Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Unrestricted flow of data key to regional telcos’ success

Delegates emphasise importance of educating policymakers about free movement of data

Kamal Shehadi, chief legal and regulatory officer, Etisalat Group, speaks at Telecoms World Middle East in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Kamal Shehadi, chief legal and regulatory officer, Etisalat Group, speaks at Telecoms World Middle East in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

The free flow of data across the Arabian Gulf will help telecoms operators better serve their customers and enable a problem-free roll-out of the next-gen 5G network.

“If you want to have 5G, you need to relax the barriers hindering free flow of information between one telecom operator’s operations in one country and another,” said Kamal Shehadi, chief legal and regulatory officer, Etisalat Group, while speaking at Telecom World Middle East conference in Dubai on Monday.

“The minute you do that ... telcos will be in a better position to offer much better service at more competitive rates to its customers.”

In May this year, Etisalat announced it would launch the first commercial 5G ultra-high speed internet services network.

The Middle East and Africa region is projected to post the world's-fastest mobile data traffic growth rate from 2013-2018, according to IT giant Cisco, which says the average business in the Middle East will need to manage 50 times more information by 2020.

The Middle East’s big data and analytics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10 per cent over the five years from 2015 to 2020, said International Data Corporation.

“If we look at OTTs, they don’t have only data," said Mr Shehadi. OTT (over the top) is a term referring to content providers, such as Netflix, which distribute streaming media as a separate product directly to customers over the internet, bypassing telecommunications companies. "They have data and they can move it around the world, with no restrictions. Whereas as telcos, we have restrictions. Every single regulator will tell you to keep your data in your own country,” he said.


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“What we have failed to do as telcos is to convince the regulators that all data is not a threat to national security if it moves. And if there are security concerns, regulators can work out bilateral deals."

With predictions of 50 billion connected devices globally by 2020, a vast amount of data will be generated as the digital revolution reinvents the telecoms industry.

“Data governance is usually done within the countries but it could also be done between the countries," Tarig Enaya, senior vice president of enterprise at Saudi Telecom Company, told The National. "But, in order to start, you need to have a first layer, where within the country you have to agree on which data should go out and which data should be restricted.

“Thereafter there should be agreements with other service providers in the country. STC is producing huge data every hour and it is already helping us to learn consumers’ behaviour and offer them tailor-made services,” he said.

Delegates were of the view that service provider companies such as Microsoft should partner regional telcos in educating policymakers about the practicality of transferring data from one country to another.

Now in its 14th year, the two-day Telecoms World Middle East, which ends on Tuesday, sees the participation of various C-level executives from across the telecoms ecosystem. It provides a platform for debate, discussion and the development of ideas within the industry.

This year’s agenda delves deeper into mobile TV, content, broadcasting and underwater cabling networks.

Attendees also pushed for more collaborations among telecom operators to ensure world-class services.

“Partnerships are they key and they hold a lot of significance in our region. Here the idea is to complement each other and offer best services to the end users,” said Ihab Hinnaw, chief strategy and business development officer at Bahrain’s Batelco Group.

Updated: September 20, 2018 10:43 AM