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Ericsson’s connectivity expertise is driving the IoT transformation to make Dubai a Smart City by 2020

Interview - June 19, 2015

The Internet of Things (IoT) will make a huge impact on our daily lives and Rafiah Ibrahim, President of Region Middle East and North East Africa at Ericsson, discusses the company’s vital connectivity infrastructure, Ericsson’s visionary idea of the Networked Society, and how the Swedish multinational is contributing to fully integrate Dubai’s transportation, energy, and ICT industries.


What would you say were the main highlights of Ericsson’s participation in the 17th edition of the Water, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition (WETEX 2015), which took place in Dubai in April, and what are the expectations for WETEX 2016?

At WETEX we participated specifically in the power and energy area. We looked very carefully at the topic of smart grids, as it’s one of the areas that will be very relevant to us.

The agenda of the event was very big, but we found smart grids and meters to be one of the most important areas to cover. We had a showcase of how smart grids would be, and we have had experiences in other countries, for example Estonia.

We also felt the importance of being a leading part of these solutions, and of creating applications ahead of Expo 2020. The journey to this expo will include a lot of smart concepts: smart cities, smart capital, smart transportation, and intelligent transport systems.

Well, we thought this would be a good step for us to make ourselves visible. You know, there are a lot of players in the market; the ecosystem is huge and competitive. And everyone plays a part and there will be collaboration between partners. So that’s why we think it was a good step to be present there.

If we talk about the transformation within the industry, the importance of ICT lies with technology. But more important is to create added value from connectivity and linkages. So, from this perspective, would it be an overstatement to affirm that transition towards the Internet of Things (IoT) will lead to a sort of industrial revolution in the 21st century?

What I think is that the power of connectivity is going to be the main transformative force because, in this era, everything that can be connected will be connected: people to people, machine to machine, cars on the roads, will all be connected one to another. It will be a very intelligent connection.

There will be sensors, which will announce traffic jams, for example. Everything will be connected. And how will it be connected? Through the infrastructure we have. And if you look at what we have, you will see the core that provides that form of the connection. In order to move fast, the infrastructure needs to be able to manage tons of data that will be traveling.

Who better to do this than Ericsson? Today we manage networks and services of networking. We know how to manage connectivity if this big transformation takes place. So connectivity is everything you have mentioned; it is very important.

Looking at Expo 2020, infrastructure should be ready for the event: transportation, airports, and smartphone interactions. They all should be ready to support and manage all the tons of data coming on. Ericsson will focus on three areas: intelligent transport systems; public safety and security; and thirdly utilities, by which we mean smart grids and smart issues.

Let’s talk about each. I think I have touched a little bit the transport system issue: we have talked about transportation connectivity and that allows us to think about other types of routes. Everything should be connected and accessible to be used.

Now, let’s talk about safety and security. In this aspect we are talking about emergency services. If there is an accident on the road, in order to be sure that the police and the insurance are informed, everything and everyone should be connected. And you need a system that makes that connection possible.

So you need to activate a set of alarms, for example, and connect to hospitals and security systems. And that should be done in a very quick time and in a very effective way. In five years, you will see we will be living far different lives.

And then we can talk about smart cities. In order to visualize what is going to happen in Expo 2020, we will see housing communities being set up. We will find smarter ways of transmitting data with regards to housing, living and urban conditions.

Even light bulbs will be connected and managed in a smarter way. We have collaborated with Phillips in relation to the bulbs that ensure power saving that makes them sustainable. Housing communities are also becoming more and more self-sustainable and comfortable.

I’m sure this will make people happy, because everything will become easier and more accessible. You can do everything in a very simple way from your tablet, for example. Let me go on with these ideas, because they are very relevant to us. Another important aspect for the 21st century is the human capital. We also have a part to play here.

Indeed Ericsson has received the “Great Place to Work Award,” which recognizes Ericsson as one of the top companies to work for in the UAE. How much would you say Ericsson’s investment in R&D and human capital development contributed to this acknowledgement?

At Ericsson, we emphasize the importance of human capital development and research and development. We have put human capital and entrepreneurship together in order to improve the development of the country.

We have made an agreement with the AT&T fund: we have collaborated with them in trying to spot what we can do, for example, how we can improve in research and development.

We have built a certain platform; when I say platform, I mean a model that aims to get closer to the customer. And that’s something we have developed together with the U.S.

It’s not only on funding and seeding projects, but it is also on putting true leadership on the table. We put experts to work on concepts to make platforms more accessible to everyone. Our objective is to encourage innovation, local talent and entrepreneurship by bringing them together in R&D incubators.

For me, this is one of the main objectives for the region. Therefore, when we implement any of these projects, we are looking for talent, young talent and, also, female talent. We include both male and female. We make sure that we are giving equal opportunities to everyone and we see what they can do.

We look for talents everywhere, at the university, among my employees, etc. I try to encourage this. I’ll give you an example: if we dig holes, we can build robots to do it – so it doesn’t matter whether they are male or female, the ones who implement our projects. It is all about looking for the right talents.

The notion of “creating incubators” will be really important for Expo 2020. You also touched a very relevant issue: UAE and Dubai need to be prepared in order to create the entire infrastructure. So what do you think about the policies that the government has been implementing to create this ecosystem? And how are you collaborating with DEWA, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, for example, in order to take advantage of this growing emphasis on smart solutions?

We have had a lot of discussions to show how we are working and the different solutions to global challenges. I think education is a vital issue for this. DEWA is leading the way in this sense and it is really focused on exploring different solutions.

That is something good because they are trying different smart grids. We carried out a pilot project with DEWA to see how it worked and to test the infrastructure. DEWA is already moving forward and they are now ready to deliver at least a few hundred thousand power and water smart grids.

Maybe not everyone can see how these developments are moving on, because it takes time to see results. But I think we are already moving in the right direction. I have been in the UAE and I have seen these types of programs being developed in a very effective way.

As regards your question, there are of course challenges ahead, but the government is committed to delivering a real change and it is accelerating the implementation of these kinds of plans. If you pass through Dubai you will see amazing things are happening.

With regards to Ericsson’s presence to international and regional markets, why would you pick Dubai as the business headquarters for the region? What can Dubai represent, not only for the UAE, but also for the region?

The main reason why is that Dubai is central for the connectivity of the whole region, so it is very easy to access any place in the region. It is very easy for us to go to, for example, Ethiopia and come back the same day. I can go to Saudi anytime, to Lebanon, Pakistan, or Afghanistan.

Being headquartered in Dubai means being operationally manageable for the rest of the region. Dubai also allows business to be conducted in a transparent way and it also allows the community, whether it is the local or international community, to live very comfortably, without having to worry about language or security.

I have more than 500 people here coming from different parts of the world so you need to be prepared to speak different languages and have, for example, different kinds of food. All religions can have a place of faith to visit here.

On top of that, UAE has got the vision of leadership for this country to make it the star of the region, the place that tries new technologies and new concepts. So, if you are here you have to try to walk with the leadership vision. We are sure that if we are successful here we can replicate our success in other countries where we have business.