United Arab Emirates – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband

The UAE generally leads the Middle East Arab countries in ICT rankings, with a well-developed and technologically advanced telecom sector and high levels of mobile, telephone, and broadband penetration. Fixed-line competition, however, has been slow to develop, despite market liberalisation.

The UAE has two fixed network operators: incumbent Etisalat and newer operator du, which launched services in February 2007. Both operators are majority owned by the government. With the prospect of competition, Etisalat reduced its charges to some extent, but failure to implement network sharing has restricted both operators geographically – du has a monopoly in Dubai’s free trade zones, while Etisalat has a monopoly elsewhere..

Although network-sharing negotiations between Etisalat and du have been ongoing for years, a successful resolution has been repeatedly thwarted by disagreements over bitstream access – even so, both companies claim a bitstream access service will be launched in the short term.

Etisalat is one of the most profitable telecom organisations in the region; it is the second largest contributor to the UAE’s economic development (after petroleum), the 6th largest company in the Middle East, and the 140th largest company in the world. Besides being the incumbent telco in the UAE, Etisalat operates in several other African and Asian countries.

Like the fixed line market, the mobile market is also a duopoly comprised of Etisalat and du. Etisalat is the mobile market leader, with about 54% of the country’s mobile subscribers.
Mobile penetration in the UAE is among the highest in the world, largely due to the country’s affluence as well as to a significantly sized and fluid population of expatriate workers. Often, consumers own more than one SIM card to take advantage of promotional offers.

Etisalat and du have both deployed sophisticated HSPA+ and LTE networks that cover more than 88% of the population, underpinning growth opportunities centred on mobile broadband, content and applications. Etisalat plans to cover 99% of populated areas in the UAE with 4G by end-2015. Smart phones are becoming increasingly popular, accounting for close to two thirds of the country’s mobile handsets.

The broadband market in the UAE is one of the most advanced both regionally and globally. The UAE boasts the world’s highest penetration of Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH), ahead even of South Korea and Hong Kong. The country has been leading the Global FttH Ranking since 2012; in early 2015, estimated FttH penetration topped 70%. Both incumbent Etisalat and alternative provider du operate FttH networks – du in the Dubai free trade zones and Etisalat in the rest of the country. Besides FttH, other internet technologies available in the UAE include ADSL, cable modem, and mobile broadband.

The UAE government at both federal and emirate level has been proactive in the digital economy and digital media sectors, with programs to encourage computer and internet use. Like other countries in the Middle East, the UAE aims to transition into a ‘knowledge based and highly productive economy’ by 2021. An important aspect of this vision involves the implementation of smart infrastructure, including smart grids and smart homes. Examples of smart systems in the UAE can be found primarily in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE’s most ambitious project is the construction of Masdar City, a smart city that is being built near Abu Dhabi.

Key developments:
Masdar City, the UAEs ambitious smart city project, is scheduled for completion between 2020 and 2025. Utility companies ADWEA and DEWA have been installing smart electricity and water meters in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. Etisalat has launched a Smart Home service powered by Belkins WeMo, which allows customers to control their homes remotely using their smartphones. Etisalat has started a phased upgrade of it its network to LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) Tri-Band carrier aggregation (CA) technology, doubling speeds from 150Mb/s to 300Mb/s. Using Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite technology for backhaul connectivity, Etisalat has launched 4G and triple play services for users in remote areas. Most handsets in the UAE are Nokia, but the market share of Nokia phones is declining in favour of Samsung. Two additional submarine cable networks will connect the UAE to the rest of the world: the Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) and the SEA-ME-WE 5.

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year

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