Covid served as 'stress test' for telecoms operators, du CEO says

Consumer behaviour has dramatically changed as they realise the convenience of online transactions

The Covid-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call for telecoms operators, testing the capabilities of their digital services that are integral to remote work and study over the past year, the chief executive of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company said.

The Dubai-based company, better known as du, acknowledged the challenges it faced as a result of Covid-19, but said it acted quickly to meet rising demand for digital solutions after offices, schools and businesses shifted their operations online in an effort to contain the coronavirus.

"The pandemic was a very good stress test for our digital capabilities. It showed our ability to manage serving our customers via digital channels without them having to go to our service centres," Fahad Al Hassawi told The National at Gitex Global in Dubai.

The Covid-19 pandemic hastened digital adoption in the UAE as homebound users flocked online to work, study and shop.

About 54 per cent of users surveyed by Mastercard in a study last year said that they expect the trend of online shopping to continue even after the pandemic eases.

"The pandemic taught us that there are other tools that work, such as buying products and availing services online. And it works and is convenient. This combination, along with the assurance that the quality you get is still good, made people change their behaviour," said Mr Al Hassawi, who was appointed chief executive in June.

"Naturally, all our customers are now having their own plans to improve their online capabilities. Everybody now understands why going digital is important."

The telecoms operator has also expanded its capacity since then to meet a surge in demand.

Last month, du opened two data centres, one in Abu Dhabi and the other in Dubai, to support enterprises in critical sectors such as finance, cloud services and government with next-generation digital infrastructure.

All our customers are now having their own plans to improve their online capabilities. Everybody now understands why going digital is important
Fahad Al Hassawi, chief executive of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company

Mr Al Hassawi, who believes demand for these services will continuously rise as more customers and providers take their content and services to the cloud, said both data centres were built with expansion plans with mind.

They were also designed for future capacity expansion when certain levels of data saturation are reached.

Founded in 2005, du is 50.12 per cent owned by the Emirates Investment Authority while Mubadala Investment Company and Emirates International Telecommunications hold 10.06 per cent and 19.7 per cent respectively. The remainder is in public hands.

Du, which became the second service provider in the region to announce the availability of fifth-generation services in 2019, is currently offering 5G connectivity to 90 per cent of the UAE's populated areas, with the figure at 96 per cent in Abu Dhabi and 97 per cent in Dubai.

Last week, the telecoms company reached a major milestone as its 5G network became the fastest in the UAE.

On October 7, du announced that it appointed Malek Sultan Al Malek as chairman of its board of directors.

Updated: October 19th 2021, 10:16 AM