-East has been highlighted as the most significant growth engine for the business. This is potentially a very lucrative region for the telco which has laid the groundwork in recent years to realise its ambition of being the ‘reference digital operator’ in the region.

Etisalat launches Open vRAN network and promises more

Etisalat has said it has successfully launched what it describes as the first Open Virtual Radio Access Network (Open vRAN) in the Middle-East and Africa.

In collaboration with Altiostar, NEC and Cisco, amongst others, Etisalat has launched the network allowing it to incorporate commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware from third parties, in an attempt to reduce time to market and cost for its network deployment.

“Keeping in line with Etisalat’s strategy of ‘Driving the digital future to empower societies’, deploying the Open vRAN is vital in enabling digital transformation aimed at increasing efficiencies and the utilisation of AI,” said Saeed Al Zarouni, SVP, Mobile Network at Etisalat.

“Today’s announcement is aligned with UAE’s objectives of achieving digital transformation with the deployment of best-in-class technologies. Etisalat now plans to roll out Open vRAN across the UAE to take full advantage of all the benefits that this new technology offers.”

Etisalat currently uses Ericsson and Huawei as traditional suppliers, though these contracts could be diluted if the telco makes good on its promise to push Open vRAN throughout its network.

The purpose of Open vRAN is relatively straight forward. The initiative, first launched by Cisco at Mobile World Congress 2018, aims to build an open and modular architecture, General Purpose Processing Platforms (GPPP) and disaggregated software. It is a challenge to the network infrastructure status quo, with Open vRAN being billed as cheaper and more time-efficient thanks to the freedom to purchase equipment from wherever and whoever.

Although there are several high-profile initiatives currently gathering steam, Vodafone, MTN and Sprint are three examples, perhaps the most interesting is in Japan.

Over the course of the summer, Rakuten and NEC announced a partnership to deploy what was described as the world’s first 5G open vRAN architecture. Rakuten is in a very interesting position, as thanks to it being an entirely new MNO in the Japanese market, network deployment plans are not burdened by the heavy weight of legacy.

While few telcos have the same opportunity to develop a greenfield network in the same way as Rakuten, the Open vRAN ripples do appear to be gathering momentum.

US Government says UAE is spying now as well – report

The US Government is now allegedly suggesting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using a popular messaging app to spy on individuals around the world.

According to the New York Times, Government officials have suggested the UAE Government is using a new messaging app known as ToTok to snoop on individuals. Citing classified briefings from current and former intelligence employees, as well as its own analysis, the NYT is suggesting the app can be linked to DarkMatter, a cybersecurity company some has said is a front for UAE intelligence activities.

Although the app is only a couple of months old, it has proven to be very popular around the world partly thanks to it not being subject to the same geographical restrictions as WhatsApp and Skype. It has risen through the ranks and has a huge number of positive reviews, fuelling the increasing popularity of the app.

The app itself is interested in quite a broad range of information, most notably the devices address book, location of the user and content of conversations including images and videos which have been shared. It doesn’t seem to dig deeper into other features of the devices, but this is more than enough information to keep intelligence agencies happy for the moment.

And while it is not uncommon for the US Government to shout and scream about foreign Governments spying on its citizens without proof, this seems to be a slightly different case. Both Google and Apple have now removed the app from their own app stores. There will of course be ways and means to download the app, though these are the simplest routes.

This is an important aspect of the story. Google and Apple are both money-making machines. These are companies which are not drawn into the isolationist and ‘patriotic’ cries of the US Government. The propaganda is usually ignored if there is an opportunity to create profit, though the fact the duo have dropped the app suggests there is some credibility to the claims.

Bahrain surges forward with 5G innovation hub ambitions

The Kingdom of Bahrain has announced itself onto the global 5G stage, claiming to be one of the first countries globally to provide commercial 5G services by June 2019.

Bahrain has not exactly been thumping its chest with rhetoric and bold statements to date, but Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications, Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed now claims preparations for the rollout of 5G networks are finished, with the only missing piece of the puzzle being the availability of consumer handsets and equipment.

