Telecoms & IT

Creating the Future

Telecoms & IT

Winner of the bid to host the World Expo 2020, Dubai continues to increase connectivity and advance knowledge through ICT expansion and smart city initiatives, including e-government implementation.

Dubai is growing at a clip, and it remains the most populous city and Emirate in the UAE. In 2013 the population reached 2.1 million, and the Dubai Statistics Center estimates 5% growth in 2014. According to the 2013 UN-released World Urbanization Prospects report, the urban population in the UAE is expected to grow an average 2.3% per year, reaching 7.9 million by 2020. Dubai’s population is especially young and very tech savvy, with a large number of expatriate workers. Statistics show that two-thirds of Dubai is between the ages of 20 and 39, with the average age at 27. There also exists a great gender disparity, with men of the same age group exceeding the number of women by nearly 60%. The total ratio in Dubai of men to women is 313 males to 100 females.

The latest statistics estimated Dubai’s overall market growth to be 15% in 2014, reaching $8 billion by 2015. The IT sector increased revenues by 6.57% from $7.45 billion in 2012 to $7.94 billion in 2013, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’s (TRA) Annual Sector Review (fifth edition). The sector is regulated by the TRA, which is the main player behind the development and promotion of the Emirates as an ICT hub. It is charged with the task of implementing executive orders of the 2003 UAE Telecom Law, as well as following guidelines of the UAE National Telecommunications Policy. Three deputy general directors lead the TRA’s ICT support sectors; the first involves itself in e-government sector development; the second is focused on support service; the third on telecoms. Under the realm of TRA, the ICT Fund was established to lend targeted support to UAE companies, organizations and individuals to support education, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the field. Over the last six years, the ICT Fund has invested more than $435 million in the sector.

Within telecommunications, the Emirate now has two operators. Etisalat’s 30-year monopoly came to an end when telecom opertator du launched its mobile network in 2007. The TRA has granted niche market licenses to other providers in the arena; Al Yah Satellite Services Company (2010), Al-Yah Advanced (2010), StarSatellite Communications (2010), Al-Maisan Satellite Communications (2011), Media Zone Intaj FZ LLC (2011), and Thuraya (2013). Dubai boasts having one of the highest mobile penetration rates worldwide at 192.9%, from over 16 million active subscribers, 13% of which are post-paid. According to the TRA Annual Sector Review, covering 2010-13, the fixed-line penetration rate reached 25% with 2.08 million subscribers, along with a 37% increase in international outgoing minutes from mobile lines, along with a 12% drop in international calls from fixed lines. In 2013 SMS messaging decreased by 13%, and MMS decreased 23%, likely reflecting increased internet messaging use. Telecommunications research manager at the International Data Corporation (IDC) Bhanu Chaddha told Telecompaper that mobile data is the “sweet spot for operators,” given the fact that most subscribers are on prepaid plans.

The Emirate is also making significant leaps and bounds in ICT advancement far beyond increased mobile use. The Dubai Internet City (DIC) celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. Referred to as “the Silicon Valley of Dubai,” the city is one of the largest ICT free zones in the region and is home to more than 1,600 companies employing over 17,000 people. In May 2013, under the direction of HH Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Majid bin Mohammed Innovation Center in5 was launched within the Internet City to promote innovation and technological advancement in the UAE. Most notably, through the initiative to transform Dubai into a Smart City, the TRA is leading the effort to increase hyper-connectivity under a three-track structure; Smart Life, Smart Economy, and Smart Tourism.


The Dubai Smart City (DSC) initiative was launched in 2014 by HH Sheikh Mohammed to turn Dubai into one of the world’s most connected cities within three years. An estimated $7-8 billion will be spent on smart city infrastructure. Through the use of smart sensors and devices, innovation would happen under the Smart Life track in educational, transport, communications, public utilities, and energy services. The Smart Economy track deals with the development of smart companies, port services, stock exchanges, and smart jobs, while Smart Tourism concerns itself with improving visitor services and ease of access.

One of the main areas of focus of the DSC initiative is the implementation of e-government services. The Department of Dubai Smart Government (DSG), formerly the Dubai eGovernment (DEG), was established by the TRA when the March 2009 Law No. 7 merged the e-Services and Government Information Resource Planning department. The DSG is responsible for the integration of over 100 initiatives and over 1,000 governmental services into a single platform. “The Smart Government initiative aims to harness the power of smartphones and make way for all possible services on mobile platforms by May 2015,” said Ahmad Bin Humaidan, director-general of the DSG. The transformation to an e-government will mean many new governmental services will be available online and more accessible. Services will also be improved and more efficient at lower costs. Currently, there are around 1,800 government services available online. The national ID card (Emirates ID) already functions as an integrated smart gate, though the DSG envisions the expansion of its use as a single card for an increased number of services.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has commenced a project to install 250,000 smart meters across the Emirate over a five-year period. The Roads and Transport Authority will also work to improve parking systems by introducing an application that informs drivers on available parking. Traffic monitoring will also be part of the equation, as will be the installation of charging stations for electric cars. Another major goal of the smart city initiative is to offer free Wi-Fi in parks and on all public transport, including in taxis, leveraging the Internet of Things concept that “anything can be connected to anything.” “It’s no good having Wi-Fi across the whole city if all you are using it for is YouTube,” said Amr Salem, managing director for Cisco’s smart cities division. Dubai is leveraging Wi-Fi for traffic services, government services, utilities usage and more, thereby using the internet to its “full potential,” according to Salem.

