GITEX Technology Week kicked off in Dubai from October 8-12, 2017. The 37th annual event, located at the World Trade Centre, was an immersive, engaging and rewarding experience for attendees who had the chance to rub shoulders with some of the technology industry's leading executives. Partnerships and collaborations drew lots of attention at the event as companies move to diversify their offerings.

GITEX 2017 was officially inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and chairman of the Dubai Executive Council. The Crown Prince was given a tour of the stands on display at the event and witnessed some of the most cutting-edge technologies from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Sheikh Hamdan visited some of the solutions and products produced by UAE telecom provider Etisalat as part of the company's impressive ‘Future of Mobility' exhibit. Group CEO Saleh Al Abdooli announced to media that the company plans to invest more than AED 3 billion in 2017 to develop and modernize infrastructure and expand mobile and fiber optic networks, IoT, artificial intelligence and robotics across the UAE.

"Due to these investments, 3G network coverage has reached 99.58 percent while 4G LTE is at 97.78 percent," said Mr. Al Abdooli. "Fiber to the home, FTTH penetration, has grown to reach 93.28 percent. We are now working to complete the 5G network infrastructure to align it with the international standards for the launch in 2020."

Mr. Al Abdooli added: "Etisalat is also preparing the infrastructure for the Expo 2020 network to become one of the fastest, smartest and most advanced networks in the world to ensure that visitors enjoy an exciting digitally enhanced experience."

On the sidelines of GITEX, Etisalat and Dubai Municipality signed a deal with the aim of replacing paper tickets with a smartphone system across the recreational facilities operated by Dubai Municipality. The signing was attended by Sheikh Hamdan.

Etisalat also signed a MoU with e-commerce platform Noon to appoint noon.com as one of Etisalat's key online partners offering consumers the flexibility to purchase Etisalat products and services online. Mr. Al Abdooli said: "We are proud to be associated with Noon, UAE's homegrown e-commerce platform enabling our subscribers an option to purchases online bringing in efficiency and flexibility for these customers."

Mohamed Alabbar, founder of Noon, said: "Our partnership with Etisalat, the leading telecom provider, to offer its products and services is a testament to our growing retail partnerships. Such great supplier relationships that add value to our customers is at the heart of Noon. We will continue to focus on working with regional brands and service providers to offer relevant and quality products that meet the lifestyle aspirations of our customers."

UAE telecom provider "du" (EITC) also put on a spectacular show at GITEX, demonstrating how 5G will transform people's lives with a showcase of 5G robot control and live streaming, in partnership with Nokia. The live streaming used the Nokia OZO+ virtual reality camera and OZO Live, a real-time 3D 360 stitching software that delivers live virtual reality broadcasting.
Nokia and du's demonstration of a dual-arm collaborative robot (also known as 'cobot') - which is connected via 5G to an automated parts and material handling platform - showed visitors to GITEX how 5G's near-zero latency can visibly transform industrial operations with fully flexible, automated production.

"The speed with which our networks are evolving is astounding and it will only grow with the growing demand," said Saleem AlBlooshi, executive vice president - Infrastructure & Technology, du. "In the UAE, for example, we are in the process of building a smart city - a networked society of individuals, corporations, government services and things - and 5G use cases that will drive the future solution."

Du also announced a partnership with Ericsson to accelerate digitalization in the region by deploying innovative solutions that enable faster introduction of new internet of things (IoT) services. The partnership will enable du to offer flexible pricing and billing solutions for IoT and cloud platforms toward enterprise customers. Ericsson's enterprise and cloud billing solution will also allow du to offer billing as a service for government entities and several industry verticals such as utilities, retail and transport.

"Our partnership with Ericsson will enable us to further empower our stakeholders in the digital transformation era by making it easier for them to rapidly take their offerings to market," said Farid Faraidooni, chief operations officer, du. "Ericsson's unique solutions provide the flexibility we require, with little customization efforts needed to integrate into our existing technology."

Saudi telecom provider STC also drew attention GITEX 2017 with an impressive display and exciting announcements. STC signed a deal with Nokia to boost mobile broadband capacity and coverage in Saudi Arabia using Nokia's 4.5G-Pro technology.

A second agreement was signed by STC with Huawei to support STC's 5G strategy, satisfy subscribers' ever-increasing demands, drive Saudi ICT industry development, and to support the Kingdom's 2030 Vision and the National Transformation 2020 Plan.

Thirdly, an agreement was signed with Ericsson upon which Ericsson will provide STC with managed services to enhance customer experience, network performance and process quality, as well as passive managed infrastructure services, electro-mechanical equipment for mobile access sites, facility management during crises and electromechanical management of technical sites.

Over at the Sheikh Saeed halls hosting government displays, Smart Dubai put on a massive show. The Smart Dubai pavilion at the event was meticulously designed to reflect the organization's ambitious objective of building the future, said Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, director general of the Smart Dubai Office, all in collaboration with its private and public-sector partners.