“Bahrain’s state of readiness is a testament to the leadership of the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain in enabling the implementation of cutting-edge technology and promoting innovation, and the continuous support of all stakeholders including the TRA and the national Spectrum Strategy & Coordination Committee (SSCC), all of which serves to highlight the Kingdom’s continued role as a regional leader in telecommunications and ICT,” the Minister stated.

The regulatory hurdles have been cleared, while licensing and spectrum allocation set to be finalised by mid-April, operators are already well on the way to rolling out the relevant infrastructure. Whether this actually means nationwide geographical coverage remains to be seen, but the country is gearing itself up to claim the title of one of the 5G leaders.

There might be a few who would scoff at the idea of Bahrain taking the lead in the 5G race, but it should come as little surprise. Bahrain has ranked first in the Arab region in the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) for the last five years, and 4th globally in the UN’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Index (TII). The Bahrain Government might not have been making too much noise over the last couple of years, but it is in a strong position.

In June last year, successful commercial trials for 5G were completed, while the National Broadband Network (NBN) has ensured fibre connectivity is spread throughout the nation. By the end of 2019, the Government plans to reach 95% of households and 100% of businesses. While this does support the development of other usecases, the side benefit of having suitable backhaul infrastructure supports the 5G ambitions also.

Although it is relatively unfeasible Bahrain will be able to use these foundations to dominate the global technology economy, it could prove to be an incredibly useful resource in attracting new businesses. Like San Marino, another nation state which will experience 5G before the vast-majority, Bahrain could position itself as a test bed for numerous different segments, from autonomous vehicles to virtual reality. The right foundations are certainly in place.

As it stands, Bahrain is in an enviable position. The red-tape has been suitably ordered, the networks are almost ready, it just needs the launch of more consumer devices. How many countries can say that?

Ericsson loses another senior exec

Ericsson lifer Rafiah Ibrahim, currently its Head of Market Area Middle East & Africa, is calling it a day after 23 years at the company.

To be precise Ibrahim is going to step down from her current position, which she has held for a couple of years, at the end of August and assume the new role of ‘Advisor to the CEO’. But since all precedent under the current CEO Börje Ekholm is that ‘Advisor’ is just a euphemism for ‘gardening leave’, we’d be surprised if Ibrahim was still with the company in 2020.

“Rafiah has been a very important leader in our sales and delivery organization,” said Ekholm. “In her latest assignment she successfully led the merger of two important markets, Middle East & Africa, increasing customer value and securing scale and efficiency as well as implementing a robust operational structure. In addition, Rafiah has built strong customer relationships across the region not least visible in the recently announced 5G contracts. Rafiah has been a valued member of the Executive Team and I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role.”

The workload of Ericsson’s executive recruitment team is starting to mount up. We still don’t know who is going to replace Helena Norrman to head up the marketing and there seems to have been a steady trickle of senior departures since Ekholm took over. No doubt this is all part of the grand plan, which seems to be going OK, but it does make you wonder about morale at the top table and we must assume Ibrahim was still happy with everything when this corporate vid was published towards the end of last year.

 

BICS and Fastweb combine to link Europe and MEA

Connectivity vendor BICS has joined forces with Italian operator Fastweb to augment communications links between Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The strategic partnership aims to combine BICS’ pan-European network with Fastweb’s fibre backbone in Italy and its access to submarine cable systems originating in Sicily. The point of this joint effort is to offer intercontinental connectivity services wholesale to other operators.

“We are highly satisfied with this partnership agreement with such a major international player as BICS, which highlights the strength of our network and the solid nature of our strategy,” said Fabrizio Casati, Chief Wholesale Officer at Fastweb. “The partnership with BICS adds further value to our investments, following on from our participation in the Open Hub Med consortium in Sicily and the development of an innovative and future-proof Flexible Optical Network all along Italy.”

“BICS has always been committed to providing its customers with first-class connectivity, and this partnership confirms our position as a bridging partner for operators expanding their capacity provision throughout Europe,” said Daniel Kurgan, CEO at BICS.

In case you’re wondering where else BICS connects here are a couple of maps for you. We couldn’t find any for Fastweb, sorry.

BICS Europe

BICS global