BEYOND ACTIVITY

Dubai 2018 | TELECOMS, IT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Osman Sultan, CEO of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), on disruptive technological developments, connectivity, and making “Smart Dubai" a reality.

 Osman Sultan
BIOGRAPHY
Osman Sultan is the founding CEO of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), having joined the company in 2006. Sultan has enjoyed a successful career for over 30 years spanning Europe, North America, and the MENA region. Prior to du, Sultan was the founding CEO of Mobinil in Egypt. During his tenure, he achieved his vision of putting ‘a mobile in the hands of everyone.’ Sultan often shares his knowledge and experience at industry lectures on the subjects of digital society, internet, telecommunications, and information technology. He has also mentored a generation of key telecom sector players who have gone on to occupy leadership roles.

You have argued that telecoms have to go beyond connectivity services to remain successful. How are you developing du in this sense?

All telecoms companies will be completely different in 2022 from what they are today. The disruption in the telecommunications industry will continue and even accelerate. The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data, and other disruptive technologies will increasingly have an overbearing influence on many of the things that we do. The impact of this disruption will be immense, which is why we needed to better prepare and evolve our company beyond our mainstay—the connectivity business. We crossed the AED13-billion (USD3.5-billion) mark in revenue for the first time in 2017, of which more than 95% comes purely from the connectivity business. We need to ensure the development on that is all about efficiency, customer experience, and digitalization. We are one of the two major players in the UAE that enable connectivity. Two years ago, we debated this idea that we can do more for businesses, for example around data. We can host data for companies, manage data for them, put a security layer around it, or create applications for companies that can be used in this space. We are starting to provide illustrations of this in government departments. Within that framework, we are not limiting ourselves to providing connectivity. As cities, nations, and governments move to become smarter and more digital, we will see greater need for such new partnerships.

What challenges and opportunities will these disruptive developments bring about for du and society as a whole?

Our non-connectivity business grew by more than 85% in 2017, and this is our fastest growth track, even though over 95% of our business comes from the connectivity business. With non-connectivity as the primary growth driver, our main focus on the connectivity side of business is to extract higher efficiency and better margins. One should expect an acceleration of disruptive developments. Conversations around the balance between the technologically possible, economically viable, societally beneficial, humanly rewarding, and ethically compatible are needed. The recent World Government Summit in Dubai was one of the most developed platforms for these conversations at the level of government, industry, and academia, and these conversations need to happen. In the UAE, we have a Minister of Artificial Intelligence, which is great to ensure we make full use of the opportunities of technology. We also have a Minister of Happiness, Minister of Tolerance, and Minister of Youth, reminding us we need an integrated conversation about all this. Another important disruptive development is the move to a decentralized ecosystem. New opportunities and these technologies can serve the noble ambition of serving people's happiness.

du develops the Smart Dubai Platform that serves as a central operating system of the city. What features make the Smart Dubai Platform one of a kind?

Other smart cities in the world are smart in one or just a few dimensions. They need to solve or enhance a current situation and move into a certain theme. In Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has set the target for Dubai to be at the forefront of the transformation of cities and nations and to be the smartest and happiest city in the world. In the Dubai Smart City ambition, six dimensions will be addressed. The ambition is incomparable to any other smart city development in the world as the scope is broader, and having this broader scope means the data connected from these sensors, IoT, and multiple government departments that interact will be richer than ever. This will allow capabilities not only for users, citizens, and visitors, but also for the city when it comes to better planning, anticipation, insights, and analytics.