Since 1851, World Expos have set a grand tradition of sharing innovation: everything from ice cream and the Eiffel Tower to television and voice-activated computers.
This year’s Expo 2020 Dubai is no exception. After a year-long postponement caused by the global pandemic, it’s as innovative an experience as ever. But it’s also taking a more serious turn, with a focus on how technology can help solve the most pressing problems facing our planet.
In this interview, Reem Assad, Cisco’s vice president for Middle East and Africa, shares her vision for what Expo 2020 can accomplish, as well as Cisco’s key role, both as the event’s digital network partner and as a leader in innovations that power an inclusive future for all.
Q. Thank you, Reem! Given the impact and influence of previous Expos, you must be excited to see the event held in the Middle East for the first time.
A. For it to be happening in our region is very exciting for me and the team. It’s 192 countries coming together to share their cultures, their technologies, and their messages to the world. This week will mark over 3.5 million visitors since the start of Expo 2020. So, it’s a wonderful time to be in this region and to celebrate Expo 2020 Dubai with the world.
Q. What do you hope to see emerge from Expo 2020 Dubai?
A. Historically, World Expos have been an ideal platform from which to showcase new technologies to the world. And Expo 2020 Dubai is definitely aligned with that. But this time it’s organized around three distinct themes: sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. It’s showing how through technology we can address these pressing global challenges.
For me, success out of this event is to bring people together and create strategic partnerships and alliances between countries. By showcasing their own experiences, others can learn how digital transformation is advancing in different sectors in the world, whether health care, education, government services, whatever the field is.
Q. Given Cisco’s deep commitment to sustainability, closing the digital divide, and creating new opportunity around the world, you must feel a shared vision with Expo 2020.
A. There’s a great deal of synergy. At Cisco, our purpose is to power an inclusive future for all. We believe that by harnessing technology, we can address the world’s most pressing challenges and create a better tomorrow. Over the last four years, we’ve been working hand in hand with the Expo 2020 team to deliver an experience that shows how technology and connectivity can bring long-term societal and economic benefits to the world. Our vision for a future that is both green and digital sits in close alignment with Expo 2020’s theme: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” Expo 2020 is a showcase for how we at Cisco imagine an inclusive future: creating connectivity, forging opportunity, and including everyone.
Q. As the digital network partner for the event, Cisco has been trusted with supplying and running all the network technology. What are some of the biggest challenges and successes so far?
A. I think when Expo 2020 Dubai chose Cisco, they looked at two things — besides, of course, our world-class technology! They looked for a reliable partner, and they looked for creativity. Because you cannot do something on this scale unless you have the track record. We were the strategic partner of Expo Milano 2015 and Expo Shanghai 2010. We’ve supported the Olympics and other large events. We’ve learned from the challenges that we faced along the way, and those learnings build the reliability to deliver at such a scale. At the same time, you need to be creative, to think out of the box to solve unexpected issues and challenges that come up.
For Expo 2020, we’ve experienced new challenges operating and mobilizing the team through the pandemic. But our motivation was to push the boundaries on our people and our technology, to make it possible and make it happen.
Q. What are some of the critical solutions that Cisco is deploying?
A. Our intent-based network is truly the backbone of the whole event. It’s continuously learning, predicting, and protecting — to ensure a seamless and secure digital experience. And it gives us visibility across all of the network, whether it’s the building management systems, the irrigation systems, the lighting controls, everywhere.
We add to that our Cisco software defined access and WiFi technology, which is providing the high-speed wireless connectivity for Expo 2020, with about 9,000 access points installed. About 400 of those are installed with WiFi 6. So, it’s a fast, seamless operation, integrated with augmented reality and virtual reality that allows visitors to navigate the whole event with a QR code. We’re also using our secure Cisco Vision for our digital signage technology to deliver an interactive, immersive experience. And, of course, our Webex collaboration technology empowers the Expo 2020 employees to engage with each other from any device with the speed and security they need.
It’s one of the largest such deployments globally, so when you have all this usage demand, you have to have a great network operation.
Q. Security is a prime concern at a high-profile event like this. How is Cisco ensuring it?
A. Security is fundamental at every connected experience we have at Expo 2020.
We’ve implemented our Cisco Umbrella solution, which is our cloud-based Cisco enterprise network security solution, and it’s providing first line, end-to-end security across the whole Expo 2020 experience. And we have our team managing and supporting around the clock to provide Expo 2020 with the visibility they need to deliver a unified, threat management experience.
Q. Cisco is also showcasing many of its new technologies at its own pavilion. What are you most excited about sharing?
A. Our Cisco Grove is an immersive environment, which demonstrates how smart, intuitive networks can enable new possibilities for sustainability, connectivity, and opportunity, and to power the inclusive future. We’re using immersive technology, for example, to show how we leverage AI and machine learning in smart cities.
Q. The world has no shortage of challenges. But you seem excited about the future and what we can accomplish.
A. I have a great sense of optimism. We’ve all been through a lot in the past two years. But Expo 2020 shows us what our future world could look like if we open new horizons and utilize talent and technology. I hope it inspires new initiatives similar to the ones that Cisco is driving around closing the digital divide, moving towards net zero carbon emissions, and building prosperity around the world. That’s my hope. And I invite the world to come and visit us at Expo 2020 Dubai!