Steady Connection


Qatar internet speeds and mobile penetration rates are among the best in the region, and the government is working to establish the connections and support systems needed for tech-based entrepreneurship.

The IT industry is central to the Qatari government’s goals of a more diversified economy that draws upon Qatari human capital to add value across all sectors. High levels of investment have generated penetration and connection rates on par with the world’s best, and a series of projects are working to build the platforms necessary to help the IT sector thrive.


Qatar launched the Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology (SCICT) in 2005 to develop the nation’s ICT sector, and the council’s wide-ranging scope reflects the Qatari government’s understanding that structural change will require work across all sectors of the economy. The aims of the council are to develop the framework needed to build human capital and increase technological literacy, increasing the stock of skilled Qataris. ictQATAR, an independent arm of SCICT, was given regulatory powers over the telecommunications market in 2006 and has since embarked on a liberalization strategy that has seen it open up the mobile and internet markets to new competition, increasing options for Qatari consumers and improving the quality of services offered. Under ictQATAR’s 2020 strategy, the country has seen both public and private investment in technology grow, with mobile and fixed internet penetration rates becoming among the region’s best. The last few years have brought major milestone, such as the launch of the first Qatari satellite, the installation of a nationwide broadband network, and, of course, the country’s winning World Cup bid, which is expected to bring its own wave of IT investment.


Telecommunications analysis firm Akamai rated Qatari’s peak internet connection speeds as the fastest in the MENA region and the seventh-fastest in the world overall, a mark of how quickly and effectively the country has developed its internet infrastructure; its peak 2017 speeds of 107.7Mbps represented an increase of 21% over its 2016 numbers, while Qatar’s average connection speed of 13.7Mbps was tied with Israel for best in the region and represented an impressive 64% increase over the country’ 2017 average. This can be attributed to the infrastructure improvements brought about by ictQATAR’s National Broadband Plan (NBP), which recognized the importance for broadband for industry and personal development and established a series of criteria to be met by 2016. The NBP called for 95% of households to have access to 100Mbps broadband from at least two retail providers by 2016 and for all businesses, schools, hospitals, and government institutions to have access to 1Gbps broadband by the same timeframe. Akamai’s data for 2016 shows that Qatar is well on its way to achieving these goals; an estimated 86% of the Qatari population had access to 4Mbps broadband and 62% had access to 10mbps connections, the highest rate in the region and an impressive 137% increase over the previous year. An additional 33% of the population had broadband over 15Mbps, a 242% YoY increase.
The first two firms licensed to provide telecommunications networks since the opening of the regulatory market were QTel and Vodafone; QTel has since rebranded as Ooredoo. Today, these two firms make up the majority of the market, with Ooredoo holding over 3 million customers and a market share of around 72% as of mid-2016. Recent years have seen both firms work closely with the Qatari government to make significant investments in infrastructure. Ooredoo has become a leader in fiber installation, introducing a 10Gbps home fiber network that is the fastest internet service currently available in the country. The company has also seen business adaptation of its broadband services rise by 30% as implementation has increased and access has become easier and more affordable for SMEs. While Ooredoo owns the copper duct network already in place throughout Qatar and is using that to install its fiber networks, Vodafone is working with the Qatar National Broadband Network (Qnbn) to bring its fiber services to market. Qnbn is a government-owned company that was granted a 25-year license in 2012 to help develop broadband capabilities by focusing on passive fiver infrastructure. In an interview with TBY, Qnbn CEO Dr. Ahmed Al-Sulaiti emphasized that Qnbn has a hand in projects all over Qatar. “Qnbn is involved in almost every major project in Qatar,” he told TBY. “ We have had 400% growth over previous years’ figures, and we have extended our network reach across the country.”
Yet, while broadband growth has been dramatic, conflicts between the industry’s leading firms has not always been without conflict. In late 2016, Ooredoo was criticized by Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority for not giving Qnbn and Vodafone adequate access to its underground network to develop their own fiber networks. With Ooredo controlling an estimated 98% of the fixed market as a legacy of its former monopolistic status, tensions have flared about the appropriate balance between the best decisions for the company and the best decisions for Qatar. Still, the Qataro government’s mandate on installing capacity has allowed growth to continue with a minimum of delays. “Our mandate is to provide the very best infrastructure for the operators to utilize,” Al-Sulaiti told TBY. “The very notion of the sharable network means that the government provides the broadband and communication network equally to all interested parties.”


