In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Sofrecom CTIO Davy Letailleur explains how the company leverages emerging technologies to support the digital transformation within the telecom sector as well as the market trends within the MEA region, among other insights.

Sofrecom has become a vanguard in operator development and diversification as well as a benchmark partner in building e-government solutions. How does technology play a critical role in fulfilling these responsibilities?

Telco technologies are becoming increasingly essential to meet major environmental, societal and economic challenges.

It is becoming more and more important to bring together a range of technologies to meet the needs of operators and governments, with the challenge of ensuring interoperability and end-to-end technology integration. The Telecom ecosystem is evolving towards increasing players specialized in infrastructure services (towercos, fibercos, Energy, satellites, datacenters, etc.), cloud, networks, platforms and digital services, where AI and cybersecurity technologies are becoming more and more important. Moreover, networks are becoming "softwarized" (virtualization/cloudification), enabling a move towards autonomous or automated networks, and offering on-demand connectivity solutions that open up new opportunities for value creation.

At Sofrecom, we work with telco operators to assess technologies' maturity and interoperability and facilitate their integration. At the same time, we need to address environmental and social issues to help operators move towards a more efficient and resilient model in the face of changes in their ecosystem. These include climate change and the circular economy, which is both a lever for decarbonization and value creation.

As a specialized consulting and engineering firm, how does Sofrecom leverage emerging technologies to support digital transformation within the telecom sector?

First and foremost, Sofrecom capitalizes on the Orange Group's innovation with a wide range of solutions and tools in different regions. This gives us real leverage to develop new expertise in systems integration and to assess the relevance and maturity of the solutions considered for each customer's needs. Sofrecom is currently building up its expertise mainly in Europe and the MEA zone, with more than 2,500 multicultural consultants in France, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Sofrecom relies on a strong network of partners to enrich its value proposition with new, differentiating innovations, particularly in software, and to strengthen its local teams for its various projects.

Nevertheless, successful technology integration makes sense only if it is part of a larger transformation strategy and not just a technical one. For example, with DATA/IA, it is not enough to introduce its uses to achieve its promises; rather, its adoption requires a change management system to scale up. A collective adoption process must be put in place, which usually takes time and therefore requires anticipation.

We offer a "data value measurement" approach to our customers. Our aim is to enable them to assess the potential for value and accelerate the adoption of data/IA issues in a range of telcos' activities, such as: personalized customer relations, fraud prevention, improving operational efficiency (e.g., technician intervention) and improving network energy efficiency.

Can you share how Sofrecom anticipates market trends in the MEA region and adapts to clients' needs?

Connectivity issues remain paramount, with infrastructure services such as coverage enhancement, broadband upgrades, fiber backbone deployment, datacenters, etc., as prerequisites. In this area, Sofrecom develops innovative solutions for monitoring and controlling the quality of fiber deployments. We support operators and specially towercos in improving the efficiency of mobile site infrastructure management. Sofrecom's telco engineers support 4G/5G deployments and manage datacenter studies and deployments, taking charge of customer migration. We also offer high-value-added tools for measuring and managing network quality of service.

In Africa, digital inclusion is a priority. We contribute to the development of national digital strategies and support the development of network schools, the idea being to co-build know-how with partners and the local industrial ecosystem to create sustainable jobs in the telecoms sector. Access to energy is another challenge, due to the low level of electrification in certain rural and peri-urban areas, with the development of SHS (Solar Home System) kits as a possible response. We support Orange in deploying these solutions.

In addition, we contribute to various broadband deployment projects to provide connectivity in rural areas or schools and work through different partnerships on deploying trusted digital solutions such as digital identity solutions, national data archiving and management, and mobile payment solutions for financial inclusion.

In the Middle East, networks are being transformed towards greater automation and "software-driven" or "data-/AI-driven" networks. Sofrecom provides an independent assessment of the maturity level of network operators based on a scale of 0 to 5 standardized by the TM Forum. The introduction of openRAN technologies is set to accelerate from 2024 onwards, following a process that is likely to accelerate with the rollout of telco Cloud and 5G network cores, enabling the promises of 5G to become a little more concrete through on-demand networks and greater network agility and resilience (cybersecurity threats and management of climatic hazards).

Finally, in the MEA region, circular economy development is set to take shape, led by the emergence of reconditioning factories for both customer and network devices. And, in network energy efficiency, new, more efficient solarization solutions are expected, the aim being to increase the use of green energy by considering the carbon footprint over the entire lifecycle of the solution. We support these needs through opportunity studies aimed specifically at validating business models, defining master plans for energy efficiency improvement projects, and providing operational support for project management and deployment.

With an extensive know-how network, how do you see Sofrecom's expertise continuing to evolve in the MEA region? How does this address the sustainability aspect among customers?

Following the above points, our main new areas of expertise are:

  • Infrastructure services: satellite solutions, IS solutions to address the infrastructure management needs of Towercos and Fibercos, multicloud and datacenter solutions that can address data protection issues and integrate local or regional regulations, and, of course, continued deployment of 4G/5G and fixed networks (fiber connections, fiber backbone, Fixed Wireless Access).
  • Digital services: platforms, multiservice applications, and new organizations to meet the digital transformation challenges of operators and governments.
  • The gradual transformation of networks towards software, with increased use of Data/IA.
  • Cybersecurity
  • And the green transition, where we address several issues such as green IT and networks; circular economy; and energy savings.

From your perspective, what are the factors that will impact the MEA region’s telecom industry growth in the next five years? In what ways can Sofrecom contribute to accelerating this growth?

Telecoms growth in the MEA region will be driven by two key issues:

  • Continuing infrastructure investment: the aim is to create funding structures for these very expensive infrastructure investments (public and private investments, public-private partnerships, international donors, etc.). To encourage investors to sign up for this strategy, Sofrecom is one of the players striving to improve efficiency in using funds, especially regarding costs, quality and deadlines, as well as integrating digital inclusion and climate issues.
  • Network monetization and digital services: the telecom business model needs to evolve to provide all stakeholders involved with a greater operating margin. This will require a shift towards shared solutions, business digitization, network automation, circular economy and infrastructure monetization; new technologies will foster this transformation, but change management and anticipation will be key to delivering value.
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