Is the UAE less phone and net-dependent than previously thought?
Revisions to internet and mobile phone penetration figures in the UAE haverevealed a smaller proportion of the population use such services than was previously thought.
Only 27.7 percent of the population are internet users, compared with a previous estimate of more than double that figure. In addition, the proportion of "active" mobile phone subscriptions has been overestimated by one third, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
"The new calculation methodology has resulted in a fall in penetration levels as reported on the TRA's website," the authority said. The reason for the lower numbers is that the TRA has revised its telecommunications usage statistics for this year to reflect more recent population statistics.
Previously, it had used statistics based on a census in 2005, which resulted in a lower estimate of the total population. This meant it had overestimated the percentage of the population using fixed-line, mobile and broadband connections.
Mobile subscriber penetration now stands at 149.1 percent, less than previous estimate of almost 200 percent. A figures - which suggested every resident had two mobile phone lines - was often used as an example of the UAE as a mature telecoms market.
Mohamed Al Ghanim, the director general of the TRA, pointed out that the UAE was still a highly connected country. "The market is very sophisticated, and the adoption rate is very high," he said. "The reality is that we have a very connected country as a whole … the penetration in the UAE is still extremely high."
Mr. Al Ghanim pointed to the TRA's measure of active mobile phone subscriptions, which counts only lines that have been used recently. "We have been aggressive [compared with] the rest of the world in saying that it's the active mobile subscribers. We've been very strict," said Mr Al Ghanim. Mobile penetration is often cited by analysts as a measure of maturity of a local telecoms market.
The revised figures may suggest there is more room for growth than previously thought, said Ibrahim Masood, a director and senior investment officer for asset management at Mashreq. However, the opportunity suggested by the TRA figures is limited, because of the relatively small size of the UAE. "The population is still quite small," said Mr Masood. He added that the penetration rate was not the most important measure for local telecoms operators. "It doesn't capture where the growth or underlying profitability is," he said. "From a telecom operator's perspective, I would suspect that it isn't the most exciting part of their business." Mr. Al Ghanim said there had been "steady" growth in the UAE telecoms market over recent years.
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