The emphasis on improved infrastructure has resulted in gains in the mobile sector as well. Akamai rated Qatar’s mobile connection speeds at an average of 13.6Mbps in 2017, the highest in the MENA region. In February 2017, Ooredoo became the first operator in the Middle East to launch a 4.5G Pro network. Though only available in Doha at the present, the network will use Nokia ratio platform technology to offer data speeds of up to 80Mbps. It is a first step toward the eventual implementation of 5G networks; Ooredoo has already run trials of the 4.5 G Pro network that have reached 1Gpbs and technology demonstrations have touched the 3Gpbs mark with 4.9G networks. Qatar’s mobile and smartphone penetration rates are among the highest in the region and on par with the highest in the world; according to one survey by Northwestern University in Qatar, its smartphone adaption rate of 95% is behind only the UAE for highest in the MENA region. It comes as little surprise, then, that Qataris are among the most connected populations in the world, using their phones to read news, watch TV, and use social media platforms at rates that are the highest in the region. With a population already well aware of the capabilities of a robust mobile network, Qatari firms are making the natural transition to an Internet of Things that builds off preexisting mobile infrastructure to introduce new platforms and efficiencies to Qatari society.

The smart city plans for Doha and Lusail are two examples of how of how Qatar is turning connectivity into new economic opportunity. By working closely with developers, designers, and technology companies, Qatar is constructing developments that offer new integration with technologies. While much of this occurs at the management level with green energy and streamlined security and faculty management systems, this also creates new opportunities for consumers via tech integration. Shopping and transportation are already being evolved through mobile platforms; in Lusail City, Ooredoo has spent an estimated QAR200 million in installing a smart infrastructure that can send information about parking, traffic congestion, and commercial options to mobile phones. Similar plans are underway in Doha, where Orange Business Services has partnered with Qatari firm Meeza to launch a new smart city development in Downtown Doha. This plan calls for smart applications that allow citizens to utilize government services and make online payments. Wider banking applications are underway as well; the increased popularity of mobile money services have raised penetration among working populations who previously struggled with access.


When Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was a landmark moment for the country’s status on the world stage and a major boost to the Qatari ICT industry. One of the world’s largest events (officials have predicted 1 million international visitors), technology will be crucial in making the World Cup run smoothly and broadcasting it to the world’s largest media audience. Well aware of the scale of infrastructure required, the looming arrival of the World Cup has been a driver behind the increased investment of recent years. The improvements in capabilities have been documented, but Qatar’s technology firms also see the World Cup as a chance to introduce innovations on a global stage. Vodafone, for example, is working to pioneer smart stadium concepts that work much the same as smart cities to enhance visitor experiences and increase safety and efficiency. Ooredoo is working on similar technology at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, where mobile-connected fans will be able to order food and watch replays using their devices. Developing such technologies for the World Cup serves two purposes: first, the technological advances brought about by the massive wave of investment that comes with the World Cup will benefit the Qatari population, and the opportunity to develop these innovations on a global scale will help establish Qatar as a new hub for technological development in the Middle East.


Incubation hubs like Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) are one of the most important ways the Qatari government is helping to turn the population’s high rates of connectivity into entrepreneurship and social change. Founded in March 2009, QSTP is a more than USD800 million investment that draws upon Qatar’s international connections to support tech-based entrepreneurship and innovation. By connecting young Qataris with private sector representatives, Qatar’s government hopes to create new pathways and develop a new generation of knowledge-based SMEs. CISCO, ExxonMobil, and General Electric are just a few of the international firms that have partnered with QSTP, piggybacking on the center’s status as a free trade zone to establish research and development centers. The growth of the QSTP has been dynamic, with a 6,000sqm expansion completed in early 2017 and applications increasing every year, and bodes well for the continued development of Qatar’s technology sector.

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