4th InfoCom Albanian Telecom Forum
‘Infrastructure evolution plus Digital revolution’
Already recognized as an institution from the Information & Telecommunications market as well as the political leadership of Albania, the 4th InfoCom Albanian Telecom Forum took place on 20 November in Tirana, under the title ‘Infrastructure evolution plus Digital revolution’
The title describes the current reality with great accuracy, because important progress in telecom infrastructure is combined with the digital revolution and already has positive influence to citizen’s everyday life. Of course, the “revolution” which brings technological advances to the people, virtually never ends. Practically, it’s rather a series of small victories. However, over the time, their sum gives the desired positive thrust to entrepreneurship and personal life.
Obviously, difficulties are not scarce in such a long way and several of them were pointed out during the conference by representatives of the local market and the state. Yet, it also became clear that there exists a vision and will, in order designs and targets to become reality.
This will was clearly declared by Minister of Innovation & ICT of the Albanian government, Genk Polo. The minister reaffirmed the government’s and country commitment for the expansion of broadband through close cooperation between public and private sector, but also the intention to strengthen the “wind of change” through institutional interventions, that will enable faster spread of applications for computers, tablets and mobiles, that will constantly improve the everyday life and create an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Mr. Polo has also made a reference to the prospect of LTE, the implementation of major government digital projects (procurement, customs, public records etc.), education of the necessary human resources and the general population, as well as the sustainability of the already significant investments, highlighting that there is room for everyone in the new field being already formed.
The representative of the European Union, Ambassador Ettore Sequi, pointed out on his speech, the importance of the spread of broadband in Albania. Citing data from other countries, he acknowledged the significant progress already made, but he also noted the great challenges in the future, promising more resources and help from Europe in this direction.
Similar promises were given by the chief of USAid mission in Albania Jim Barnhart, who also gave priority to the issues of intellectual property, financial instruments and physical infrastructure, but also to the education of users and the provision of certain incentives. He mentioned the existing synergies with American Universities and welcomed the first applications of technology in the fields of justice, health, etc.
Anastasios Nikogiannis , regional sales manager of Skylogic, suggested broadband Internet access via satellite as a solution to the existing infrastructure problems in Albania (only 4% penetration of fixed telephony ). The Tooway solution has already been implemented with great success in the country for Internet access, as more than 1000 Post Offices all over Albania were connected within only two months…
The panel, which was moderated by AIT Professor, Dr. John Tomkos, was followed by a very interesting round table discussion, dealing with the dissemination of broadband, as seen by the markets’ point of view. Taking part were the local directors of Ericsson – Mircea Dragan Rempegea, Huawei’s Wei Chengk, Dimitris Papadopoulos from NSN, Panagiotis Dallas Wireless Systems Manager of Intracom Telecom, Gentian Bajraktari CTO of AbissNet, Thanasis Karanassis area manager of Adtran, and Eldon Poga, CTO of Top Channel. Everyone recognized that significant progress has been made in ICT in Albania, but stressed that even greater investments (in BB and 3G) were needed, possibly with some state aid due to the geomorphology of the country, along with more applications and more clear strategy by the Regulator, in order technological solutions to play the role of progress catalyst for the country. According to the speakers, this is the necessary and sufficient condition for strategic decisions that will be most beneficial for enterprises and institutions, in a country that has great capacity and potentialities.
Session 2 / e-Albania: Let the data flow…
This session was dedicated to the increased request of data flow between users and networks. Initial suggestions from officials and representatives, starting with Endri Hasa, General Director of the National Agency for Information Society (AKSHI), who described the steps for the transition from the initial adjustment period to the current service period by creating applications and e-services for the general public.
Next, the representative of the Albanian Academic Network, Arjan Xhelaj, referred to the u.gov platform, created with Italian contribution, and described the many possibilities offered by facilitating daily educational community in Albania. Edlira Kasaj, who took over on behalf of the Innovation Centre ProTIK ICT Resource Center, described the possibilities and services that it provides to stakeholders, in terms of infrastructure and networking, while Dritan Mezini , president of the Albanian Association for Business Information spotted the prospects that the private sector could gain, from the promotion of e-governance in the country and also pointed out that the need for state contribution. Last but not least, Artur Nurja, Technical Director of M-pay, presented the ‘electronic wallet’ built into mobile phones (mobile wallet), which is currently being tested in practice and appears to bring significant advantages to its users.
