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Article by: Charbel Khneisser, Regional Director - Technical Sales, META at Riverbed Technology

2020 was a challenging year for the telecom providers. The speed at which events unfolded found many players on the backfoot, and the broader economic implications of the pandemic will continue to impact all industries – telecoms included. However, COVID-19 also highlighted just how important telecom infrastructure is in keeping governments, businesses, and consumers connected and productive. This paves the way for the sector to now capitalize on this coveted position as a fundamental enabler of modern society.

This is especially true of the telecom sector in the Middle East which is characterized by providers that were consistently striving to set and exceed the highest international benchmarks, long before the pandemic made this a priority. Examples of this can be found in the fact that last year, Etisalat was officially recognized as having the world's fastest mobile network , or that countries such as the UAE and Qatar are global leaders in fibre penetration, with well over 90% coverage in each country .

Unlike their counterparts in other regions, Middle East telecom providers already have a strong starting point with high-performance networks that are built on latest generation technologies. Instead of having to struggle to match new customer expectations, they can therefore turn their focus towards optimizing their investments and thus creating new, sustainable revenue streams. And key to achieving this is having end-to-end visibility across their entire network.

Rapid troubleshooting and proactive remediation

With employees now operating from anywhere, enterprise networks have extended far beyond the confines of their traditional perimeters. Enabling staff to connect from their homes, coffee shops or while on the go has meant an increasing dependence on personal broadband connections, public Wi-Fi and mobile data networks.  Monitoring and analysing network traffic data in real-time can help telcos understand how these new dynamics are playing out. Consequently, an understanding of how customers now utilize networks can help guide investments and enhance network quality in congested areas. By implementing methods such as real-time deep packet inspection, telcos can even intelligently optimize traffic routing to ensure mission-critical apps are prioritized. This proactive approach will not only cut down the effort required to manage customer complaints but will also result in an enhanced end-user experience and higher customer satisfaction.

Enhancing customer experience also requires telecom providers to apply analytics and intelligence to end-user behaviours and experience. This would provide them with insight into fundamental parameters such as what applications their customers are utilizing and the services they actually require.

Counteracting the impact of VoIP

The pandemic greatly accelerated the adoption of voice over internet services and today businesses and consumers alike utilize a growing list of VoIP offering, most of which are entirely free. With voice calling having historically been a steady and substantial revenue stream for Middle East telcos, questions around how to counter the erosion of voice revenues have no doubt crept into telco boardrooms.

Here too, visibility can offer a solution as it can provide the insight telcos need to build more granular charging mechanism that supports billing users by type of data usage such as VoIP apps, social apps, instant messaging apps, or business apps. This approach will help them shift away from being only a simple data channel provider to instead charging based on service usage.

Selling Visibility-as-a-Service

Whether it is employees collaborating by using the latest unified communication tools, or customers contacting service teams via video or web chat, users of corporate applications expect high-quality experiences. With a growing number of enterprises moving these and other critical applications to the cloud and adopting new digital strategies across the rest of the business, it has never been as important to have a clear view and control of what’s happening on the corporate network to ensure great user experiences and manage operational risk.

That is why there is tremendous opportunity for telecom operators to offer visibility ‘as-a-service’ to their customers. This service also makes it less risky for businesses to adopt cloud and hybrid networks for key business applications and helps them implement new technology strategies such as Big Data analytics and IoT with confidence. As a bonus, telecom providers will further stand to benefit from the greater bandwidth needs that such technologies will warrant.

An enabler of 5G

It is evident that regional telcos aspire to be recognized as global leaders in the 5G revolution. In a 5G world, monitoring the performance of applications will prove vital. In fact, as more applications mean more ways for something to go wrong, monitoring the performance of applications and measuring end-user experience will be another factor critical to the success of 5G driven innovation.

As they are now presented with the responsibility for enabling the accelerated digital transformation of governments and businesses in the region, Middle East telecom operators must take a closer look at networks and ensure they have the visibility they need to deliver on expectations and capitalize on the opportunities. 

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