The Middle East plays an extremely important role in our governance and leadership
John Hoffman, CEO, GSMA Ltd.
Interview – Gulraiz Khalid
Gulraiz Khalid: How has the GSMA ‘Mobile 360 – Middle East’ developed over the years and how do you feel about partnering with GITEX?
John Hoffman: Our ‘Mobile 360 – Middle East’ event has grown significantly over the past couple of years and has become a much stronger event. We wanted to come and participate in the region and we came to the conclusion that we might want to partner with GITEX in order to help us do that. It did take us a while to come to this decision but we are glad we did.
GITEX attracts the entire ecosystem and what we attract is a subset of this ecosystem – smaller in number, but targeting only highly senior executives. We have never been about numbers at our events; it’s always been about “how do we bring together the senior decision makers from our ecosystem together to discuss today, tomorrow, the future, and what works and what doesn’t?”
GK: How important is the Middle East’s role within GSMA?
JH: GSMA has strong representation from the Middle East on both the GSMA Board and on the executive committee. The region plays an extremely important role in both our governance and our leadership, which I think is not only a tribute to the importance of the region but also a tribute to the region’s global leadership role.
We have in this region, and especially in this part of the region [the UAE], some really stellar industry leadership. Industry leaders in this region are globally respected and sought after for their opinions and views. I think their participation in our events and meetings has great benefits.
The Middle East was maybe not fully recognized for its role some years ago, but I think now the rest of the world has come to appreciate not only the innovation that takes place here, but also the strong business acumen that has developed in this region and the visionary leadership that exists over here.
GK: Would you like to comment on the region’s progress in terms of the Smart City and the Internet of Things?
JH: When it comes to Smart Cities, there are some standout global leaders and the UAE is definitely one of them. IoT is definitely going to have a big impact on our lives and our business models in the coming years. In his address at ‘Mobile 360 – Middle East’ this year, IBM’s Bob Fox noted that we are still in the very early stages of IoT and I believe that myself. ‘Things’ are starting to get connected today, and the number should substantially grow in the coming years and things will look a lot different, and a lot more ‘connected’, by 2020.
When it comes to Smart Cities, there are some standout global leaders and the UAE is definitely one of them.
The Middle East is definitely one of the global leaders in Smart Cities and IoT and we will see a lot of progress in the coming years, driven by the huge amounts of innovation and development that is taking place over here at the moment.
GK: From a Consolidation stand-point, what do you see as an optimum number of operators for a market?
JH: There is no one-size fits all approach. There is on-going discussion about what is the right number, which is different for every country, every market. In the US, regulators seem to think four major nationwide operators seems to be a good number, but this may not be the case in smaller markets. In the EU regulators have allowed consolidation (from four players to three) in markets such as Germany, Austria and Ireland, but a proposed deal to do the same in Denmark was recently abandoned, despite Denmark being a country with a population of fewer than 6 million.
Every market environment is different: but what’s important is that operators have a framework that allows them to continue to invest in networks and service innovation.
GK: International Number Portability is a becoming a much discussed topic today. What is your opinion?
JH: International Number Portability is an interesting idea that is being discussed both at a regional level and an international level by large corporations and authorities. I think it could become feasible in the future at some point. We are seeing initiatives in Europe and in North and Central America.
Nobody has a global program just yet but we are gradually moving towards solutions that take advantage of our technology advancements and this solution could become one of them. You are probably going to see voice become more like data in the coming years.
GK: What should we look forward to from GSMA in the near future, especially ahead of Mobile World Congress 2016?
JH: The GSMA will continue to play its role and I think we are just about getting to the right mix of events and participants around the world. The Mobile 360 Series is a very hectic period because we are doing one event in a region, and two weeks later in another, rather like a roadshow.
We have to understand that not everyone can come to our Barcelona or Shanghai flagship events. So the Mobile 360 series is really helping us engage with many more senior leaders and helping us reach out deeper into regional markets.
We have never been about numbers as I have said before. However, I would like to say that Mobile World Congress 2016, Barcelona, should be the best ever. It’s getting stronger and stronger every year because everybody wants to come there and benefit from the gathering of leadership, decision makers, purchasing power, range of solutions and knowledge at the event.