On October 20th and the 21st, thought leaders and industry experts convened in Dubai, UAE, for the Mobile 360 – Middle East 2015 event. This was the third Mobile 360 Series event in the region and the theme built on that of previous years; “Building Connected Societies”. The conference programme addressed how mobile networks and the underlying platforms will enable a range of connected services, and high profile speakers presented on and discussed topics including delivering smarter networks across MENA, the Internet of Things opportunity, digital identity and privacy, and digital commerce. While many of the conference speakers were from the telco industry, some important learnings were also shared from outside the telco industry, with speakers from the logistics, financial services and utilities industries.
The Opening Keynote saw the Group CEOs of Etisalat, Zain and STC discussing how they envisioned navigating towards a connected society. The IoT opportunity is clearly high up in their list of priorities, but it’s more than simply adding on an extra service. For Etisalat, social and business benefits go hand in hand and collaboration with civil society is a must while Zain is developing some very diverse partnerships with companies of all sizes. STC sees the industry needing to work more like systems integrators than traditional telco. We had an excellent example of what can be done when the COO of Aramex talked about the way their international logistics business is changing under the influence of pervasive broadband, and their aim to ‘Uberise’ deliveries across the Middle East and beyond.
In “Delivering Smarter Networks Across MENA”, five great speakers took part in a panel. Etisalat talked about their plans to build the network around the customer experience, demanding new approaches and KPIs to do so; while policy issues around cross-border regulation, especially for cloud services and sensor networks, remained a critical issue. Commercial as much as technical issues were on display; we gained some new insights into the viability of rural broadband, while the changing business relationships and cost models between vendor and MNO were a key point as networks continue to evolve.
In the keynote session, “Implementing Smarter Services”, speakers debated what the barriers are to deploying new innovative “smarter” services – those services that typically fall under the umbrella of the Internet of Things. The topic was addressed from technology, business and regulatory perspectives, and speakers included Ericsson, the Industrial Internet Consortium, Intelligent Energy, Pacific Controls and Qualcomm. The barriers to deploying IoT appear to be numerous, but IoT shows no signs of losing industry interest or momentum anytime soon. Security issues, in particular, have emerged as a big barrier to deploying IoT and is a key area that the industry is pulling together to address.
In the keynote session “Embracing the IoT Opportunity”, key players discussed what are for them the main opportunities… and, refreshingly, also the hurdles that they face to make the most of them. For Turk Telekom Group, changing internal mindsets and business processes is seen to be at least as significant as anything else; while Ooredoo sees educating the market about the value of MNOs in the chain as critical if they are to monetise a role as an enabling platform. There is no doubt that the wealth of information, the connectivity and experience in complex service management and billing that operators possess makes them a natural player in the market; the challenge will be in becoming flexible enough in business terms to capitalise on all this or else face companies devising workarounds.
“Digital Identity and Privacy in Connected Societies” was a key topic in the conference programme with speakers from Etisalat, MasterCard, Morpho and Natural Security Alliance. Topics discussed included the role of digital identities, different identity form factors such as smart cards, security tokens and mobile phones, who should provide digital identities, the role of governments, use cases in enterprises, payments and government-led identity programmes, and importantly, security and privacy. Despite the complexity in deploying digital identities there are considerable benefits in doing so and therefore, digital identities will become critical in building connected societies as more services become online. Fundamentally, the panellists agreed that the customer experience would need to be the priority in emerging identity solutions.
“Creating Customer Value in Digital Commerce” was the final session in the conference and speakers from Arab Advisors, du, PayPal and Visa discussed and debated at length the different ways to create customer value in digital commerce. From the customers’ perspective, it was viewed as hugely important to create a consistent experience and remove friction from the customer experience, be it in terms of online shopping or P2P payments (such as lending and remittances). Consumer education, particularly by merchants, was cited by one panellist as key as the form of payment changes. The future of carrier billing was also discussed and it appears to be gaining momentum as more advanced use cases emerge, but it is not without some regulatory challenges. Despite the strong competition in digital commerce, it was felt that banks, telcos and merchants would need to come together to make digital commerce happen, so ecosystem collaboration will be important to drive its success. It was viewed by some of the panellists that if cash can be replaced (digitally), the pie will be big enough for everyone.
Delegates had an opportunity to meet with several industry experts to do deep dive discussions on relevant conference topics during the Networking Opportunity Centre (NOC) breaks – no doubt many interesting discussions were had!