Telecoms & IT

Fostering ICT & Media


Abu Dhabi has been working hard to identify itself as a regional and global ICT hub, exploring internet, telecommunications, and media to find its niche.


According to a TRA survey in 2012, 95% of households possess computers, with 84% making use of an internet connection. For Etisalat, the UAE’s largest telecoms provider, broadband subscribers grew 12% to 0.9 million, although it registered a declining fixed-line subscription base. A 4% year-on-year drop to 1.1 million fixed line subscribers in 3Q2013 signifies a region-wide trend of increasing popularity of smartphones and mobile internet access. At the same time, leading mobile operator du registered 8.7% growth in fixed-line subscriptions. The World Economic Forum labeled the country as the foremost innovation-based Arab economy, and the 23rd globally, indicating the prominent role ICT plays in the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.

The UAE’s ambitious approach toward this regionally expanding sector is clear in the TRA’s proposal to create a “.arab” domain designation for Arab countries. “We are at the birth of a new era and are poised to fully support it,” explained Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, Director General of the TRA in a TBY interview. “It will create new opportunities for businesses and individuals, unifying us on the internet.”

Programs designed to establish the UAE’s ICT brand includes adopting the “.ae” domain name, which won approval from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 2009. In addition, the “.emarat” Arabic language domain registration was accepted as the country’s official domain. The Emirate’s authorities also aspire to make the city the first world capital to completely depend on fiber optics. Abu Dhabi is ahead of the rest of the world in terms of fiber optic use, as the government considers the replacement of copper-based wires crucial to improving the effectiveness of the country’s IT infrastructure.

A clear example of the notable impact the internet is having on many residents can be found in the rapid rolling out of e-government services. The concept places internet connectivity at its center to ensure access to departments, programs, and government services, while eliminating the need for inefficient desk and over-the-counter customer interactions. “Abu Dhabi has a strong commitment to developing an e-enabled, service-oriented government,” explained Ibrahim Mohamed Lari, CEO of Injazat, in conversation with TBY. Ranking 17th in the world for individuals with internet access, and with the third largest number of internet users in the Middle East, the UAE’s inclination toward pioneering digital services is logical, and could inspire a revolution in the way government-citizen relations are handled.


Cloud computing has emerged as a crucial theme in Abu Dhabi’s ICT sector in recent years, and, in conjunction with “Big Data,” offers an idea of the areas that will be embraced in Vision 2030. Investment in cloud delivery was $15.5 million in the UAE in 2011 alone. “Investment has really put the UAE at the forefront in terms of using the internet, using technology, and using solutions to provide better services for citizens,” elaborated Dani Diab of EmiCom in an interview with TBY, “you feel part of a properly-organized economy.”

The transmission of high-density data is a major growth niche at present, and is an area that is being targeted by state investment in order to guarantee a foothold in the global market. Companies like Injazat and EmiCom are providing these critical solutions to market-leading firms in telecommunications and other segments. The former will be constructing the Middle East’s first Tier IV Data Center for du, and the latter offers total solutions to the education and transport segments, along with a range of other government contracts. “The UAE has emerged as a very attractive IT market in the region,” noted Ibrahim Mohamed Lari of Injazat, “we have also observed organizations from neighboring countries utilizing UAE-based data center providers for their infrastructure hosting and disaster recovery requirements.”


The TRA noted in late 2013 that nearly half of all phones in the UAE were smartphones, which clearly explains the popularity of mobile internet access. Between July and October 2013, 46% of mobiles registered on the country’s networks were smartphones. Etisalat and du are the players in the Emirati mobile market, and though the former held a 30-year monopoly in the segment, the split was 52.6% and 47.4% as of 3Q2013. Both providers serve the sector with fixed, mobile, internet, leased lines, and other data services.

By the end of 3Q2013, Etisalat Group enjoyed year-on-year growth of 11%. The subscriber base in the UAE grew to 10.2 million, with mobile users making up the majority at 8.3 million. The third quarter brought in AED6.1 million, 13% more than the same period in 2012, indicating strong performance from the company overall. Chairman Eissa Mohamed Al Suwaidi has pointed to the robust growth of the data segment to explain this continued success.

The same has been said of rival du, whose third-quarter profits showed a 45% jump in profits due to increased mobile data use. Revenue from mobile data increased by 35% to AED616 million, and total revenues rose 8% to AED2.64 billion. du was licensed in 2006, in a discerning move by the TRA to break the Etisalat monopoly and improve services by engendering competition. “The positive effects of competition in the UAE telecommunications sector are now being witnessed by customers, who enjoy some of the lowest mobile tariffs in the GCC,” stated Mohamed Ghanim of the TRA.

The big story for the year was the TRA-imposed mobile number portability (MNP) initiative, which would allow clients to change networks, while keeping their original numbers. It is hoped that the breaking of this barrier to switching networks will enhance services through tougher competition. During December 2013, the first month of the policy, just 5,000 customers transferred, hardly the exodus imagined by regulators. The UAE was the last Gulf country to embrace such a scheme. Of the country’s almost 15 million mobile phone subscriptions, approximately 87% were of the prepaid variety that would not typically change providers at short notice. The policy has, however, made the sector yet more competitive, paving the way for new packages and a more comprehensive telecommunications offering.


The government of Abu Dhabi is also attempting to diversify into the media and creative sectors of the economy. The establishment of the tax-free “twofour54″ media zone has been a major success, aiming to create a regional center for Arab media. Many smaller startups have chosen the Emirate as their home, as well as established international news firms such as Sky and CNN. A crucial element of this planned expansion of the sector is the nurturing of ideas, a concept approached through the hosting of the annual Abu Dhabi Media Summit. A range of segments, including television, music, advertising, print, and gaming and programming are covered in the exclusive conference, which attracts some of the world’s greatest media and IT intellects for public and closed-door discussions. The summit is now in its fourth year.

Significant trends in the international IT sphere are being covered at other Abu Dhabi events, with the 2013 e-Crime and Information Security Conference being held there, among other similar meetings. Subjects such as this are being approached in an effective and sustainable manner, with the aim of leading the progress of information technology in the GCC. Other related issues, such as mobile security, have been dealt with in projects such as the recent My Number, My Identity program by the TRA. This endeavored to boost awareness of identity theft and sensible mobile registration procedures.

In the 10 years since the foundation of the TRA, Abu Dhabi has taken impressive steps along the road to becoming a regional ICT hub. Proactive decisions regarding telecommunications service providers, the creation of an attractive investment environment for media entrepreneurs, and the undertaking of an ambitious fiber-optic infrastructure project stand out as major successes, but there has been much to be proud of during this decade.