Wi-Fi will be at the heart of Dubai Smart City

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During the Wi-Fi Global Congress in San Jose, I had the pleasure to sit down with Paul Taylor, Manager Business Development & Wi-Fi services at du to discuss the drivers behind the recent carrier Wi-Fi initiatives.

Public Wi-Fi has been around for years now, what is the situation in Dubai?

Within just decades Dubai has evolved from not much more than a strip of desert and sleepy fishing village into a bustling metropolis and one of the world’s most modern cities. Dubai has recently won the bid to host the World Expo 2020, with the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The spread of public Wi-Fi is a key aspect of the Dubai Smart City Initiative, which aims to make Dubai one of the world’s most connected and sustainable cities. Wi-Fi represents one building block upon which the smart city can evolve to support all sorts of applications and big data.

We believe seamless connectivity in public places and urban areas is becoming increasingly important in metros, trams, malls, recreational hubs but also local government offices. We also believe that as a mobile operator, Wi-Fi will enable us to complement and improve indoor data coverage. We call this the Wi-Fi UAE initiative.

What is your timeline for deploying Wi-Fi?

We will be doing site acquisition throughout the next two years and deploying the access points. Those will include both indoor venues but also outdoor in the beaches and parks with that flagship concept of connected palm trees which we call smart palm which are solar powered, palm–shaped access points which also provide recharging stations. We are also working with the local transportation authority to enable their bus shelters, also known as smart shelters, with WiFi UAE. VoWiFi is part of our longer term roadmap and we will probably start testing next year.

As a mobile operator, how do you see public WiFi being complementary to mobile services?

Considering Dubai’s climate, a large portion of the population congregates in malls a big part of the year. Dubai has some of the largest malls and indoor venues in the world, the growth in usage and traffic in those indoor locations is exponential. By deploying a WiFi network we will not only supplement the overall network capacity, but also to sell managed Wi-Fi services to the venue owners and help them create a 1st class wireless experience for their visitors and customers. We will also offer venue owners an ambitious path to better engagement and monetization of the Wi-Fi experience.

Can you give us examples of those benefits to the venue owners?

Yes. At the basic level, deploying, optimizing and managing those Wi-Fi networks can be quite a headache for the venue owners who are not telecom specialists. By providing managed Wi-Fi services we allow the venue owners to focus on their core business and not worry about wireless technology while providing 1st class Wi-Fi access to their visitors and employees. On the next level, we can use Elitecore’s service manage platform to engage with these millions of shoppers and communicate directly with them, which helps both du as a telecom brand but also the venue owners. Big data and analytics range from foot traffic to device usage and becomes a platform to elaborate hyper localized and relevant marketing campaigns which benefit all the stakeholders including the consumers, the retailers and the mall in general.

What about privacy issues?

There is a lot of discussions going in the UAE about privacy issues. Any information about UAE citizens or entities is seen as highly confidential and must be stored within the UAE so cloud services must be based within the country boundaries. We are clearly looking at big data, how to manage it, how to turn it into actionable intelligence to improve decision making. We showcased a number of use-cases, for example sensors placed on public waste disposal bins in order to improve waste management.

What challenges do you expect in the execution phase?

One of the issue is the sheer numbers of access points required to serve so many millions of visitors. The design of the infrastructure and services needs to be resilient to cope with the needs of so many people in one location like the Dubai mall, the world’s largest shopping mall based on total area and with 1,200 shops. There are also some regulatory challenges to overcome, especially in terms of privacy as mentioned previously.

What is your long term vision for smart cities and Wi-Fi in Dubai and across the emirates?

We are quite bullish on Wi-Fi and so is the government. As indicated earlier with the upcoming worldexpo2020, the government is keen in investing in technologies enabling smart cities and we believe Wi-Fi has a key role to play.   The Expo is expected to result in 277,000 new jobs in the UAE, an injection of up to $40 billion into the economy and an influx of over 25 million visitors.  Dubai has announced a Smart City initiative that will leverage the Internet of Everything to become one of the world’s most connected and sustainable cities with the Expo as the platform for unveiling this vision.  It has been estimated that $7-8 billion could be spent on smart city infrastructure within the pillars of life, society, mobility, economy, governance and environment.

Public data available and collected from Wi-Fi network can be analyzed, which can help create infrastructure and operational benefits, such as energy or water network efficiency, relief of traffic congestion and improvements to city facilities. It can also identify how people move and live in the cities and suggest solutions accordingly. The use-cases are endless I would say. It is a matter of which ones get priority funding. The government is in the process of evaluating such use-cases and taking a collaborative approach by engaging all stakeholders, from both public and private sectors.

Why did you choose Elitecore’s service management platform?

We have been working with Elitecore for the past four years starting with some core components of our network. From that great relationship and their understanding of our network, it was a natural progression to build on top of that. They have a great time to market record and are flexible, when we had urgent requirements they delivered for us. We put out an official tender for the Wi-Fi monetization platform and Elitecore won for the reasons mentioned above.

Elitecore’s comprehensive SMP helped us to offer anytime-anywhere connectivity, helping us to rapidly push forward the WiFi UAE initiative in Dubai and across the U.A.E. With the Elitecore platform, we are able to develop business models that both benefit the public and create new monetization opportunities. We will be able to address our future roadmap with solutions for Mobile Data offload, Wi-Fi Calling, support for Hotspot 2.0 and advanced analytics for monetization.  I want to add that Elitecore SMP modules offered at du include robust and convergent 3GPP AAA, MAP Gateway, PIAP-supported, TRA-compliant, multi-lingual customizable captive portal with branding and advertising capabilities, web self-care, partner settlement, voucher management, policy control and a prepaid rating and charging system. Elitecore provided a monetization platform including mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows, an advertisement server and reporting and analytics.

Thanks Paul, enjoy the rest of the show and good luck with those deployments!

To learn more about Elitecore’s Wi-Fi service management platform.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).

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