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The constant and rapid evolution of technology together with the digital revolution means we are witnessing innovation we never thought were possible before, explains Farid Faraidooni, chief operating officer at du, speaking to Telecom Review about the operator's efforts to ensure its customers' satisfaction and happiness, and facilitate the transformation of Dubai into a smart city.

Tell us a bit about your role and the significance of operations within the context of du.
I currently serve as the chief operating officer (COO) at du which is a role that is ever evolving and that other company stakeholders rely on to deliver value when it comes to information and communications technology. As part of my responsibilities, I oversee new business and innovation strategies aimed at empowering the business acumen within leaders in the company and fostering a connected society. I oversee information technology, service operations, managed services and smart city initiatives, and infrastructure and technology.

Telecom services rely heavily on network, and this has become a crucial component of most businesses. As such, the role of the COO has become more important than ever, in that we deliver strategic direction and are always on the lookout for new, innovative technologies that will allow us to provide a strong and reliable network and offer our businesses an advantage in today's market.

How does innovation benefit telecom operations at du?
In today's digital climate, both innovation and operations are intertwined, and this is especially true in a telecommunications company. The constant and rapid evolution of technology together with the digital revolution we are witnessing with the introduction of 4G and 5G technologies means that we are and will keep witnessing innovation we never thought were possible before. It is my role as COO of a telecommunications company to keep up with such innovations to ensure their integration in the services we offer our customers. This allows us to ensure our customers' satisfaction and happiness, and facilitate the transformation of Dubai to a smart city by enhancing digitalization.    

Du is credited with introducing several firsts to the market. What is the next frontier in innovation that we can look forward to?
Since our operations started in 2007, we challenged and disrupted the existing telecom market with several market firsts and many innovative services and solutions. This came as part of our customer focus approach and our commitment to serving our clients' needs and achieving maximum customer satisfaction. And it is specifically due to our customers' support and trust that we have enjoyed our present success in the market.

Some first-to-market products we introduced include the fastest home broadband download speeds to our customers, in addition to testing the true internet of things (IoT) for the first time in the region. Most recently, we demonstrated new technologies such as e-SIM for the first time in the Middle East, which allows for an enhanced user experience in a new era of technology adoption that supports multi-device usage. We are also the first in the region to introduce end-to-end media cloud services such as the du media cloud solution which allows broadcasters, content producers, and other content providers to rapidly develop and deploy broadcast and content services across the region.

To top it all, over the past few weeks, we have been trailing massive MIMO, a 5G technology set to revolutionize connectivity for users through record-breaking capacity speeds. We are driven by our customers' needs and requirements, and by launching such innovative services, we have managed to fortify our position as a true information and communications technology (ICT) partner.

Du recently launched "handy". What is the significance of this new service for tourists?
We partnered with Tink Labs Limited, one of Hong Kong's most successful startups, to introduce 'handy', the innovative in-room smartphone for hotels with the support of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) in Dubai. The handy phones will be offered through select 4 and 5 star hotels and will give visitors to Dubai connectivity anywhere in the UAE. We want to revolutionize the experience for travelers by providing them with a service and a smartphone that conveniently keeps them connected anywhere in the UAE.

There is a lot of public interest in 5G. What is du doing in making this a reality?
That is true. 5G or 5th Generation mobile networks have become the new hype and for good reason. 5G networks promise instant data transfers and much faster wireless speeds; they also enable readiness for applications beyond handsets, such as smart cities, IoT and autonomous cars. Unlike previous generations of mobile networks, 5G will power the IoT and enable a super connected world of everything which allows a smarter future.

At du, we are committed to trailing new ways to get the most from our available spectrum and increasing capacity. We have been conducting research into 5G for over a year now and we are testing new broadband networks such as LiFi - and this is just the beginning.

We have also taken many necessary steps towards the future 5G network which include the LTE-evolution, cloud RAN, mobile edge computing and the future 5G new radio. Recently, we partnered with Huawei, a global leader in the technology industry, to trial massive MIMO which was a huge success. We are constantly looking for new technologies and innovative solutions to cater to our customers' needs and enhance their happiness through digital channels.

How different will 5G be from 4G? Anything in MIMO?
When 4G was introduced, the wireless connection enhanced the connectivity and capabilities of 3G, allowing people to download and upload large video files more readily. Similarly, 5G technology builds on the foundation created by the fourth generation of wireless allowing for increased bandwidth, record-breaking capacity speeds and instant data transfer achieved by targeting three main areas: record speed, ultra-reliable low-latency connectivity and massive capacity. This allows for the development of an ecosystem that enables all industries to innovate and create more value for their lives.

