Communication changes during pandemic will shape the future, du CEO says

The company registered a 40% surge in fixed-line internet traffic and a 10% increase in mobile traffic

Johan Dennelind, chief executive of EITC, said the coronavirus pandemic will necessitate the faster roll-out of 5G network. Courtesy EITC
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The dynamics of the telecoms market in the aftermath of the coronavirus will be shaped by the changes in how people communicate during the pandemic, said the chief executive of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company – also known as du.

The "new normal" for telcos will be largely driven by more discerning customers, with an increased emphasis on digital offerings. The direction of communication will require an acceleration in the roll-out of 5G networks, Johan Dennelind, chief executive told The National.

“There will be a new normal where we all will live, work, study and experience things digitally and more differently," Mr Dennelind said. "As we speak, telcos are adapting and learning how to work differently as well as more efficiently.”

Covid-19, the biggest pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu, has infected nearly 1.8 million people as of Sunday and brought the global economy to a virtual halt. To contain the virus countries have implemented lockdowns and restrictions on movement forcing millions of people to work from home using webinars and online meetings.

To ensure an uninterrupted flow of connectivity, du leveraged its existing resources while using new creative solutions to mitigate any disruption to its services.

“Our e-shops, apps and various digital channels are already up and running, serving consumers 24 X 7 using automated processes,” said Mr Dennelind.

Customers who used to physically visit the operator's stores are now completing all of their transactions online.

Over the past month, du registered a 40 per cent surge in home or fixed-line internet traffic and a 10 per cent increase in mobile traffic.

“We saw this surge coming quite early when other countries had just started to close down. We were in our crisis mode and secured critical components required for network upgrades,” Mr Dennelind said.

“Traffic has moved from shops, malls, airports and streets to homes. Moving traffic to new nodes or to different parts of the network is very crucial and we have dealt with it quite dynamically without any major issues.”

The company anticipates a further rise in internet demand and has accordingly geared up.

As of today, du’s network has sufficient capacity to accommodate twice the current traffic. Utilisation on mobile and fixed networks is 50 per cent and 58 per cent respectively, according to the operator.

DUBAI, UAE. April 19, 2015 - Stock photograph of customers queuing at the Du store in Al Ghurair Center in Dubai, April 19, 2015. (Photos by: Sarah Dea/The National, Story by: Standalone, Stock)
 *** Local Caption ***  SDEA190415-du_stock02.JPG
Du’s full year net profit declined 1.3 per cent to Dh1.73bn in 2019, while revenue fell 6.2 per cent to Dh12.58bn during the period. Sarah Dea / The National

The pandemic will not impact the company’s expansion plans or planned 5G roll-out, Mr Dennelind said. The current crisis is accelerating the need for a robust 5G network but there could be some short-term delays because of supply chain disruptions.

“Telcos are now realising the importance of critical infrastructure even more … besides allowing dynamic allocation of network, 5G ensures better speed and robustness of data,” Mr Dennelind said

“If we have had full-fledged 5G network operational and also widespread availability of 5G customer devices, then it would have been a lot easier for us to dynamically allocate capacity wherever needed,” he added.

Many European operators such as Telefonica, Orange and Vodafone have advised consumers to decrease internet usage, avoid downloading heavy files and to try using landline phones wherever possible, to ensure that quality of service is maintained.

But Mr Dennelind said du's network is well-equipped to handle the current rush and such measures are not necessary.

“We only asked customers to remain tolerant for small issues,” he said. “This is a very extraordinary situation and our networks are coping very well … but there may be certain nodes or sites that are getting overloaded due to certain patterns of traffic at certain time[s]”.

Mr Dennelind, who joined the company early this year after the retirement of Osman Sultan, said his primary priority is to manage the company through this crisis.

“We are impacted very hard as an industry … managing this short-term impact is my priority number one,” said the former group chief executive of Telia, the largest Nordic operator.

“Nobody is unaffected … we are impacted by the environment in which we operate and that is fully understood by everyone,” said Mr Dennelind.

Du, which was founded in 2005, is 50.12 per cent owned by Emirates Investment Authority, 10.06 per cent by Mubadala Investment Company and 19.7 percent by Emirates International Telecommunications, with the remainder of shares in public hands. It is listed on the Dubai Financial Market.