I recently had the honor to speak at the Small Cells Forum in Dubai. One thing is certain: Wi-Fi and small cells are certainly important throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. Operators from throughout the region came together to learn how they could deploy small cells to meet their growing customer demands and improve their own bottom-line in the process.
I took away six key messages from the conference on the future of mobility in the Middle East:
- Small Cells Are the Next Big Thing: Operators from large countries like Saudi Arabia to smaller countries like Qatar all wanted to learn how they could use small cells to help them cope with the huge traffic that they are experiencing on their mobile networks and to improve mobile coverage, especially indoors and in heavily congested areas.
- Small Cells Are Not an Add-On: SPs realize that future of mobile networks lies in a heterogeneous network (“HetNet”) world where licensed and unlicensed mobile networks coexist and complement each other. With their unique strengths, Wi-Fi and licensed small cells are quickly becoming important components of an integrated access portfolio complementing the macro mobile access network.
- A New Enterprise-SP Partnership: Enterprises have already invested in Wi-Fi in order to bring mobility to the workplace. However, they now face the rising challenge of BYOD – employees using their own devices to work and expecting the same service and experience that they enjoy outside of the office. Several speakers explained how enterprises want to partner with service providers to provide a highly reliable integrated Wi-Fi and cellular service to their employees. A critical first step is using small cells in enterprises to improve the quality and coverage of mobile voice in the workplace.
- Vertical Solutions Are Key: Several speakers provided excellent details and case studies of how SPs need to be creating specific vertical solutions to be successful in selling small cell solutions in the enterprise market. The key verticals that offer the biggest opportunities and have the most unique needs include: education, hospitality, hospitals and retail.
- Wi-Fi Offload Comes to the Rescue: Saudi Arabia has the highest mobile growth in the region and some of the highest mobile usage in the world. The country expects the number of mobile subscribers to increase 5-fold over the next 3 years and mobile broadband data to triple over the same period. Amro Mohamed Al Buti, Head of Application and Content Design at Saudi Telecom described a fascinating case study of how they are using small cells to intelligently offload up to 7% of their anticipated mobile traffic, saving them $3.6 Billion by 2020.
- It’s All About the Data: Operators and vendors alike recognize the value that is waiting to be released from small cell technologies. Hidden in the technology is an incredible amount of information and insight that providers can exploit to deliver tangible value to their bottom-line. Data analytics and location-based services offer real opportunities to monetize small cell deployments. The challenge to all participants was: “stop letting Google extract the information from your network and create value.”
As I stared down on Dubai from the Burj Khalifa – the tallest manmade structure in the world (2,722′/830 m) – I reflected on the future of small cells in the Middle East. However, as I connected to the local Wi-Fi at the “Top of the World” to instantaneously send photos of the stomach churning view to my family back home, I realized that much of that future has already arrived.