As with the rest of the world, Middle East countries and their telecom operators are working toward large-scale deployment of 5G networks to improve connection and download speeds for all devices, as well as to allow for future integration in technology-driven smart cities. Beyond the implementation of 5G networks, here are five recent developments that are shaping the telecom sector in the Middle East.
Iran Moving Toward Free Market Internet Economy
Less than one year after launching its mandatory Internet Fair Usage Policy (FUP), the Iranian Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) took a step toward the deregulation of its Internet market in July as it announced the removal of price caps on tariffs for most Internet service providers (ISP). At the time of the announcement, CRA chief Hossein Fallah noted that ISPs will receive a directive to set prices in accordance with market demand by the end of the summer. The hope is that the removal of price caps will lead to both lower costs and better quality of services.
In addition to pricing measures, the FUP requires each landline ISP to establish a data cap for different Internet speeds, and as a result, local ISPs like HiWeb, Pars Online, and Shatel have already significantly increased their data cap as opposed to previous limits to stay competitive. Shatel, for instance, now offers Internet speeds of 4 Mbps with a 110-gigabyte (GB) data cap for 400,000 rials. Prior to the introduction of the FUP, it offered a 4 Mbps connection with a 4 GB data limit for 440,000 rials.
Bahrain Ranks Fourth in UN Index for Telecom Infrastructure
Regarded as one of the most healthy and successful in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Bahrain telecom sector boasts low tariffs and high mobile phone use, and has continued to grow thanks in part to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, which was established in 2002 to liberalize the sector from the Batelco monopoly and protect consumer interests. As of 2013, there were 20 active telecom operators in the country.
In July, the kingdom was recognized for its landmark strides in the sector as it was ranked fourth in the United Nations (UN) global index for telecom infrastructure. Previously, it ranked 11th in the UN’s 2016 index. Denmark, Australia, and South Korea ranked first, second, and third respectively in the 2018 index. Issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the report evaluates the quality and scope of online services, as well as human capacity and the condition of telecom infrastructure. The report also noted that, “GCC countries managed to achieve a series of substantial accomplishments related to improving e-government systems and making it easier for citizens to access government portals of other GCC member states.”
UAE Telecom Subscribers Reach 24 Million
According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, telecom service subscribers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) increased 2 percent to 24 million during the first five months of 2018. The biggest contributor to that growth was mobile phone penetration, which increased per 100 subscribers from 226 to 230 lines, while the total number of subscribers rose 2 percent to 20.25 million. Similarly, mobile phone services comprised more than 80 percent of all revenue among telecom operators.
Significant Job Growth in the Saudi Telecom and IT Sector
Since the Saudi government announced plans for a $500 billion high-tech megacity at The Future Investment Initiative in 2017, the kingdom’s IT and telecom sector has registered a 29 percent increase in e-recruitment. During the same time, overall hiring in Saudi Arabia increased 10 percent. The sharp increase falls in line with the kingdom’s strategy for digital evolution as part of Vision 2030.
“The latest [Monster Employment Index] findings come as no surprise given Saudi Arabia’s plans to drive a digital transformation,” said Abhijeet Mukherjee, CEO of Monster.com, Asia-Pacific and Middle East. “Recent initiatives like the ‘Neom’ project is a testament to the country’s ambitious desire to become one of the world’s leading players in the technology industry.”
VIVA Signs Partnership Agreement with Payment Solutions Company
VIVA is one of the fastest-growing telecom operators in Kuwait, with 89 branches throughout the country, and the company is seeking further expansion through its involvement in the recharge cards and prepaid lines sub-sector. In August, the company signed a strategic partnership agreement with Al-Aaly Communications, a payment solutions company, to be its exclusive distributor of its prepaid products. According to VIVA CEO Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Badran, the partnership will facilitate the development and distribution of a variety of innovative products.
“This strategic partnership with Al-Aaly Company is part of our expansion plans in 2018, and we will put all our expertise to ensure the success of this partnership,” he said after signing the contract at a ceremony in the Salmiya area of Kuwait City.
The deal comes shortly after the company announced its net profits reached KD 23.8 million in the six-month period ending June 30, which represents a growth of 21 percent from the same time frame in 2017.