Q&A: Ali Amiri, EVP, Etisalat C&WS

25 February 2016 |

Etisalat saw major growth in 2015, and in particular made headway with its SDN strategy. Capacity talks to Ali Amiri, EVP of Etisalat’s Carrier & Wholesale Services (C&WS).

What were Etisalat C&WS’ key achievements in 2015?

Etisalat C&WS extended global LTE roaming to 130 international partner networks, as part of its 736 global roaming partner networks. This has resulted in Etisalat becoming one of the biggest roaming and LTE service providers in the world. For Etisalat’s customers, it translates into seamless connectivity the world over.

Recognising the needs of the majority of Etisalat’s retail customers, Etisalat C&WS was instrumental in introducing a one-of-a-kind Gulf Cooperation Council unlimited roaming package. Owing to the success of this initiative, Etisalat C&WS is in the process of extending this service to other markets.

SmartHub has evolved into a major wholesale industry brand by becoming the leading capacity and content hub in the region, with an-ISO certitified data centre serving more than 36 high profile-carriers and content providers.Ali Amiri Etisalat

SmartHub hosts Google and Yahoo!, and is at advanced negotiations with a number of other content providers. At C&WS, we have continuously enhanced our business and delivered the highest quality of services to our customers.

In the coming years, we will continue in this direction, thereby achieving maximum returns for its stakeholders. 

Following the partnership with Intel, can you elaborate on the company’s SDN/NFV strategy? What key milestones have you set for 2016?

Etisalat UAE signed a memorandum of understanding with Intel in 2015 to join hands in transforming networks, tools, processes, and building skills and competencies in the new era of SDN and NFV. 

Being the first in the region to join Intel’s network builders programme, our engineers and architects have been collaborating on building and concept proofing products and services in our labs for our customers’ future. This also enabled us to get valuable insights on what should, and what can, be done for our spectrum of customers, from carriers and large enterprises to individual consumers.

Truth be told, emerging technologies like NFV and SDN have been galvanising concepts in the industry, and spurring a lot of ideas, discussions and projects throughout our corporation.

To pursue these goals with our vendors and partners, we are emphasising certain principles, including openness in the form of open APIs and open source, as well as the maximum abstraction and virtualisation of hardware and software. We are also considering customer experience and security to be high priorities.

With that in mind, Etisalat UAE has tested and concept-proofed a myriad of NFV/SDN solutions in the past two years, even before the Intel collaboration, including vEPC, vCPE, vIMS and Gi-LAN service chaining with v- firewalls and v-caches. In 2016, with Etisalat UAE’s NFV/SDN programme, our engineers are working on making vEPC a more practical solution to virtualise our LTE core.

Our engineers and marketers are also collaborating this year to ‘cloudify’ and automate many customer-premises functions via vCPE solutions.

In general, the concept of decoupling the hardware from the software, and allowing the software to flourish and innovate has been quite appealing to us.

How do you believe SDN/NFV can transform telecoms?

The technologies represented by these two acronyms are potentially disruptive by design. We have been viewing them as opportunities for changing ourselves and the industry to the better. We also believe NFV and SDN to be means to an end, as we always have our customers in mind. The industry is still in the very beginning of this transformative journey.

During this journey, we envision that NFV and SDN will improve supply chains and the speed of business, as well as evolve telecom services and the technologies behind them to be more and more cloud-like and nurturing to both evolving technologies like the internet and emerging ones like IoT and VR/AR.

Etisalat’s leadership lies in its principled foundation of being pioneers of technology since its inception, evolving as fast as technologies are emerging, as evidenced by our early work in NFV and SDN. Our culture both values and practises agility, collaboration, empowerment and customer-centricity.

We believe this formula is the formula of leadership in this new era, and that Etisalat will continue to evolve to always be a pioneer in telecommunications. The demand for capacity is growing exponentially across the Middle East.

How do you plan to handle growth?

We carefully forecast our capacity needs and constantly seek out opportunity for connecting UAE to the rest of the world.

Our recent investment in AAE-1 and BBG subsea cables are part of this strategy. We also continue bringing the content to the UAE; the hosting of major CDN players in our SmartHub is aligned with this objective. We also participate in regular upgrades of various consortium cables that we own in order to meet the growth in capacity demand and to avoid any potential black out from cable outages.

Our second cable to Iran is expected to be commissioned by mid 2017, and we are in discussion with a few other regional service providers about building new connectivity. This plan will also ensure that we can support other carriers in meeting their increasing capacity demand as quickly as possible.