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Sun 7 Oct 2007 04:00 AM

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GULFCOMMS key to Middle East market

Exponential growth in the Middle East telecoms sector ensures Dubai's annual GULFCOMMS expo remains a must-attend event for the industry's major players. CommsMEA rounds up the major developments from this year's show.

Despite claims that this year's GULFCOMMS attracted a smaller attendance than previous shows, the exhibitor list read like a who's who of the regional telco industry.

GITEX Technology Week organiser Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) countered these claims, publishing figures which suggested that the show attracted an unprecedented number of major decision makers compared to previous years.

aeCERT will facilitate the detection, prevention and response to the broader set of cyber security incidents on the internet.

Increased market segmentation forced the organiser to review the structure of this year's GITEX Technology Week, dividing the show into three distinct sections: GITEX Business Solutions, Consumer Electronics and GULFCOMMS.

In terms of major industry developments, GULFCOMMS did not fail to impress.

A highlight was the announcement by UAE telco regulator and event sponsor the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), that it had contracted US software developer Symantec to play a key role in developing the country's first computer emergency response team (aeCERT).

The main aim of the aeCERT initiative is to encourage safe and secure eCommerce developments within the telecommunications sector. The initiative is scheduled to be officially launched in April.

"The aeCERT constitutes a cyber security coordination centre in the UAE. This initiative will facilitate the detection, prevention and response to the broader set of cyber security incidents on the internet," said Mohamed Al Ghanim, TRA board member and director general, at the event.

"The aeCERT will also provide a central trusted point of contact for cyber security incident reporting in the UAE and will establish a national centre to disseminate information about threats, vulnerabilities and cyber security incidents."

Symantec's most recent half-yearly internet security threat report (ISTR) ranked the UAE 40th out of 180 surveyed countries, as the country of origin for ‘phishing attacks' generated by online fraudsters.

Symantec also used the announcement to highlight the associated risks of online fraud including: data theft, data leakage and the creation of targeted, malicious code that can be used for financial gain.

Mohammed Gheyath, director of technical affairs at the TRA, said the Authority‘s technical team would benefit from Symantec's input.

"The TRA has always lead the development of such initiatives. This deal will prove critical to maintaining the UAE's status as a regional business hub," he said.

"[We must] safeguard critical information and communication technology infrastructure residing under the government, business, and education sectors."

TRA's Al Ghanim also revealed at the show that the entrance of a third telco in the UAE market was ‘inevitable'.

UAE incumbent operator Etisalat underlined its confidence of maintaining its dominant position by unveiling a suite of new ICT services as well as a raft of new consumer-orientated offerings.
The company celebrated its largest-ever presence at the event by announcing that it will roll out an internet protocol (IP) based network architecture, using Alcatel-Lucent technology, signalling the operator's recent strategic decision to transform to an all-IP network in the coming years.

"The service incorporates high-speed TV, internet and fixed line content via one cable," said Etisalat CEO Mohammed Al Qamzi.

[We must] safeguard critical information and communication technology infrastructure residing under the government, business, and education.

The agreement is an extension of the existing relationship between Etisalat and the industry's second largest IP/MPLS vendor that is designed to accelerate the operator's roll out of triple-play services and bolster its IP VPN portfolio.

"The transformation of operator networks is a trend we continue to see worldwide as our customers strive to maintain an edge in this competitive marketplace," said Olivier Picard, president of Alcatel-Lucent's activities in Europe.

Further announcements pitched at both the enterprise and consumer markets, including the announcement of an international audio-conferencing service and a tie-up with retail giant Virgin Megastore, were topped by the extension of the company's Blackberry service.

Etisalat announced the debut of the Blackberry Curve E8300 in the Middle East in conjunction with Canada's Research In Motion (RIM). Only 12 months after the initial introduction of the service, and two months after the companies revealed that they had attracted 14,000 subscribers to their pushmail service in the UAE alone.

Similarly, rival telco du revealed that it was forging ahead with its strategy of targeting the enterprise segment by highlighting its raft of new business services including a limited 24-hour off-peak business tariff entitled ‘Business Everyday'.

