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Good growth for ME telecom forecast

Dubai, February 15, 2009

Despite a global economic crisis, the Middle Eastern telecommunications industry is expected to grow in 2009, with 28.68 million net additions to the mobile market over the year, according to a forecast.

The number of mobile subscriptions in the Middle East will cross the 250-million mark in late 2009 to reach 250.79 million at year-end, an Informa Telecoms & Media study said.

It's this expected growth that has led Informa Telecoms & Media to expand its influence in the Middle East with its new Dubai-based regional office, a statement said.

The Dubai office provides crucial support and advice to the region's telecom and media industry. This will be accomplished through Informa's range of services including core data products, World Cellular Information Service (WCIS) and World Broadband Information Service (WBIS), as well as its industry analysis tool, Intelligence Centre.

One of the key reasons Informa's analysts are so optimistic is despite the already record growth of the past few years, there is still plenty of room for investment. Saudi Arabia for example, despite being a more developed economy, still has a relatively low penetration rate in the field of broadband. When this is coupled with the fact that the Kingdom possesses such a young population – 50 per cent are below the age of 15 and 67 per cent below the age of 25 – it becomes clear why investors are still eager to engage with the market.  Saudi Arabia currently has a penetration rate of 80 per cent.  This may seem high, but when compared to other Gulf nations, many of whom have rates well above 100 per cent, it's clear that there is still substantial room for growth, the statement said.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation with 74 million inhabitants, still only had a mobile penetration rate of 49.65 per cent at end-September 2008.  All three Egyptian operators have now launched 3G, allowing them to offer new data and content services.

“What's exciting about this region, is it's not just traditional countries where we see so much opportunity, it's coming from nations like Iraq and Iran as well,” said Mike Woolfrey, managing director, Informa Telecoms & Media– Industry Research.

Iran has experienced the most growth in the region, overtaking Saudi Arabia to become the largest mobile market in the Gulf.  At the end of September 2008, there were an estimated 42.79 million mobile subscriptions in Iran.  By the same date, MTN Iranccell, Iran's number two operator, had amassed a subscription count of 13.14 million – this after only having launched its services two years prior.  The recent award of Iran's third mobile license to Etisalat should drive a new phase of growth.


The growth however, isn't contained to the region, as several Gulf-based operators are rapidly becoming global players. Three of the five fastest-growing operators in the world last year have their origins in the Gulf, according to research by Informa Telecoms & Media. Q-Tel topped the growth list, with its global proportionate equity subscriptions count climbing 129.5 per cent in the 12 months to end-3Q08, from 9.7 million to 22.3 million. The second-fastest growing international operator was Etisalat while Zain was ranked fifth.

"The expansion strategies of some of these firms have been very bold,” stated Matthew Reed, analyst mobile markets, Informa Telecoms & Media.  "Expansion in emerging markets is at the heart of many Gulf-based mobile operators’ strategies – and has enabled them to achieve rapid growth, turning them into global players.”

Informa also predicts that 2009 will witness further development and deployment of new technologies and services, including WiMAX and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).  With customer demand for broadband access outpacing the supply, technologies such as WiMAX have the potential to fill several impo


Tags: Telecom | Informa | World Cellular |

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