"Visitors to the pavilion are in for an eye-opening journey that blurs the line between human and technology," Dr Aisha said, "where they will leave with a deeper understanding of the smart technologies of the future, which form the backbone of the Smart Dubai Plan 2021, launched by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council."

Smart Dubai and du joined hands with Dubai Airport to power Dubai Pulse, the digital backbone enabling Dubai's Smart City transformation. The provision of additional data will benefit the public and private sector from open and shared city data.

Huawei Innovation Day
On the opening day of GITEX 2017, Huawei hosted its annual Innovation Day conference and outlined its strategic vision aimed at continuing the acceleration of digital transformation in the GCC region. The event hosted a number of high-profile and distinguished panelists which were comprised from a host of leading ICT firms and regulatory bodies.

The Innovation Day summit focused on the role Huawei will play in both driving digital transformation and building sustainable knowledge-based economies in the Middle East. Edward Zhou, vice president of Global Affairs at Huawei Technologies, stressed that we're living in a dynamic world in which technology changes every single day. He highlighted how everything will be connected in the future.

Zhou said, "At Huawei, we do believe in the very short future that everything will be connected. The connectivity will not be restricted to smartphones or smartwatches, but we will have sensors to detect environment, to crack data for us among a lot of other things. Not just human beings, everything will be connected."

Space Lee, vice president of Public Affairs and Communications Middle East, focused on the unique strengths the Middle East has in order to fuel digitalization. He pointed out the region's openness towards innovation as being a key factor in its success thus far, and the reason many feel it will lead the way moving forward.

Lee said, "The Middle East has a pressing need to go digital, and companies here really need to capitalize on digital opportunities that are presented to them. The GCC region has unique strengths that will fuel its digitalization. It has always had portrayed an openness towards innovation and that willingness on a national level will help it accelerate the process."

GSMA Mobile 360 MENA
The second day of GITEX 2017 saw some of the region's most influential industry leaders gather for the GSMA Mobile 360 MENA event. In his opening speech, GSMA Director General Mats Granryd claimed that the development of mobile technology is shaping the world we live in.

He said mobile is shaping a new digital world and focused on four specific areas in relation to mobile. He examined how mobile technology is developing throughout the world, by highlighting how it's transforming industries, whilst looking at the societal impact mobile is having, before finally considering how mobile technology is contributing to the economy of the MENA region.

Granryd said the number of mobile connections is set to grow exponentially in the MENA region, and estimated mobile broadband will account for 70 percent of all connections in the GCC by 2020. "Today, we have roughly 8 billion mobile connections globally - and the MENA region accounts for around 640 million mobile connections, which is expected to grow to 710 million connections by 2020," he said.

Granryd was followed by Osman Sultan, CEO of EITC (du, Virgin Mobile UAE), who said being connected is not only a basic human need, but a basic human right. Being connected is essential, he said, if you want access to decent education, healthcare, etc. But societies today are built on an "abundance model" whereby the amount of data consumed is "multiplying exponentially".

"People today are submerged in a tsunami of content," said Mr. Sultan.  "Everything will transform from physical to virtual. As telcos, our networks need to move to the cloud to become software developed networks. Moving from physical to virtual, we will also see things move from centralized to decentralized, and that is an important part of the ecosystem."

Mr. Sultan referred to app-based ride sharing companies Uber and Careem as examples of companies that have embraced a decentralized business model. Calling a taxi cab using a smartphone, rather than calling a central point like you do when you call a taxi company, for example, is easy and any passenger can benefit from it, as is the case with Uber and Careem.

Blockchain technology, the a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions, is another example Mr. Sultan highlighted of the way decentralized models are becoming more prominent in the digital age. The technology decentralizes the entire system of authentication, registration and inventory of assets, he said.

Also speaking at the event, Etisalat chief business officer, Salvador Anglada, said IoT will compensate operators for traditional loss of revenues if they are willing to embrace it.

"Telecom operators need to find out new ways to make revenue from data streams and different ways to create value," said Mr. Anglada. "I really believe that IoT will be the light at the end of the tunnel and that it will come with the revenue growth that we are looking for. It will compensate for all the revenue that we are losing as a result of digitalization."

Mats Granryd suggested in his speech that IoT will be the next industrial revolution, fostering growth in all areas of life, such as health, education and general well-being. Mr. Anglada agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Granryd, saying revolutions come with significant value creations and that the MENA region should embrace it.

"We have seen this with energy, electricity, internet and now internet of things," said Mr. Anglada. "Everything looks like it's ready for IoT - not only the added value, but the connectivity and the ability to provide information at high speeds, and also the systems that are starting to be ready, such as cloud mobility and cloud networks, big data and analytics. Everything looks ready to create value from."

The question is: how much value is IoT going to create for society and for operators? Focusing on the GCC region, Mr. Anglada said analysts forecast that data will create 11 percent GDP growth in the next 10 years. That means the IoT market is going to be worth around $11 billion.