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HE Ahmad Julfar

UAE, ABU DHABI - Telecoms & IT

One Step Ahead

CEO, Etisalat Group


HE Ahmad Julfar is the CEO of Etisalat Group. He was appointed to his current position in 2011, assuming responsibility for Etisalat Group’s overall strategy and overseeing the operations in all 19 of Etisalat Group’s markets across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. He actively promotes the Group on international platforms, enhancing Etisalat’s reputation for leadership in innovation and quality. In his current capacity, he ensures the delivery of the Group’s commercial, technological, financial, business development, and overall organizational goals as Etisalat works to become the world’s leading and most admired emerging markets telecoms group. He holds a BS in Civil Engineering and Computer Science from Gonzaga University, and is a graduate of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Programme for Leadership Development.

"Last year was excellent year for us, and one that illustrated the power and success of our core values of growth and innovation."

Etisalat is striving to become the leading emerging market telecoms group in the world. What is your strategy to channel your resources in the right direction?

Last year was excellent year for us, and one that illustrated the power and success of our core values of growth and innovation. Our expansion into French-speaking Africa, which increased our presence to 19 markets across the MENA region, was perhaps out biggest achievement of 2014. It was accompanied by stronger-than-predicted figures along with the continuation of steady growth for our home market in the UAE. We also established some excellent global partnerships in order to develop new, cutting-edge technologies such as 5G.

How are you are working toward improving your network quality and connectivity?

In the UAE last year, we invested AED2.5 billion in bringing 4G to its fullest potential. We also further expanded our fiber-to-the-home network, with efforts to reach 90% of UAE households in 2015. I’m proud to say that we remain the dominant force in the UAE’s mobile industry. This is due, I think, to our consistently innovative product and service offerings, coupled with competitive prices.

“Last year was excellent year for us, and one that illustrated the power and success of our core values of growth and innovation.”

How would you describe the regulatory environment here in the UAE, and how has it enabled the Emirates to become one of the most technologically advanced nations in the MENA region?

Because we have been operating in so many different countries, we have seen a spread of regulatory frameworks. We are lucky in the UAE to have one of the best regulatory frameworks in the region. The benefit of our regulatory system here is the balanced view of all stakeholders. Investors, operators, and people in the community are all key. If this view was adopted in other countries, I believe we would see ICT improve tremendously in those countries. We always call for regulators to have a balanced framework so that all stakeholders get the benefits. The focus should not be on taxation and fees, but rather on the benefits that can be provided. You have to see where your telecoms industry position is, and you must have the right position for those regulations. Many countries in the region lag far behind and need to take steps to catch up.

What opportunities do you see for investment in the mobile segment here in the UAE?

The number one thing is to improve the connectivity or the quality and the speed. That is why we are investing heavily in 4G and eventually 5G. We also want to be a partner in the innovation framework. Today, mobile phones are the center of most people’s lives through communication and contacts. You never leave home without it, and it is no longer an accessory. We have to make it simple for people to use services on their device, whether they are government or financial, for example. We also have to provide enough security so that people feel safe when they use mobile services. We want to become the enabler for people.

How do you see the UAE’s ICT sector developing over the next five years?

We have actively worked toward establishing the digital infrastructure required for the ever-increasing data demands of the future. The expansion of data is essential to the future rollout of 5G. We are working against our own deadline of Expo 2020 in Dubai, so in addition to creating the infrastructure for the platform and developing the technology itself, we’re adapting the way we operate and how we approach telecommunications in general. As data becomes more central to the equation and voice calls are further marginalized, we will need to have the agility, dynamism, and cross-sector relationships to respond and adapt effectively. We can establish new, creative revenue streams through creative value addition, but only if we work together.

How are you looking to improve your position in your other countries of involvement around the world and where will your focus be in the near future?

Last year was a critical one for Etisalat as an international operator. The milestone of acquiring Maroc Telecom—one of the largest in the region’s history—has added strong value to Etisalat’s global footprint. The world is more connected than ever before. And as we’ve been talking about, with the expansion of data and the digitization of services, access to quality telecommunications is increasingly becoming a necessity, not merely a luxury. Our expansion in Africa delivers affordable, accessible mobile technology to thousands of people in these markets. This is literally changing people’s lives. Our portfolio of services is geared toward fostering improvements in education, healthcare, finance, and many other essential areas.

What are Etisalat’s aspirations and expectations for the year ahead?

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and Commander of the Union Defense Force, has made the establishment of smart cities across the UAE a priority. As a result, Etisalat has received consistent support from the UAE government as we work to develop the infrastructure and digital architecture that smart cities will be built on. Given this aspiration, and our own goals—both for Expo 2020 and in a general sense as innovators—we will be heavily focused on these areas in the year to come.

© The Business Year – April 2015



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