How do telecommunications contribute to GDP in the UAE?
SULTAN: When you look at the behavior of people around us, specifically, the younger generations, they are all connected. The telecommunications/internet world is becoming an essential part of everything we do. I do not think we need to spend a lot of time to convince people about how this entire universe, the universe of connectivity, the universe of information, the universe of internet, is now becoming a driver for our lives and the development of any economic sector. Can we imagine the development of a banking sector without really top communications capabilities? The education sector, the healthcare sector, information, media, etc, without having proper capabilities? Proper capabilities mean, by consequence, proper infrastructure, proper connectivity. If we even go beyond that and look at the impact in this part of the world on recent events that have happened in 2011, the ability to communicate between people is becoming more important than ever. Usually, you will see telecoms contributing something like 5% to 7% of the GDP of some countries. The important thing is that, more and more, there is correlation between any increase in penetration of services, such as broadband services. It used to be mobile services and the mobility factor that we lived in the past, now the increase in penetration of broadband by 1% has an impact on employment and GDP growth. So there is direct correlation between this sector and this universe and the higher economic growth of a nation.
What new technological developments are we seeing in ICT?
SULTAN: The name of the game is connectivity. The name of the game is broadband connectivity. Clearly, the UAE is the most advanced country in the region in terms of broadband capability, be it on the mobile front or be it at home or in businesses. That is very important. This will drive more and more applications. We like to speak about creating an ecosystem where more and more people will bring applications using new technologies. Cloud computing, which is content information application that is hosted in the cloud that people can access from anywhere at anytime, is inducing extremely extraordinary capabilities for individuals, for communities, for businesses, and for nations. The technology that we will see evolving will be on that front: more speed, more capacity, and even more important, new behavior – ways of using these capabilities that we never imagined. Years ago, who would have imagined the impact that social networking will bring and how it will change the way people are communicating and the things they do things in their day to day lives.
I like people to think about the three screens: the mobile screen, the computer screen, and the TV screen. We all have these screens everyday in our lives. These are continuing to become more integrated, so we are continuing on that front. Things that people used to do on their laptops, such as accessing the internet, are being done more and more on mobiles. Things that people used to do on their TVs, such as watching videos, are being done on their laptops. Now we are seeing more and more things going on the TV. We have TV’s connected to the internet. So this entire equation is at the heart of what we do and we will continue on that front in creating more convenience and a better experience for our customers.
How would you describe the ICT infrastructure in the UAE?
SULTAN: To give an image, you have more and more content. Let’s imagine this as huge water tanks somewhere. To get this content to users, pipes are needed. These pipes are becoming bigger and bigger and the flow in these pipes is becoming exponentially bigger with the internet everywhere. At the end of this, there are taps, and the taps we are seeing are the development of smart phones, the development of the pads that we are seeing everywhere, and how this is really giving a completely different experience, and thus a completely different usage. Just look at the kids today on their pads, gaming devices, etc. and the way they are connected. I always like to speak about kids because to the contrary of our generation, we encountered the internet at some point in our lives, they were born with it. They are native internet users. That will induce a completely different approach without any resistance. They will lead by reflex in that universe. They will invent new things that we cannot even imagine today. The infrastructure is fundamental and at the heart of all of this. When it comes to mobile, in the UAE, there are the fastest mobile networks at 42MBps and higher speeds across the entire country. On the mobile front, the level of penetration is the highest in the world. On the fixed broadband, I see the UAE becoming the first country to become completely fiber connected. There are other instances where the government stepped in being completely convinced that the broadband story is a key driver and a key enabler of economic growth. Here in the UAE, with the current policy that is in place and the insistence on broadband, I see this country being at the forefront of the capabilities from an infrastructure point of view.
What role does Du play in the education sector?
SULTAN: We do have, as Du, several initiatives with academic institutions. We have initiatives with the Higher Colleges of Technology, Zayed University, and other universities. Some of them are illustrated by what we call a media lab. We have these initiatives in the field where we think we can grow, foster, and nurture capabilities and innovation. In addition to this, we have graduate trainee programs. That is a continuity of education programs. But there, we prepare young men and young women from the UAE to get into the professional world through an interaction with us as a company and an interaction through a company working in that field. In addition to this, we have many educational programs for our own people where we believe we want to offer not only a job to our employees, but also offer them a holistic career. We want to offer them a journey; and a journey in the development of the skills that they need, not only technical and functional skills but also leadership skills. It will boil down to these people in a fundamental sector that is life changing and that is the way we like to think about the field of work we are involved in. We are in the life changing business. We need people that have the leadership capabilities and skills.
I do not think that telecom operators should be involved in the creation of content. I think what we need to do is to create the right ecosystem and then you will see many initiatives and entrepreneurs creating content and applications.
Where are the best investment opportunities today for international investors and entrepreneurs?
SULTAN: I like to mention building ecosystems for content. I do not think that telecom operators should be involved in the creation of content. I think what we need to do is to create the right ecosystem and then you will see many initiatives and entrepreneurs creating content and applications. Everyone is talking about apps today. Content and applications relevant to the place in the world will exist. We need to create the right ecosystem and the ecosystem means the right infrastructure, the right governance model, and the right pricing for connectivity. We are heading on that route and the best opportunities always in investing, invest in people and invest in the spirit of entrepreneurship. This will always have the right payoff if the right choices are made.
How are we seeing federal unity in the UAE today?
SULTAN: When we are in the universe of infrastructure, and certainly as a telecommunications operator we are, we can see the tremendous achievement that has happened in the 40 years of the existence of this nation. From several entities and several countries, they decided, with the vision of a leader, that they are moving towards development. When we look at the infrastructure that exists and the achievement that exist in the United Arab Emirates, and specifically when we see the logic of non-unity around other parts of the region, we can understand the level of achievement that took place in this country. This is a milestone in civilization building. There is a lot of learning that can be taken from this model.