Focus: Telecoms & IT

Heart Of The Net

Heart Of The Net

Jan. 12, 2015

Positive demographics and a keen interest in all things modern and technological are keeping the ICT sector at the cutting edge in Dubai.

Two telecoms operators, Etisalat and du, serve the UAE telecommunications sector, Etisalat's 30-year monopoly having been broken in 2007 when du received a license from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to launch its mobile network. In the past few years, TRA has also granted niche market licenses to other providers such as Al Yah Satellite Services Company (2010), Al-Yah Advanced (2010), Star Satellite Communications (2010), Al-Maisan Satellite Communications (2011), Media Zone Intaj FZ LLC (2011), and Thuraya (2013).

In August 2014, the TRA published its fifth Annual Sector Review, which covers the years 2010 to 2013 and provides data on numbers of subscribers, revenues, penetration rates, and usage rates in the fixed, mobile, and data telecommunications markets in the UAE. The report said that growth in mobile services was the main driver of increased revenue in the sector, which climbed 6.57% to AED29.18 billion in 2013 compared to AED27.38 billion in 2012. The report included a proviso that the agency had not yet seen or measured the market impact from the newer licenses for satellite and broadcasting services.

DATA HIGHLIGHTS

The Annual Sector Review highlights include a few key indicators: Dubai has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world, at 192.9%, from over 16 million active mobile subscriptions, 13% of which were post-paid. Mobile monthly ARPU declined from AED136 in 2012 to AED124 in 2013, an inevitable result of people owning multiple service subscriptions. The fixed-line penetration rate reached 25% via over 2.08 million fixed line subscriptions. A 37% increase in international outgoing minutes from mobile phones more than accounted for a 12% drop in such calls from fixed lines. Pakistan was the most popular call destination, at over 2 billion minutes. Internet service subscriptions climbed 10.5% to over 1 million, while new advanced fiber networks supplanted the old copper wire networks; total fiber usage rose by 24% to represent 81% of all internet subscriptions.

SMS and MMS messaging decreased by 13% and 23%, respectively, during 2013 when compared to 2012, most likely reflecting increased internet usage patterns. The TRA survey confirmed that most residents use mobile phones and that 85% of the people regularly use the internet. Particularly encouraging to authorities was the performance of internet services, and that people want and are willing to pay for the high-speed networks that have cost the operators significant capex in recent years.

HE Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, Director General of the TRA, told TBY that, “Consumer behavior has changed as a result of the emergence of the internet, and so too must the behavior of businesses. In terms of the significance of the ICT sector for Dubai, we know that it's absolutely vital."

GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES

The government has launched many initiatives to spur ICT development and popularize its use. The TRA is leading the transition to electronic government service delivery, e-government, and m-government, the latter standing for mobile. Dubai Internet City (DIC) is also a special area of focus, being the Emirate's prime ICT free zone. The ICT Fund was launched in 2007 and operates under the TRA, funded by a mandatory 1% levy on all telecom revenues.

And Dubai's location is also important. Hani Atout, Managing Partner of eSolutions Maximo, told TBY that, “Dubai as a hub is great. We can fly in and out to any country in under eight hours. It is an eight-hour diameter from all angles to the majority of countries. The infrastructure is also one of the best in the world. Needless to say, for roads, security, and investment in e-government and the latest technologies, it is the place to be."

Omar M. Al Mahmoud, Acting CEO of the ICT Fund, told TBY that, “In 2012, the Prime Minister announced that all public schools would convert their classrooms to smart classrooms. This involves three parties; the ICT Fund, the Ministry of Education, and the Prime Minister's office."

Dubai classrooms have been changed into creative clusters, where students use tablets to access course material via the internet and teachers use the same tablets to monitor students' studies. “Grade seven across the country all have smart classrooms now, and soon grades eight and nine will also be included," said Al Mahmoud.

And indeed, all things internet are the craze in Dubai. The Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in August 2014, chose Twitter as the venue to announce the launch of the Smart City project, which he said will link public access to city administration, public safety, education, and healthcare sectors via smart devices.

SMART, SMART, SMART

Victoria Strand, President of Ericsson GCC & Pakistan Ericsson, told TBY that, “We strongly believe and salute the recent launch of the Smart City Initiative and we will offer our resources and innovation to contribute and support the realization of His Highness's initiative. We already see this vision starting to become a reality. We use our smartphones to work, live, and entertain ourselves in more powerful ways every day."

Rabih Dabboussi, Managing Director, Cisco UAE, told TBY that, “Dubai is already one of the smartest cities in the world. Dubai has smart telecoms infrastructure, smart airports, smart roads and highways, smart speeding cameras, and smart weather alerts. From the moment you land, you enter the country with a fingerprint as a resident, and soon with an iris scan. Then you get in a taxi, and it is all automated and GPS monitored."

Analysts estimate the size of Dubai's software market at about $300 million (UAE total $800 million), and all the global players are active in the Emirate. Samer Abu Ltaif, Regional General Manager, Microsoft Gulf, told TBY that Dubai created an environment that enabled the company to attract talent from around the world, and that it now has 49 nationalities working in its office. Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director of Dubai Internet City (DIC), explained to TBY that, “Dubai's infrastructure and connectivity to the rest of the world has drawn large numbers of leading international ICT companies to the Emirate, and DIC provides a hub for these companies to grow and develop and network with other industry leaders, sharing ideas and expertise."

Dubai's emergence as a developer of ICT and its growth into a knowledge-based economy got a special boost in July 2014 when the government announced plans to launch an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021. News reports cited government estimates that the UAE has already invested nearly $5.5 billion in space technologies, all of which will now be overseen by the UAE Space Agency created to drive the Mars mission. Dubai's ruler said that a space mission would revive the heyday of Arabic astronomy and remind the world that Arabs are a force for civilization and scientific advancement, in ICT as much as anything.

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