Mobile mania! MENA cell phone sales higher than ever in 2014
A Saudi woman talks on her phone in a shopping mall (File/AFP)
There were 195 million unique mobile subscribers in the Mena region at the end of 2013, a penetration rate of 53 per cent of the total population, a report said, signalling a growth faster than global average.
Total mobile connections in the region stood at 404 million at year-end, added the GSMA’s (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) new report “Arab States: Mobile Economy 2014”.
“Mobile has scaled dramatically in the Arab States over the last five years, delivering significant socio-economic benefits in every country across this diverse region,” said Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA.
“As regional operators continue to invest in mobile broadband networks and services, we call on governments in the region to collaborate with the mobile industry to deliver on a range of goals, from rolling out networks to under-served areas in North Africa to ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to support global business hubs such as Dubai.
“In the emerging economies, mobile commerce solutions are extending financial services to unbanked populations and helping bridge the digital divide. In the Gulf States, mobile is driving innovation in areas such as machine-to-machine and smart city solutions. We are also seeing mobile networks play an important role in disaster response and crisis management,” Bouverot added.
A diverse mobile landscape
The 19 markets that form the Arab States comprise both the advanced Gulf States and many populous emerging markets in North Africa. These two sub-regions vary widely in terms of socioeconomics, mobile penetration, technology maturity and regulatory environments.
A number of Gulf States, including Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), already have unique mobile subscriber penetration rates above 75 per cent.
By contrast, just 16 per cent of the population in South Sudan is subscribed to a mobile service (see table). Egypt is the largest market in the region with 44 million unique mobile subscribers at the end of 2013, accounting for 23 per cent of the region’s total.
The five largest markets, in order of size, are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria and Morocco, which together account for just under two-thirds of the region’s total unique mobile subscriber base.
A fast-growing region
The mobile industry in the Arab states has grown faster than the global average over the last five years. Unique mobile subscribers grew by 9.5 per cent per year (CAGR) between 2008 and 2013, compared to a global average growth of 8.2 per cent; mobile connections grew by 13.2 per cent per year over the same period, compared to an 11 per cent growth rate globally.
The general lack of fixed-line infrastructure in the region means that mobile is already the primary means of communication and increasingly also the primary means of accessing the Internet. Mobile has played an active role in addressing the digital divide and delivering financial inclusion to previously underserved populations, particularly in parts of North Africa.
Although in global terms the Arab States were relatively late to launch higher speed networks, a number of the Gulf States are considered global technology leaders. Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounts for well over a third of total connections in the Gulf States today and is as high as 60 per cent of the total connections in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Two of these markets – Qatar and the UAE – also have the highest smartphone adoption rates in the world (80 per cent of connections).
There are also now signs of an accelerating technology migration underway in North Africa. Countries such as Morocco are seeing rapid growth in 3G connections. The combination of accelerating mobile broadband network rollout and rising smartphone penetration is driving mobile data growth across the region. For the vast majority of local operators, mobile data now accounts for a significant and fast-growing portion of total service revenue.
Contributing to the economy
Mobile is an important contributor to social and economic development in the region. The mobile industry contributed $122 billion to the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, accounting for 4.4 per cent of the total. In that year, the industry directly employed nearly one million people, while an additional 600,000 jobs were supported across the rest of the economy as a result of activity generated by the mobile sector.
The local mobile industry also makes a significant contribution to public sector funding in the form of taxation ($13 billion in 2013), in addition to regulatory and spectrum fees.
Mobile operators in the region grew mobile revenue by 7 per cent per year (CAGR) over the last five years, significantly above the global average of 4.6 per cent. Operators have invested $75 billion over the last six years on improving network coverage, increasing network capacity and deploying mobile broadband networks.
“Mobile is powering a wave of innovative new services and applications across the region, though we are only just beginning to see the positive transformative potential of mobile broadband,” concluded Bouverot.
“Regional operators are well placed to deliver new solutions that can address the region’s social, economic and public services challenges, and the GSMA is pleased to be collaborating with local operators, governments and other stakeholders to help bring these services to market.”
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