DEWA has also announced plans to install solar panels on all buildings, and through the Dubai Green Building Code is enforcing green construction in the Emirate. A climate-controlled residential city, by the name of Desert Rose, will be constructed on 14,000 ha between Al Ruwaya and Al Aweer in the shape of a desert flower. The project is expected to accommodate 20,000 Emirati families and will use solar power technology, to the tune of a $5.44 billion investment. Solar panels on roofs will supply 200 MW of electricity. An electronic train track will connect the city to the Dubai Metro. According to Dawood Al Hajiri, director of the Planning Department at Dubai Municipality, Desert Rose will be finished in multiple stages and completed by Expo 2020.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has embarked on a multi-phase project to upload all medical records to a computerized system, designed to increase access to medical information for patients and caregivers thereby better protecting patients from individual oversight. The DHA has also launched a new Customer Service Index (CSI), a live customer feedback system in hospitals and primary healthcare centers. The CSI records information on patients’ and visitors’ levels of satisfaction, the results of which are displayed on constantly refreshing screens.

The Dubai Smart City initiative is also making its way into schools through the transformation of classrooms into “creative clusters,” as well as through the implementation of the Intel Teach program. According to Taha Khalifa, MENA Regional Director of Intel, “with a strong science and technology foundation with 21st century skills, students will be able to move into new jobs that are being created.”

“Cisco applauds the way the Dubai Government has holistically embraced its Smart City vision,” said Rabih Dabboussi, General Manager of Cisco UAE. “Government and citizen services are already being revolutionized, putting them at the forefront of innovation and driving the initiatives to support this momentous change that will deliver His Highness’ Smart City vision.” In reference to HH Sheikh Mohammed’s three-year deadline, Amr Salem’s view is that there can be no deadline for making a city smart. According to Salem, “Smart is not a state, it is a journey.”


In November 2015, Dubai will host its annual Arab Future Cities Summit to bring together senior executives, sustainability experts, and city and government officials to discuss technological smart city solutions, innovation, and developments in the field. Cisco announced that Dubai will host the third edition of the Internet of Things World Forum (IoTWF) this December. The IoTWF will convene at the Dubai World Trade Center to discuss the Internet of Things (IoT) global industries, developments, emerging applications, and impacts on economies. Over 1,500 attendees and 49 sponsors attended last year’s forum in Chicago. The IoT encompasses over 14 billion devices (things), which provide the Internet of Everything’s (IoE) technology foundation. By 2020, it is estimated that the installed base of IoT will be about 212 billion, including 30 billion “connected (autonomous) things.”

Dubai won the bid to host the six-month long World Expo 2020 under the theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” The Expo is expected to create 277,000 new jobs, pour $40 billion into the economy, and bring 25 million visitors to the Emirate. Subthemes of the Expo will be Sustainability, Mobility, and Opportunity. In support of the bid HH Sheikh Mohammed said, “In today’s highly interconnected world, a renewed vision of progress and development based on shared purpose and commitment is key. While a single human mind, an individual country, or a specific community is both unique and remarkable, it is by working collaboratively that we truly advance.” The Expo will be a forum for many nations to exchange ideas around architecture, science, and technology.

Kevin Kelley, of Wired magazine, told TBY: “One of the things we’ve seen, and which places like Dubai have shown us, is that cities are the main units of prosperity. […] I think every city has its own answer as to how it can and will make itself smart. After all, if you’re not a smart city in 2015, then you’re no city at all.”


In July 2014 the UAE announced plans to form a space agency to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, making the UAE the ninth nation to establish a space program to go to the red planet. The UAE has heavily invested in its space program since the setting up of a $800 million Gulf space center and satellite program in Abu Dhabi, and the launch of DubaiSat-1, the nation’s first satellite, in 2009. The UAE has invested $5.44 billion in space technologies and two satellite communications companies. Satellite data and television broadcast company Al-Yah Satellite Communications, mobile satellite communication company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, and Dubai Sat, an Earth mapping and observation system, will supervise the mission and coordinate the sector. The journey to Mars would take nine months and would be the Arab world’s first space mission to another planet. “We have seven years to develop the knowledge, skills and infrastructure that we will need to reach Mars,” said HH Sheikh Mohammed in a 2014 tweet.