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"Enabling 5G requires virtualization, cloudification and orchestration - all things that direct du towards 5G infrastructure," said Saleem Al Balooshi, executive vice president of Infrastructure and Technology at UAE-based telecommunications service provider 'du', speaking to Telecom Review about the operator's plans to develop 5G infrastructure to be implemented in time for Dubai Expo 2020.

The telecoms sector is going through a massive transformation with 5G on the horizon which has resulted in significant changes in customer demand for operators. The three angles of this demand, according to Al Blooshi, are people requirements, machine (IoT) requirements and home requirements. From a telecom operator perspective, du adds value to each of these three pillars by implementing different types of infrastructure.

For people, the requirement in terms of telecoms infrastructure is increased bandwidth because consumers are moving from voice-centric to video-centric. The requirement for the IoT is low latency because sensors implemented throughput, for example, it requires about 200bit per second of throughput; therefore, requiring quick connections and responses for thousands of devices to be connected to the infrastructure.

Homes, on the other hand, require high capacity for more things to be connected. Homes also require more mobility because too many wires in the home are an obstacle, whereas wireless offers more freedom - this also goes for offices. Based on these three angles (people, machines and homes), operators like du need to build a network that meets the diversified requirements of demanding consumers.

Higher quality of service and lower costs are also prominent demands of consumers today. "We need to keep all of these aspects in mind when designing the infrastructure and developing our network," said Al Balooshi.

Du plays close attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to Al Balooshi. The goals cover everything from eradicating poverty, to aiming for technology and development to grow various industries. From a sustainability perspective as part of the telecoms industry (operators, regulators, vendors), du needs to think about how it's developing a network that is designed to benefit society.

"The requirement for the UN Sustainable Development Goals varies from basic connectivity that will uplift citizens' education, healthcare, etc., all the way to sophisticated infrastructure development such as fiber implementation, cloudification, virtualization, etc.," said Al Balooshi. "The telecoms industry is positioned as a primary enabler to achieve the targets that will uplift humankind capabilities from a UN perspective, and as a telecom operator, we have specific plans in place to achieve those requirements."
Du's commitment to providing smart telecoms infrastructure in the UAE is based upon designing infrastructure "differently". To start with, the operator is implementing cloudification of its network to cater for internal and external requirements. This includes centralized cloud, distributed cloud, all depending on the use case and applications.

Virtualization of telecom infrastructure is another method du is dedicated to. "Today, this is based on appliances, hardware and software with specific licensing structure which dictates specific cost. To optimize our costs to meet customer demand, we are moving to network function virtualization (NFV), which will accelerate and enhance our capability of time-to-market, and also enable new services," said Al Balooshi.

"Another important aspect is orchestration and the automation of service fulfillment and service assurance processes. Software defined network (SDN) is a direction for orchestration perspective where you provide the end users with the capability to structure the product required," added Al Balooshi. "The other important aspect is fiberization, which is used to achieve the latency challenge and to achieve the high throughput expected from the market in general."

These are all important pillars from a network perspective in order to support the expected demand from the market. To achieve these goals is not only possible through technology, because the operating system of telecommunications needs to change as well, says Al Balooshi. "Telecommunications has a long legacy of being voice-centric, and at du we have changed our operating model to meet the targets of telecoms' development."

Changing its operating model was a challenging, but necessary move for du. The operator altered the way it handles evolution and deployment, planning, and implementation of technology. "We changed the operating model to have an end-to-end operation function handling end-to-end IT and technology operations from an end-to-end perspective service operation unit," said Al Balooshi.

"The network function that used to stop routing and switching in the datacenter was extended to include storage and computing, which historically used to be part of IT, which shows how everything is coming together in the network," he explained. "We build infrastructure, then we have application capabilities, and then on top of that we have big data capabilities which provide innovators and entrepreneurs the required data for them to innovate and take us to the next level. We are positioned as a primary enabler of people to innovate."

With networks becoming more advanced, security is a major concern for operators to protect their customers' information and safety. Security is becoming "more and more critical" now that people are becoming disconnected from the core network, said Al Balooshi, referring to emerging technologies such as connected cars.

These smart vehicles connected to the internet, he says, will activate sensors which were originally built with no security in mind. Therefore du, which provides the connectivity, has to ensure that security is "embedded within the connectivity" they offer.

"We must provide security from an availability perspective, in the sense that self-driving cars should always be connected without interference; we must also ensure that information on the network is confidential and cannot be compromised or manipulated. As an enabler of the network infrastructure, we must ensure that security is embedded, and at du, we are positioning embedded security within our offerings. We have to think 'security embedded' from day one."

The rise of connected and autonomous cars will be driven by 5G which will be ultra-fast and exponentially more powerful than any wireless internet we have today, and the advantages of the technology are vast. In connected cars, for instance, sensors will be able to take more accurate measurements about weather conditions in different geographic locations, and that data can then be sent over the 5G network back to the cloud so that the self-driving cars can calculate a better route to take and make journey adjustments.

5G is not only about connectivity; it will be a complete lifestyle change for society, Al Balooshi explained. Implementing 5G will be vastly different to the transition from 2G to 3G which was centered on increased bandwidth/better throughput, and the same goes for the jump from 3G to 4G.

"The jump from 4G to 5G is not only about bandwidth; you are building an ecosystem that enables all industries to innovate and create more value for their lives. We are building an infrastructure and ecosystem that meets high bandwidth, also internet of things requirements from a latency perspective, as well as increased capacity to connect billions of things," said Al Balooshi.

"Enabling 5G requires virtualization, cloudification and orchestration, all things that direct du towards 5G infrastructure. At du we are focusing on those pillars and our yearly investment to ensure we meet the requirements for 5G. Dubai will be hosting Expo 2020 and our target is to introduce 5G in Dubai by that time, as well as the other emirates where there is demand."