Apr. 5, 2018

Osman Sultan

UAE, Dubai

Osman Sultan

CEO, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC)

“We crossed the AED13-billion (USD3.5-billion) mark in revenue for the first time in 2017.”


Osman Sultan is the founding CEO of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), having joined the company in January 2006. Today, in more than a decade of operations, du has built a subscriber base of more than 9 million customers. Sultan has enjoyed a successful career for over 30 years spanning Europe, North America, and the MENA region. Prior to EITC, Sultan was the founding CEO of another successful Middle Eastern operator – Mobinil in Egypt he set up in 1998. During his tenure, he achieved his vision of putting ‘a mobile in the hands of everyone.’ A notable public speaker, Sultan often shares his knowledge and experience at industry lectures on the subjects of the digital society, the Internet, telecommunications and information technology. He has also mentored a generation of key telecom sector players, who have gone on to occupy leadership roles, many of them as CEOs across the world. As one of the most influential figures in the region in the telecommunications field, Sultan’s drive and acute business acumen has earned him several industry accolades, including being selected as one of the most 100 powerful executives in the telecoms industry in the world on GTB Power 100 List in 2010 and 2011.

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. We have to be humble and admit that we do not know exactly how all these will work together because it will be beyond our wildest expectations. However, we can be sure that the impact of this 'disruption' will be immense, and this is why we needed to be better prepared and evolve our company beyond our mainstay - the connectivity business. To give you a perspective, 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 – which, we believe is natural progression for us. We are one of the two major players in the UAE that enable connectivity. Two years ago we mooted 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 on this space. We are starting to provide illustrations of this in government departments. Within that framework, we are not limiting ourselves to providing connectivity. The more we see cities, nations, and governments moving 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?

We are delighted to note that our non-connectivity business grew by more than 85% in 2017 and this is our fastest growth track, even when more than 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. These two pillars are on my radar and are tracked on a regular basis. One should expect an acceleration of disruptive developments. Moving forward, with all these discussions of an ultra-connected, super intelligent and digital world, this will not only impact the industry but also society as a whole. There is ongoing debate in the world; however, conversations around the balance between the technologically possible, the economically viable, the societally beneficial, the humanly rewarding, and the ethically compatible are needed. The recent World Government Summit, held in Dubai , was in fact 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, a Minister of Tolerance, and a Minister of Youth, reminding us we need an integral conversation about all this. Another important disruptive development is the move to a decentralized ecosystem. Blockchain, AI, and IoT are recipes for a perfect storm. Some might ask, will this all really be something good for humans? Will it increase divisions between people or will it help people? These questions may seem somewhat idealistic, though they are important to address. We strongly believe that the new opportunities around the 'brave new world' overcome the potential challenges, and that all these technologies can serve the noble ambition of serving people's happiness.

EITC 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, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed 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 with 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, the IoT, and the 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. Blockchain will also play an important role in this. We are already working with the Smart Dubai Government to have some of the components based on blockchain technology and are discussing with certain government entities to run some smart services based on it. At the moment these are early use cases and the journey will be one step at a time, though it will happen. Overall, Smart City initiatives create innumerable opportunities for generating new business models focused on innovation, cost reduction, sustainability, productivity, efficiency, control, and transparency; and as these opportunities unfold and expand every day, Telcos play a key role in enabling the next-generation technologies that will bring them to fruition.

How do you assess the diversification that Virgin has brought to EITC, one year after launching the brand here?

We believe that some customers are willing to pay the right price for a premium experience. At the same time, we want to have an offer that differentiates itself. There is a certain customer segment that wants everything digitalized and online. When designing a product with a completely digital infrastructure, without the need to go to physical store, one will attract a certain type of people. Every day we see evidence that the assumptions that we made when we launched our second brand in the market were correct. We live in a world where the ideal situation would be marketing through social media and using the right analytics and insights, and we have a great deal of data on our network. We should know about how a specific user likes to use our services, and we should be able to use this to offer more targeted, customized products, and capabilities.