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Mon 12 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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From phone to homes

Everyone in the UAE has heard of Etisalat, though few know of its real estate division. Ahmed Al Jarwan, general manager of e-Real Estate explains how the company has grown since its inception two years ago.

Everyone in the UAE has heard of Etisalat, though few know of its real estate division. Ahmed Al Jarwan, general manager of e-Real Estate explains how the company has grown since its inception two years ago.

Etisalat has long been established in the UAE, and has perhaps become one of the most recognizable brands in the country by bringing telecommunication services, Internet access and cable television to the masses.

However, many people are not yet familiar with Etisalat's e-Real Estate division, which currently manages all the company's properties, enabling Etisalat to run all other operations as smoothly as possible.

This will allow Etisalat to accommodate growth of staff in the company without significant cost increases. In fact, we expect that through this optimization process, occupancy will be enhanced by almost 30%.

"Etisalat took the lead in developing intelligent buildings from day one, and we were proud to be the first developer of intelligent buildings in the UAE," says Dr Ahmed Al Jarwan, general manager of e-Real Estate. When Etisalat built its first head offices across the emirates, it placed emphasis on the importance of including new intelligent building technologies such as access control, CCTV, building management systems (BMS) and thermal insulation.

"It was during the design of the high-rise building projects, which is the Abu Dhabi head office building and the Dubai head office building. It was in 1986 and the building was completed in 1991. That technology wasn't used or widely spread at the time, and it was a first in the UAE and the region," he explains. Regional headquarters using the same principle soon followed in Sharjah, Al Ain, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.

Established almost two years ago to design, develop and manage intelligent offices, technical facilities and operation centres, e-Real Estate is primarily an in-house business, and has become responsible for Etisalat's leasing agreements for outside premises, as well as leases to telecom related third-parties. One of the division's main activities involves ensuring the space within each building is used as productively as possible.

"Space optimization is another activity that we handle, which aims to maximize existing space within Etisalat properties. [For example] At this stage we are using large workstations, and in future we intend to replace them with more efficient and flexible workstations in order to maximize space and at the same time maintain productive and comfortable work stations," explains Al Jarwan. By merely reducing the size of workstations, the company will be able to accommodate a much larger work group on each floor, which would seem a stroke of genius in an ever-growing company.

"This will allow Etisalat to accommodate growth of staff in the company without significant cost increases. In fact, we expect that through this optimization process, occupancy will be enhanced by almost 30%," he concludes.

New properties

Nevertheless, Al Jarwan notes space optimization alone will not be enough to cope with the scale of new staff and premises needed in response to growing demand from consumers.

"In the future, considering the ever increasing demand for Etisalat services and the associated staff required to serve our customers, we will inevitably develop new properties for Etisalat's use, as part of  the expansion of our real estate portfolio," says Al Jarwan.Although, he points out, such moves will not be made until the market regains greater stability.

"This, of course, will entirely depend on how the company reacts to a changing market. Although the UAE has strong long-term fundamentals to regain momentum in the near term, new development will be on hold for a short time in light of the global market situation which hasn't settled yet," he explains.

Intelligent buildings

In rolling out such an offering, it brings immediate power and energy savings for the building owner, apartment owner and, of course, the national electricity grid.

According to Al Jarwan, Etisalat also owns a 50% share of Ubiquitous Telecommunications Technologies (UTT) which is to install intelligent building and Smart home technologies in all projects on the Al Reem Island development. Intelligent building and Smart home technologies share the same basic principle, though there are different criteria for each.

For example, the term ‘Smart home' generally includes all electronics within a residence, such as TV, audio and lighting systems, while the term ‘intelligent building' will usually refer to the operation of a tower as a whole.

"The technology systems being installed in all tower buildings on the island will enable intelligent homes and offices for nearly everything that runs on low voltage; lights, audio and visual systems, automatic window shutters or blinds," he says.

Sitting in close proximity to the northern shores of Abu Dhabi, the Al Reem Island development will be one of the first mixed-use projects of its kind in the region to be built on a natural island.

Upon completion, the master development will be home to residential communities, commercial districts and offices, retail outlets and a variety of leisure facilities offering a diverse range of recreational pursuits.

To be developed by Tamouh Investments, Sorouh and Al Reem Investments, the island community is one of many projects in the UAE billed to become "a city within a city."

