Despite the many challenges facing the nations of the Middle East, there is enormous economic potential in the region, and a crucial factor in the region’s development will be the continuing growth and success of the telecoms sector.
In our fast-moving global economy, access to digital communications is vital for any nation to thrive. This is not just a question of being able to trade electronically but also of forging links with other parts of the region and the wider world, which is crucial if businesses and economies in the Middle East are to continue to expand and fulfil their potential.
Mobile phone use
In recent years, mobile phone use has been increasing dramatically throughout the Middle East, and it remains one of the world’s fastest growing telecoms markets. Mobile penetration rates have already passed the 100% mark in many of the Gulf states, and the mass markets of Turkey and Iran are leading the way in terms of volume of mobile phone users.
The rapidly growing demand has resulted in a steady decline in the cost of mobile phones,making the technology even more accessible, and has presented a challenge in terms of mobile infrastructure for governments throughout the region. Individual telecoms companies are responding to the increasingly competitive environment by offering a wider range of contracts or by moving into new countries with markets at an earlier stage of development, such as Iraq, where mobile phone companies are leading the way in rebuilding the economy, helping to fill the communications gap caused by a shortage of landline connections.
A key trend in the Middle East is the move towards smartphone use, with a dramatic increase in the uptake of the technology in recent years, and this is one of the other areas into which telecoms companies are increasingly diversifying. In Jordan, for example, all three of the nation’s mobile companies have set up 3G networks, which has fueled rapid growth in broadband usage, and in Israel, infrastructure sharing agreements, full number portability, and regulatory reform have enabled telecoms companies to meet this increasing demand.
Bringing societies together
The telecoms sector not only offers direct potential for business and the economy, but can also help to transform and enrich the lives of ordinary people. Across the region, telecoms entrepreneurs are bringing educational and training benefits to local economies and helping to bring people together. For example, the work of Ehsan Bayat in Afghanistan has been particularly notable. Bayat is a business executive, philanthropist, and Chairman of The Bayat Group. Together with the Afghan Ministry of Communications, he created the Afghan Wireless Communication Company, which helps millions of Afghan citizens to keep in touch with one another. Bayat was also responsible for the setting up of the Ariana Radio and Television Network, which broadcasts in three languages and provides a range of programming that offers training, education, and health advice to the people of Afghanistan, across all ethnicities and religious backgrounds.
There is no question that the region will continue to face serious challenges in the future, but the rapid growth of the telecoms market has been one of the great success stories of the Middle East in recent years. For the coming decade, the challenge for telecoms companies, entrepreneurs, and governments will be to continue to encourage demand and to put the infrastructure in place to meet that demand, enabling the people and economies of the region to thrive and to take a full part in the global economy and the worldwide exchange of ideas.