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In one of the keynotes focusing on the positioning of the GCC as the next global connectivity hub, Nabil Baccouche, Group Chief Carrier & Wholesale Officer, e&; Obaid Rahman, Head of International Wholesale, du; Ziad Alhasson, Carrier & Wholesale Sales VP, stc; and Sam Evans, Senior Managing Director, FTI Delta (moderator) discussed key topics such as digitalization, evolving customer experience, partnerships, AI adoption, as well as the evolution of messaging, roaming and voice.

Digital: Evolving Customer Experience

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, Alhasson mentioned seeing a lot of demand for digital transformation in mega-projects across the sectors of entertainment, economic cities, and housing infrastructure. He mentioned that “stc has been very active in responding to that demand.” And this digitalization is an important factor in wholesale, along with customer experience and automation.

For Rahman, zero-touch experience is what he noted as the “best customer experience.” With this in mind, APIs are the key. “We need to foster as fast as we can. Once that is in place, that’s going to open up new revenue streams.” The speaker from du also mentioned that streamlining the innovation process will lead to the optimal customer experience.

The speakers also view digitalization as a means to reduce turnaround time for enterprise go-to-market strategies, as well as for the development and delivery of products and services. Within the platform ecosystem, “everything needs to be coherent, cohesive, standardized,” Rahman added.

More importantly, when going to market, a collective effort has been highlighted.

Essential in Wholesale: Partnerships

Amidst the competitive paradigm of customer experience, Alhasson answered that “it’s a culmination of all activities coming together— it’s not a one man show.” By fostering alliances among operators, creating something better for the GCC region can be achieved. Given that partnerships are essential in wholesale, it is an integral part of stc Wholesale’s strategy.

Baccouche affirmed that he is a “strong believer of partnerships.” He emphasized being humble enough to invest in all capabilities in-house, while also forming partnerships with technology providers. From an e& point of view, the Group has multiple partners that are supporting multiple initiatives. In the wholesale business unit specifically, accelerating the “partnership model” is beneficial.

When it comes to transformation and digitization, partnerships can drive a better and more satisfactory customer experience.

AI: Is It a Hype or Realistically Transforming Networks?

In response to inquiries about their perspective on AI's potential to fundamentally transform network consumption, digital infrastructure providers have offered their insights. The UAE has recently launched the Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technology Council (AIATC). Baccouche cited that this is an indication that “the country is at the forefront of AI.” From e&’s perspective, they have even announced the appointment of a group chief AI and data officer, which means “AI is becoming a part of their strategy.” In the wholesale department, multiple use cases have been developed such as fraud prevention and customer vendor management (CVM).

With more use cases anticipated later on, there’s a need to invest further in international connectivity for data centers. This establishes AI as part of a wholesale player’s strategy. “We'll have to invest and I think the returns will be massive in the next couple of years,” said Baccouche.

du agreed and explained that AI is a reality that has been “embedded in the sector and taken to the next level.” As hyperscalers edge closer to GCC markets, from a digital infrastructure standpoint, “all the indicators are their usual in terms of the exponential growth of consumption and data centers of AI.”

Roughly estimating, there will be a surge in utilization, presenting two possible approaches: either addressing potential issues within current markets or proactively adjusting pricing strategies.

Rahman also pointed out that there are many variables to consider in AI models such as capacity requirement. “We don't know how much capacity is going to be required and there is no AI tool that can predict this quantity.” He also highlighted potential challenges and raised concerns about whether a decentralized model will be adopted.

Growth Story of Voice

Historically, voice has been a large part of a wholesale players’ portfolio. stc verbalized that voice will not be a strategic service in the long run, “however, there are some short term plays that operators and carriers can do.” These efforts involve enhancing voice infrastructure to improve efficiencies across all existing systems. stc has implemented these efficiencies, paving the way for the adoption of new commercial models that demand a high level of flexibility in infrastructure systems.

Many operators are also outsourcing their gateways for efficiency reasons, presenting carriers with valuable opportunities. As voice carriers undergo a conservative consolidation, outsourcing becomes the preferred choice, emphasizing the broader role of CPaaS and technological evolution.

The Evolution of Messaging

In terms of messaging, Alhasson said that “RCS is the most important service.” Thus, the demand for RCS interconnection and carriers will be high. Incorporating CPaaS on top of that provides an opportunity to engage with OTTs and other voice operators, resulting in the emergence of a new realm of interaction concerning traffic. Bearing this in mind, “CPaaS is a game changer.”

GSMA is said to be driving a project with unified procedures, which will allow operators and OTTs to connect with each other.

Additionally, Baccouche shared that with 90% of the use cases surrounding CPaaS focusing on enterprises, it is crucial to “clean the ecosystem because what we are seeing right now in the market is that OTTs are trying to find alternative ways to reach their subscribers.” Phenomenons like AIT (Artificially Inflated Traffic) is polluting the entire ecosystem.

Addressing this requires prioritizing the relationships and partnerships with OTTs and hyperscalers, and it must occur swiftly if we intend for this specific business to endure over the next two to three years.

Retaining Relevance of Roaming

In a world where Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, roaming is no longer a killer app—“It’s a success story and a growth story,” declared Rahman. There have been disruptions in the market (such as eSIMs for IoT), yet with domestic enterprises also entering the fray, the potential for recalibration remains, driven by organic demand.

Priorities for 2025

In conclusion, the three GCC-based operators emphasized that the primary focus for the next year will be to build on digital transformation (to enhance the customer experience). This includes ensuring comprehensive coverage across all touchpoints, showcasing successful automation initiatives, and meeting zero-touch requirements.

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