The market for drones in the GCC is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2022, presenting a massive opportunity for regional telecom operators, according to Strategy&, formerly Booz & Company, and part of the PwC network. By leveraging their capabilities and resources, these companies can play a central role in the development of the regional drone industry. Much of this will come from oil and gas, and utilities — which respectively are projected to constitute 43 percent and 32 percent of the market.
The drone technology has rapidly expanded beyond its original military purposes, and has now entered the commercial sector. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that the number of commercial drones in the US will reach almost three million by 2020, quadruple the number in 2016.
Originally created for military purposes, the usage of drones in the commercial space has increased significantly in recent years. There are several types of drone-powered solutions depending on the purpose: While being beneficial to a variety of sectors, telecom operators are uniquely placed to capitalize on the development of the drone industry in the GCC. The market for drones in the GCC could reach $1.5 billion by 2022.
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“Telecom operators can leverage their existing capabilities and resources to offer advanced drone solutions to other sectors. For example, with their extensive tower networks, they are able to provide constant connectivity which is crucial for data transfer. They have access to advanced cloud technologies which can be used for data storage, and are equipped with world-class data processing systems to analyze information collected by the drones. As the drone industry grows, it is an obvious choice for telecom operators to seize this opportunity, given its potential,” said Jad Hajj, partner with Strategy& Middle East.
Most importantly, as telecom operators reinvent themselves as digitization players, they are further developing solid capabilities in IoT, big data, and analytics. As a result, Strategy& outlines two specific opportunities that they should focus on:
First, they can offer drone-powered solutions to all other industries by building partnerships in areas related to drone procurement (providing the physical device), drone operations (piloting the drone), data processing (analyzing the collected aerial data by using qualified experts) and data delivery (using extensive cloud platform capabilities to store, manage, and deliver data to clients). The second opportunity for telecom operators involves establishing a drone traffic control center (DTCC) for governments.
Ramzi Khoury, principal with Strategy& Middle East, added: “Airspace regulators are aware of the growth of drone technology, and are searching for balance between public safety and economic efficiency. Progress of drone legislation and regulation in the GCC is uneven, and therefore the main purpose of the drone traffic control center is to serve as a centralized authority to manage drone traffic and ensure regulation is followed.
Telecom operators can cooperate with these regulators to generate revenue, reinforce their position as providers of drone solutions, or streamline approvals and licensing processes.” Indeed, this concept has begun to be implemented regionally, with the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority working with a technology vendor to establish a drone traffic control center as of November 2016.
Michał Mazur, partner with PwC Poland and leader of ‘Drone Powered Solutions’, a dedicated center of excellence for drone technology at PwC, noted: “Telecom operators need a tailored strategy and a clear implementation roadmap to turn this opportunity into a success. This includes regularly engaging with regulators to understand requirements and obtain necessary permissions, analyzing the size and potential of the drone industry and what it can really offer, identifying an optimal operating model, and finally enhancing internal capabilities and technical expertise to run the drone services. By doing so, telecom operators will be well positioned to capitalize on the unique opportunities presented by the promising drones industry.”
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on July 24, 2017.