Osman Sultan, CEO of du, explained that gaining traction in the enterprise segment, particularly the corporate segment, was of paramount importance to the company's long-term ambitions.

As a result the company revealed new tariff plans for enterprise customers, wherein du customers would receive off-peak rates 24/7 on all international business mobile calls.

"I'm confident this will be well-received by our business customers," said Sultan.

The company also vaunted its enhanced 2G/3G network services with its mobile telephony coverage now taking in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Khor Fakkan.

Sultan also pointed out that the operator was acquiring new base station permits on a daily basis to complement the existing sites it shares with Etisalat.

With Sultan recently revealing figures claiming that du now boasts 850,000 subscribers, the company also used the event to showcase its new service offerings targeting consumers, including a new high-speed USB data card.

The device is designed to enable pre-paid and post-paid customers to access the internet from speeds of up to 1.8Mbps.

Du unveiled an expanded range of ‘first to market' offerings with the company extending its mobile TV services to 2.5G customers, through a tie-up with Qtelmedia. It also revealed a promotion with broadcaster MBC during for the month of Ramadan.

"The potential of 3G value-added services is vast. Tying up with a TV network as large as MBC will help us strengthen our portfolio of 3G value-added services," said Sultan.

"We are also going to offer various WAP-enabled websites on mobiles [providing users] with access to vital information," he added.
With analysts speculating that du now boasts a 10% market share, and growing at a rate of 4,000 new subscribers per day, the indicators point to a healthy demand for telco services in the UAE.

GULFCOMMS also served as an opportunity for telecoms players to pitch their wares to the regional market.

France Telecom Group (FTG) subsidiary Orange Business Services announced a new deal with real estate developer Solidere to establish Lebanon's first IPTV service.

The MPLS service will be launched in January and will take in more than 20,000 customers, before being rolled out across the country later in the year.

Orange Business Services also announced the completion of Africa's first IP-based Metro Ethernet Backbone network design for Cote D'Ivoire Telecom, targeting both enterprise and residential customers.

The company also announced that Telecom Egypt's ISP arm, TE Data, will link with Orange to upgrade its core network capability to tap increased demand for DSL and IP-based services.

Orange also revealed a tie-up with Moroccan telco Wana to provide a bespoke platform to a new business park in Casablanca set for completion in 2010.

Lionel Reina, VP of Orange Business Services, EE&MEA, outlined the company's ‘Solutions for Operators' service that has helped spur double-digit growth for the company in the last four years.

"Established service providers are facing increasing competition in the regional telco market. New competition includes real estate developers, as broadband development grows rapidly in the MENA region, offering attractive business opportunities," he said.

Meanwhile, AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications company by market cap, revealed a $6 million deal with telecoms equipment provider Ericsson to establish an advanced virtual private network (VPN) across the Middle East region.

The company also hosted its bi-annual Regional Advisory Council (RAC) initiative at the show, in which AT&T's largest and most influential global customers revealed plans for the Middle East region.

"We were able to sell the GULFCOMMS event to our RAC members by demonstrating how the exhibition will enable them to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Middle East market," said Lloyd Salvage, AT&T vice president global segment marketing.

"We are supporting our customers' interests in the region by pairing with Middle East incumbent operators Etisalat, Qtel and STC to deliver bilateral services to our customers using a series of network-to-network node interfaces," he added.

GULFCOMMS also played host to a range of first-time exhibitors, including CallBlue GSM, a wireless operator with its own proprietary network dedicated to international mobile roaming.

Boasting an international customer base of 25,000, the company used the event to promote its CallBlue GSM SIM card. CallBlue co-founder and CEO Jay Shah said the EMEA markets would prove hugely important in the company's quest to attract 200, 000 subscribers by the end of next year.

"We are targeting business travellers in the EMEA region who we believe recognise the benefits of a low-cost global roaming service," he said at the event.

Fellow CallBlue GSM co-founder and CTO Al Rehmtulla said the company made the decision to exhibit at GULFCOMMS having visited the event last year.

With the DWTC claiming that this year's GITEX Technology Week saw the highest number of senior decision makers ever to visit the expo, GULFCOMMS has consolisated its position as the region's top annual telecommunications industry event.

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