The section continued with a round table, which was attended by local Microsoft’s Chief Executive, Arsen Kurti , the representative of CCS Group, Genci Likoskendaj, the Account Sales Manager of Cisco, Samir Mekic, the senior member of Intracom Telecom, Nick Tsantanis , the Director of Marketing at Eagle Mobile, Murat Gurkas, the New Products & Services Supervisor of Vodafone Albania, Elvis Bregu, the Business Development Mgr from Intel, Adrian Cioroianu, and the CEO of M-Stat Hellas, Ion Bantekas.
The private sector representatives described the current position of the ICT market in Albania, citing their success stories, but also the problems they face. The positive conclusion was that a critical mass of telecom users exists now in the country, but more players are needed for competition to function. It should also be noted that companies are moving from providing solutions to providing experiences. Therefore, multinational enterprises should give more attention to recruiting local people who can interact with the customers. They agreed that the future lies in mobility and when the public has been trained, they would know how best utilize the information and telecommunication ecosystem in order to exploit hidden opportunities.
Session 3 / Searching for the right balance…
The third and last section of the forum, which was moderated by journalist John Rizopoulos, began with Altin Rrapaj, Director of Market Regulation, Agency of Electronic & Postal Communications (AKEP), who shared useful information with the audience on the progress made in several areas, particularly regarding broadband penetration, which has almost doubled over the last three years, while emphasizing the continuous improvement of investment conditions in Albania.
The representative of the National Broadcasting Council, Sami Nezaj, declared that there is no better time for existing providers, which would actually make substantial gains from the reallocation of spectrum. He was followed by, Sidrit Malevi, Head of Technical Secretariat for Implementation of Switchover Strategy and Director of Digital Albania, who described the state of preparations for the great moment for digital switchover in June 2015 and mentioned that the total cost for this project is expected to reach 26 million Euros.
The round table discussion, which completed the section, with the participation of many CEOs was intended to -continuously, but not in vain- search for the right balance between investment and profits, freedom of competition and regulatory control, reasonable wages and unemployment risks…
It seemed that the ICT market and state institutions are now ready to search for real-market answers. This was proven beyond doubt during the conversation, where all participants stated and described their point of view exploring common interests but also focusing on differences to discuss. Prime Minister’s advisor for Information Society issues, Endri Mataj, the Director of Cabinet at the Ministry of Innovation & ICT Gjergji Gjinko, Director of AKEP Altin Rrapaj, CEO of AMC Dimitris Blatsios, CEO of Vodafone Albania, Dietlof Mare, CEO of ALB Telecom and Eagle Mobile Orhan Coskun, CEO of ‘Plus’ Julien Coustaury, General Manager of Digialb, Alban Jaho, and CEO of Abcom, Genti Daci, all took part in the lively discussion.
The main topics around which the debate evolved, were – unsurprisingly… – investments, the need for transparent initiatives on regulatory issues, the establishment of a modern connectivity framework, the challenge of LLU, next steps in mobile Broadband and the path to 4G, services provided by modern data centers, the synergies that can multiply the benefits and reduce costs, but also the need for new investments in digital TV, combined with proper contributions for innovation.
All speakers described as positive the developments over the past year and commented on the good news, heard on the same day by the representatives of the State during the Forum. Yet, they have also asked for solutions to structural problems, a reduction of risks for investors and the formulation of an improved operational framework market, which could be even better, though (and this was the biggest gripe for them ) the share of the state investment was a little bigger … The future belongs to mobility, therefore, in Albania, as well!
4th InfoCom Albanian Telecom Forum closed in warm applause from the delegates, both for its own success and for the people and enterprises winning awards for their performance and outstanding practice during the past year.
The awards winners were:
- Innovation and Education – Microsoft for the company contribution in evolving technological education and innovation in Albania
- CSR award – Vodafone Albania for the Mobile Telemedicine initiative
- 3G Business Excellence – AMC for the successful deployment of its 3G network
- Triple Play Business Excellence – Tring Communications for the most effective combined presence on telecommunications, broadband and television in Albania
- Manager of the Year – Mr. Orhan Coskun, CEO of ALBTelecom & Eagle Mobile for the most effective utilization of managerial merge of ALBTelecom and Eagle mobiles, in a unified business model in order to achieve unified services and economies of scale.