Telecoms & IT

Digital Future

Telecoms, IT, & Media

In line with the central goals of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the government is building a nation that has the capability to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

In order to remain consistently ahead of the rapidly shifting trends in information technology, the Abu Dhabi government has initiated a comprehensive national strategy to develop world-class ICT infrastructure that is both forward looking and capably governed. According to the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), by 2020 there will be some 30 billion ICT enabled devices connected to the internet worldwide, including items such as clothing and household appliances as the Internet of Everything expands, and this for a projected population of only 9 billion people. In order to assure that all relevant actors are working together towards the same set of national goals, the government is implementing plans to encourage both local and foreign investment in the most advanced technologies available, as the Emirate stamps its own unique brand on what is undoubtedly a global revolution.

The total population of Abu Dhabi encompasses 2.33 million people, with 1.42 million in the Abu Dhabi Region alone. According to the most recent figures available by the national Statistics Centre, the major ICT indicators make for impressive reading. Mobile cellular (includes tablets and other devices) subscribers in 2013 per 100 inhabitants was measured at 197 per 100, and the percentage of the population covered by mobile networks (measured in terms of SIM card usage) stood at 100%. Although there were only 12 fixed broadband internet subscribers per 100 inhabitants, and 17 fixed telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants, the ICT share in GDP at 4Q2013 prices was 2.3%. This share almost doubled to 5% when only non-oil GDP revenues were considered, and it was estimated that the ICT sector contributed to 3% of gross output as a percentage of GDP. This extremely high level of smartphone use and the popularity of mobile and social media in the UAE is encouraging entrepreneurs to build businesses in rapidly expanding areas such as e-commerce and enhanced online services.

Although the sector as a whole is always on the lookout for more capital investment, 2014 was also a year of new innovations that had the markets taking notice. The Abu Dhabi based telecoms giant Etisalat began the upgrade of its 4G network to Long Term Evolution-Advanced (LTE-A) Carrier Aggregation (CA) technology, paving the way for peak projected download speeds of up to 700Mbps. Live testing was completed on Etisalat’s 1800MHz/2600MHz 4G network and the operator is now waiting for the necessary handsets to be made available before announcing an official commercial launch date. The firm is currently using 150Mbps LTE technology to cover 88% of the populated areas of the UAE. Etisalat is the Middle East’s leading telecommunications operator and one of the largest corporations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with a market value of approximately $22 billion and annual revenues of over $9 billion. According to its own estimates, it currently has the widest coverage of 3G and 4G mobile technologies in the UAE, and its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, has helped the UAE rank as one of the most fiber-connected countries in the world with 85% fiber-optic penetration, connecting more than 1.3 million homes in the UAE. Moreover, in 2014 it signed a MoU with the major Chinese ICT equipment supplier Huawei which will bring cutting edge technologies like public access cloud coverage, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Visualization (NFV) technologies. Players from the other Emirates are also in the game of course; fixed line and mobile operator du has announced plans to set up 5,000 Wi-Fi hotspots at 100 separate locations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. According to the Gulf News, these rollouts form an essential part of the UAE’s “Smart City” initiative. A 2014 agreement on network sharing, which was first broached in 2009, has begun to shift the monopolies held by Dubai-based du and Abu Dhabi’s Etisalat within their respective areas, by giving consumers a choice of operator for their fixed line, voice, and broadband services. du is primarily restricted to the new development areas and free zones of Dubai, while Etisalat serves the rest of the market.

SMART CITIES, SMARTER PEOPLE

The Emirate is self-consciously striving to achieve a knowledge-based economy by deploying advanced technologies throughout its territory. Given the increasing importance of effective and user friendly ICT in all areas of life, the government is building a technology-oriented system that conforms to the requirements of the new generation of younger users who are constantly plugged in to their devices. One clear focus is education, specifically initiatives to establish a link between ICT literacy and labor market requirements. This goal drives academies, colleges, and higher education institutions to build a nation that has the capability to meet the needs of the 21st century, in line with the central goals of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, and which is linked up with the needs of the overall economic development of the UAE.

There are significant efforts underway in this regard. The powerful Khalifa Fund had financed about 800 projects by the end of 2014, providing $272 million in loans as well as training, logistics, marketing, and systems support for ICT education. Moreover the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has been making progress in shifting to the using e-books as part of its “iClass e-learning initiative” which was implemented in a number of selected schools, as part of education development plans to prepare students for the future by providing them with skills to help compete globally. There are also new disciplines begin introduced by the Abu Dhabi Polytechnic of the Institute of Applied Technology in 2014; specifically courses focusing on information security engineering technology, renewable energy engineering programs, and ICT for petrochemical engineering. These shifts will help in making a transition from more conventional education system based largely on memorization to the modern method of e-learning, wherein innovative educational resources are employed, commensurate with advancements in the field of information technology.

DEFENDING E-FRONTIER

The impact of the rapid growth in technology on both government and citizens was the central theme of a major conference on the electronic future held in Abu Dhabi in 2014. The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) annual meetings explored the numerous ways in which a more connected society would affect policy, governance, and daily life for the nation, the region, and the wider world. A key question posed at these meetings centered around how technology could be used to benefit society and create new ideas for business, education, health, and practically every sector of the economy. These new ways of doing business naturally require new means for protecting information for both consumers and industry.

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, established the National Electronic Security Authority (NESA) through a Decree in 2012, and in 2014 the authority set out its road map for protecting the national digital infrastructure. “Cybersecurity is one of the biggest economic and national security challenges countries face in the 21st century,” said HE Jassem Bu Ataba Al Zaabi, the Director General of NESA, as he addressed the assembled media at the launch of the roadmap. NESA is the primary federal authority responsible for developing, supervising, and monitoring the implementation of UAE cyber-security policies and strategies. Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, and with a number of satellite offices both inside and outside the UAE, NESA seeks to safeguard the UAE online environment and contribute to the collective national ICT goals. In 2014 NESA also distributed the first editions of the National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS), the Critical Information Infrastructure Policy (CIIP) and the UAE Information Assurance (IA) Standards which collectively work towards enhancing the UAE’s national security by improving the protection of the overall national information and communications infrastructure.

The National reports that according to retired Major Gen Khaled Al Buainnain, former commander of the UAE Air Force, NESA is essential to enhancing cyber security in both Abu Dhabi and the region. “The UAE is the most advanced nation in the Gulf and the Arab world with regards to its cyber-technology infrastructure, however, having the most advanced infrastructure makes you the most vulnerable because of the rapidly changing and developing advances in cyber warfare,” Gen Al Buainnain said. All of these developments are significant news for both investors and companies focusing on the sector; as the Emirate moves confidently into the future, it is taking the local, regional, and global markets with it. Nobody can yet predict where the journey will lead.