The increased bandwidth is extremely valuable for consumers who are moving from voice-centric to video-centric. The higher capacity speeds and low latency are significantly important for the IoT and the proliferation of devices connected to the internet at home and outside such as self-driving cars; they also allow customers to transfer information instantaneously. We have, in fact, successfully built and deployed several IoT use cases including smart parking, smart metering, smart waste management, smart environment, smart building, smart lighting and the like.

There is no "big bang" in 5G, but rather incremental milestones that take us step by step towards the future 5G network within three pillars: fiber implementation, cloudification and virtualization. Du has been taking many necessary steps towards the future 5G network which include the LTE-evolution, cloud RAN, mobile edge computing, the future 5G new radio and MIMO (multiple input, multiple output). We are now in the phase of trailing massive MIMO in order to enhance network capacity and 3D coverage to our consumers by using large antenna arrays packed onto relatively small physical antenna, thus requiring less space at basestations to serve many terminals simultaneously.

The antennas at each end of the communications circuit (transmitter and receiver) are combined to minimize errors and optimize data speed. The trials we conducted were very successful and we managed to achieve record breaking sector capacity that exceeded 700Mbps using a single carrier of 20MHz. We also were able to achieve more than 2.1Gbps sector capacity using three simultaneous carriers totaling 60MHz, a first in the region.

The recent partnership with DarkMatter seems interesting. Could you please elaborate on it?
Security is a critical component of our products and we are very excited to sign a commercial partnership with DarkMatter that expands the horizons with the combined expertise of du and DarkMatter in security and compliance solutions. This partnership allows us to offer enhanced cyber security products and services to enterprises across the country, and through it we will provide a range of service offerings to our extensive business customer base. And these services will include compliance and compromise assessments, mobile and web application assessments, and penetration assessments.

Cyber attacks are on the rise globally and the UAE is no exception. According to the Internet Security Threat Report 2017 recently released by Symantec, the UAE was the second most targeted country after Saudi Arabia for ransomware attacks in the Middle East and Africa and is ranked 10th in the region in terms of threat levels faced. This is why our partnership with DarkMatter is a very important strategic one as cyber attacks become more frequent and complicated, the most recent one being the WannaCry ransomware attack.

As a strategic partner of Smart Dubai Platform, what are your initiatives in making digital transformation a reality?
Telecommunications infrastructure is the backbone to any smart city project by providing both a platform for integration and collaboration, in addition to offering communications. Our collaboration with the Smart Dubai Office as strategic partners of the Smart Dubai Platform allows us to introduce state-of-the-art infrastructure and capabilities that leverage IoT technology, support a rapid growth in services, and enhance connectivity in Dubai and the UAE. This helps the transformation of the Emirate to a city that is connected, sustainable, and intelligent; in other words, a truly smart city.

As such, this collaboration is very important for us because it enables all UAE entities to adopt digital strategies and tools, embed them in their different functions and streamline services - all of this with the ultimate aim of making Dubai the happiest city on earth in line with our wise leadership's vision. We helped develop and implement the Smart Dubai Platform which will be the central operating system for the city, centralizing data and sharing tools and providing access to city services and data for all individuals, private sector as well as public sector entities. We also work hand in hand with the Telecommunication Regulation Authority (TRA) to realize the ambitions of the Smart Dubai Office and champion public private partnerships (PPPs) to enhance innovation.

How is du investing in network and digitalization?
In today's increasingly digitalized world, customers have real-time expectations, which du is addressing by investing in artificial intelligence collaborations to bring a new, digitalized level of customer service. Recently, we partnered with Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA) to facilitate knowledge sharing and foster innovation and research into future technologies. In line with our association with the DFA, du has signed two Memoranda of Understanding with innovative artificial intelligence companies Ultimate AI from Finland and Polish Quantum Lab to enhance the customer experience using future technologies and support digital transformation.

Our aim is to bring digital solutions to our customers to achieve their satisfaction and ultimately happiness. Our vision at du is aligned with that of our leadership. We are committed to the betterment of UAE society, which we believe will be the fruition of the smart city vision. As staunch supporters of this vision, and the official partners of the Smart Dubai Platform, it is our responsibility to create the backbone infrastructure that will not only accommodate all the connectivity and data requirements, but will allow them to function seamlessly together.