Of course, a city requires a lot of energy to function smoothly, with electricity needed around-the-clock to power homes, offices and to support the project's infrastructure.Fear not, as Al Jarwan explains, the UTT has means of accommodating such demand. In fact, he describes energy efficiency  one of the main features in intelligent buildings.

"In rolling out such an offering, it brings immediate power and energy savings for the building owner, apartment owner and, of course, the national electricity grid." While the building becomes more economical for the owner in the long run, there are further benefits to individual apartment owners.

"Owners determine the extent of the services they want to activate and the systems are adaptable to individual customer needs," he says.

Owners determine the extent of the services they want to activate and the systems are adaptable to individual customer needs.

Advances in technology

For many people with little time on their hands, the Internet is a sufficient tool for things like shopping, but Al Jarwan believes that in the future of home automation, there will be alternatives to using the PC.

"Smart home technology doesn't end at the home, and in the future, it can be extended into other commercial activities, right down to the level of booking a taxi and shopping at the supermarket, and can be integrated with other service providers like banks, airlines, hotels and security systems."

Contrary to popular belief, Al Jarwan explains it is entirely possible to install Smart home systems in an already existing property, though it will be rather more expensive.

"It requires modification, and the costs are usually higher than if it were part of a new building, which is designed to accommodate this type of system. Modifications mean that for the power, you need specialized wiring and some equipment can interfere with the system and the existing appliances."

Even so, the system can still be fitted to control appliances such as fridges, air conditioning and heating, and can monitor the house. The owner doesn't even need to be at home in order to change settings, as Al Jarwan claims this can be done by remote control.

"To control many things, even when you are at work and you want to do something in your house, you can do it through your mobile phone or Internet," he says.

Despite the relative energy efficiency of the UTT's intelligent building systems for towers on Al Reem Island, none of Etisalat's UAE offices were designed with the concept of ‘green' buildings in mind, though Al Jarwan emphasizes these were constructed before the notion was conceived.

"It is worth mentioning that the Etisalat intelligent buildings may not be to the exact criteria expected by the green buildings concept we are talking about now, since the same was envisaged when we designed these buildings," he says.Nonetheless, Al Jarwan ascertains all future buildings will follow such guidelines.

"In the future, we will follow the modern understanding of green buildings in order to align our developments with the mandate guideline recently issued by the government and local municipality to comply with environmental legislation and global warming issues," he says. Solar power

Though the company may not have used green systems in any of its offices, Etisalat has been using solar power for the past 20 years, in remote sites where there has been no access to a main power grid.

"We have used passive cooled shelters to house our mobile equipment in remote areas and on various islands off the coast as well. That was an initiative taken by Etisalat to leverage technologies in order to gain power and energy savings," says Al Jarwan.

Cityscape participation

In May, Etisalat sponsored the Cityscape Architectural Review Awards (CARA) in Abu Dhabi, and represented by its e-Real Estate, e-Facilities Management, Special Projects, UTT and e-Vision divisions.

"Cityscape this year was an excellent opportunity for us to demonstrate our latest intelligent building technologies," says Al Jarwan.

"Delegates had the chance to experience these technologies in a simulated Smart home environment, that supports and controls everything from entertainment options such as music, television or movies, to supporting environmentally responsible applications such as lighting control, window insulation and fire prevention, through a controlled central command centre and through their mobile phones," he says. Al Jarwan explains members of each division met with major developers such as Emaar, Limitless, Sorouh and Al Qudra, among many others, to introduce Etisalat's systems.

"Of course, in Abu Dhabi, many are aware of the UTT system, but still we also keep contracting them and demonstrate the facility, the Smart home technology, and the cable TV."

With so much knowledge already in the bank, the idea of a future with Etisalat standing as the region's leader in property management and intelligent building systems seems entirely plausible.

Etisalat background

• Etisalat was established as a telecommunications service provider in the UAE in 1976.

• In 1982, the company was the first in the region to introduce a mobile phone service, and was one of the first to adopt GSM technology, which was introduced to customers in 1994.

• Etisalat stands 219th on the Financial Times Global 500 list for 2008, which ranks the world's largest companies on the stock market.

• Outside the UAE, the company has subsidiary operations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Sudan, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Togo, the Central African Republic, Niger, the Ivory Coast and Tanzania.

• In October of this year, Etisalat announced its subscriber base across 17 markets had exceeded 74 million, out of a total population of 1.6 billion.

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