What is your outlook on the sector and what are the main drivers of growth?
In summary, the outlook for the sector continues to remain positive. This is due to a variety of factors including: a history of savvy investment and commercial decisions from the UAE's telecommunications service providers; the continued effective maintenance of, and investment in, telecommunications networks; and the ongoing strengthening of the sector's regulatory framework. These factors will be further buoyed by a positive economic outlook for the UAE and recovering global markets. Broadband has the potential to be a significant driver of growth for the telecommunications sector in the UAE. The UAE has one of the most advanced broadband networks in the world, utilizing the latest technologies that are capable of delivering extremely high-speed services. The challenge is now for telecommunications service providers to secure the growth potential that these networks offer by promoting a compelling set of packages to customers at competitive prices. In particular, if the licensees are successful in encouraging their subscribers to migrate to higher speed broadband services, thus enabling them to benefit from the existence of the UAE's high-speed networks, significant financial gains could be made.
What improvements are you planning for 2014?
In 2014, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is placing a strong focus on further strengthening its corporate culture of excellence in order to facilitate the achievement of the vision and mission of the TRA. Within this context, a series of internal projects are underway to optimize the TRA's internal procedures and processes, and to ensure its way of doing things is in line with international best practice. The TRA also intends to place increased emphasis on improving the UAE's rankings in various international ICT indicators. This will force us to consider what measures we should introduce, and what changes are appropriate, in order for the UAE to be considered one of the best in the world in terms of its overall ICT ecosystem. The TRA will also continue to engage with third-party stakeholders throughout the regulatory decision-making process to ensure the views of all affected parties are considered. The TRA recently established the first ever Electronic Federal Network (FedNET) in the UAE. FedNET will provide high-speed connectivity and integration between the various information systems of UAE government departments. The network will connect all federal institutions in a way that raises efficiency and reduces costs. It will also help achieve a faster transition to smart government. Upon official completion of the implementation process, FedNET will provide information technology services within a collaborative and secure environment in order to efficiently meet the needs of the public. FedNET will facilitate the delivery of shared services and cloud services to federal entities. Both types of services will work toward achieving the necessary enablement and integration among services delivered through federal entities' e-government services. The project implementation started in the beginning of 2014 and is expected to be completed over a period of 18 months. FedNET is one of the initiatives falling under the mGovernment (mobile government) transformation roadmap, which focuses on establishing shared resources across various UAE government entities. In addition to FedNET, the project includes additional services including interconnectivity, digital identity, payment channels, cloud services, a trusted service manager, and mobile innovation center. The TRA has coordinated one of the first cross-role, cross-organization mobile technology training programs focused on government services in the world. Over the course of 2H2013, TRA and a team of international mobile technology experts assessed the various levels of readiness across different federal ministries, Emirate agencies, and municipal smart government groups. The findings from those assessment activities resulted in the creation of a flexible and scalable curriculum that will be presented across the UAE. Four role-based courses will be delivered in the program, including: mGov innovation training for managers, a four-day course focused on understanding how to best manage mobile technology complexity and increase the quality of mGov services; enabling IT staff to support mGov services through four days of in-depth technical discussions and hands-on labs to let IT staff experience mobile technologies first hand; and application development essentials for design and strategy over four days of application design experiences to help drive the development of high-quality mGov services.
In an interview with Dubai Internet City's CEO, he mentioned that the availability of investors, political stability, access to thousands of international businesses, and a developed ICT society all contribute to making the UAE a compelling destination for entrepreneurship and new start-ups. What's your view on this?
I strongly agree with this comment. There is no single factor that determines whether a specific location is attractive for prospective businesses. Instead, a range of factors are considered and the overall desirability of a particular location is determined by the extent to which that location can meet all of the businesses' individual requirements. One of the key areas of focus for the TRA is in ensuring that the delivery of ICT services in the UAE provides a favorable and competitive environment for businesses. This means that it's vital that telecommunications providers in the UAE offer a broad range of high-quality, reliable services at a reasonable cost. It is well known that telecommunications networks in the UAE are highly advanced. Prices are also generally competitive when considered on a regional level, and, indeed, mobile telephony prices are considered low by international standards. Further regulatory measures, such as the proposed introduction of the bitstream access service, a form of infrastructure sharing, will be expected to reduce the price of telecommunications services further in the future. The fundamental idea of the UAE's wise leadership is progress built on a knowledge-based economy. This is endorsed in the UAE Vision 2021, which sets goals for our country in the social, economic, health, educational, and related fields. The UAE Vision 2021 states that, “the UAE will become one of the best places in the world to do business." The UAE's laws, policies, and government services aim to promote businesses and push economic growth while securing the harmony of interests of the parties involved. The UAE's federal eGovernment program and the mobile government initiative aim to achieve this goal. In fact, the results can already be seen in the Ease of Doing Business 2014 report, jointly published by The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. The UAE stood at 23rd amongst 189 countries assessed on the basis of regulations and framework for starting and conducting a business. The UAE government offers several such services through the electronic platform in a timesaving and cost-effective way with a focus on reducing paperwork.
Approximately 85% of UAE residents have an internet connection. What does this figure mean for the TRA?
The fact that 85% of UAE residents have an internet connection means a number of things. First, it means that the telecommunications providers in the UAE have done a good job in promoting the uptake of internet services. Second, it indicates that the TRA has, to date, offered a sound regulatory framework to facilitate the continued uptake of internet services. The challenge now is to ensure the regulatory framework remains appropriate for the continually changing needs of consumers and internet service providers. Third, it underscores that the time is right for businesses and government entities to invest in providing online services to consumers and residents. Such services have the potential to improve the efficiency of the organizations that provide the services by reducing the need for a consumer/resident facing presence, while the availability of such services can save significant time for users of the relevant service. Fourth, it indicates that businesses may need to alter the methods they use to reach and interact with potential customers. In particular, businesses that fail to provide an online presence may face difficulties in acquiring and retaining customers. 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. The TRA recently commissioned an independent study to measure the macroeconomic impact of the telecommunications sector on the UAE's economy. On a conservative basis, it was estimated that, overall, the sector contributed around 8% of total UAE GDP in 2012, equivalent to AED106 billion. This figure includes both the direct impact, consisting of the contribution of the licensed telecommunications service providers and retailers, as well as an indirect impact that includes the productivity gains that accrue in the economy as a result of, for example, the ability of telecommunications services to increase the speed of communication and the diffusion of innovation.