Interview: Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar

To what extent will government initiatives help improve information and communications technologies (ICT) penetration in Abu Dhabi?

AHMAD ABDULKARIM JULFAR: The ICT sector in the UAE has much potential due to the strong development of the telecoms sector and the technologically savvy local population. At the same time, this makes it more challenging for operators to keep up with the strong demand. In addition, government spending helps to spur ICT penetration in the local economy. For example, Abu Dhabi is focusing heavily on the education sector.

A major ICT-related development has taken place in education as all schools in the emirate will be connected to high-speed internet and will utilise smart education technologies. This programme has been rolled out in 300 schools already and is now being implemented in all schools within the emirate. This will help familiarise children with technology from an early age and allow them to use technology to improve their productivity and employability later in life. The Abu Dhabi Education Council also has online portals that help improve communication between the council and students and encourage transparency.

Additionally, e-government services via the Abu Dhabi Systems & Information Centre are also helping drive the industry forward. E-government has strong potential locally as people like the convenience of completing government transactions online. Furthermore, we encourage the population to swiftly adopt new technologies. This is a relatively young country so the people have experience adapting.

With the convergence of data and voice communication technology, what impacts on the sector do you expect to see in the future?

JULFAR: Mobile data services aside from SMS were largely unavailable five years ago. Today they account for about 20% of our business in the UAE, and in the future all telecommunications companies will be more data-centric. This is not because people will talk less than they do today, but because data is increasing rapidly, with the majority of this expansion coming from video. Voice is going to be a commodity service, and innovation and competition will focus on data services. Exponential growth is also predicted, and a challenge mobile operators are expected to face is the need to increase their capacity to meet this demand. Some examples of data applications include mobile video, internet, machine-to-machine communication, mobile payment, health and education.

What role can fixed-line communication play in an increasingly mobile world?

JULFAR: Fixed-line will always play a very critical role. Previously it was thought that increased mobile penetration would cause a decline in fixed-line demand; however, it’s now known that mobile services have complemented fixed-line communications rather than reduced a demand for them. All mobile communication requires fixed connectivity back to a base station. It should be noted that the modern fixed network is not centred on the legacy copper line, but rather the fixed fibre network. The more fibre penetration you have available, the better quality and faster the service will be. Fixed-line will always play a key role as the main base-line and foundation for a telecommunications network. For example, Vodafone acquired Cable & Wireless Worldwide, which shows that mobile operators must have a strong fixed infrastructure to keep up with increased data traffic.

One of the main key performance indicators of a nation’s development is preparedness for ICT. According to a 2011 study by the Fibre To The Home (FFTH) Council Europe, the UAE ranked second worldwide in terms of FTTH penetration. Additionally, Abu Dhabi is the first world capital where all homes are connected to fibre cables. We feel that a fibre connection in every home and business will greatly benefit the country, enabling better delivery of digital products and services and spurring innovation in the ICT sector.