The Business Year

Ahmad Julfar

UAE, ABU DHABI - Telecoms & IT

Space Out

Etisalat Group,

Bio

Ahmad Julfar was appointed to his current position in 2011, taking over 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. Prior to his current position, he served as Chief Operations Officer at Etisalat UAE for five years. He has worked at Etisalat for almost 30 years, serving in a variety of critical positions within the Group. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Thuraya Group, and Deputy Chair of the GSM Association. 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.

TBY talks to Ahmad Julfar, CEO of Etisalat Group, on primacy in the emerging market telecoms sector, improving network quality, and acquiring assets overseas.

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?

We had an excellent year in 2014, 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 in 2014. This endeavor is a sea change for Etisalat, so our goal to become the world’s most-admired telecoms company in emerging markets was further realized this past year. The year was accompanied by stronger than predicted figures along with the continuation of steady growth in our home market in the UAE. We also established strong global partnerships to develop new, cutting-edge technologies such as 5G.

What are some of the ways you are working toward improving your network quality and connectivity?

In the UAE in 2014 we invested $680 million 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 am proud to say that we remain the dominant force in the UAE’s mobile industry. This is due to our consistently innovative product and service offerings, coupled with the competitive prices we offer.

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 service. We want to become the enabler for people and the role that technology plays in it.

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 year 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 towards 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, Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, 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 innovator—we will be heavily focused in these areas in the year to come.

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