CAUGHT IN THE WEB

Saudi Arabia 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: INTERNET CONSUMPTION

Saudi Arabia's skyrocketing mobile data consumption is supporting economic growth. As avid users of social media, Saudis benefit from low data prices and mobile operators are seizing market opportunities.

Saudis are voracious consumers of internet data. The Kingdom ranks seventh globally in terms of individual accounts on social media, with an average seven accounts per person. A survey conducted by Saudi Aramco and based on official statistics from social media websites showed that Saudi Arabia occupies the 14th position in terms of WhatsApp users, with 56% of mobile phone users chatting on the app, while a British research company's report placed Saudis as the top users of Snapchat among Arab countries and second worldwide. More than 60% of Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia use the application for at least one hour each day.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia accounts for over 40% of Twitter users in the MENA region. These numbers are a great opportunity for mobile operators in Saudi Arabia. Considering that data prices in Saudi are among the lowest in the world (one gigabyte in Saudi costs SAR10, while in the UK the price is GBP10, or SAR55), mobile operators expect to further monetize data usage at some point in the future and prices are likely to increase. In a bid to support this huge demand, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is seeking to encourage ICT use by deploying advanced ICT services across the country. At the end of last year, the commission installed internet services in 17,342 villages and hamlets inhabited by 4.19 million people. The government aims to bring internet to all communities. The USF, established in 2006, was tasked with connecting unprofitable underserved zones. Thanks to its work, after the creation of the Fund, the provision of ICT services in the country has doubled. As a result of efforts, Saudi Arabia today boasts one of the world's highest internet penetration rates, at 93%. A young and IT-savvy population is also driving the rise of the e-commerce market, which today is worth SAR5.6 billion ($1.4 billion). E-commerce users reached 10.6 million in 2016 (one-third of the population). This number reveals an astonishing increase when compared to 2014, when online shoppers numbered only 3.9 million. However, the internet revolution is having an impact beyond just e-commerce. Saudis have started to reconsider their courting customs. In a country where arranged marriages are still quite common, the matchmaking website “Et3arraf," or “get to know," allows young single Saudis to find their partner in a culturally compliant manner. Internet and ICT devices have become an indispensable part of everyday life in Saudi Arabia and this is having positive economic repercussions. According to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT), the ICT sector represented 6% of the country's GDP in 2015, and its contribution to the national economy accounts for 10% of non-oil GDP.