Meet Mr. Wireless

The Middle East and Africa’s status as one of the most exciting markets in the global communications area has attracted entrepreneurs and multinational corporations alike, all of them eager to introduce new ideas and spur growth. Steve Higgins, a man who helped forge the development of independent Wi-Fi hotspots across Europe has landed in Dubai and is eager to expand his successful wireless model in the Middle East and Africa.

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By  Administrator Published  July 3, 2007

The founder and CEO of UK-based communications company Purple Patch Wireless Steve Higgins has risen to prominence in the European ICT market since 2002 with a succession of industry firsts that has resulted in him assuming the reputation of being ‘Mr Wireless'.

Higgins' Purple Patch Wireless is a company that has been active in the Middle East and Africa for the past five years, though Purple Patch's Middle East headquarters was opened in Dubai's Media City a little under 12 month's ago.

"During the last five years I was able to build up a strong catalogue of contacts in this region leading me to quickly realise that the MEA is one of the most important markets to be present in, given the rapid development of the economies here," Higgins says.

Having sold his UK hotspot business in April 2006, Higgins now resides in Dubai's Marina district, and claims that his sights are now firmly set on cracking the MEA market.

"In the last 12 months alone we have been able to do US$10 million worth of business in this region," he reveals. The company has secured a number of high profile contracts in the region's education sector including a wireless deployment in The Sharjah Institute of Technology.

Purple Patch has also successfully targeted the Middle East's corporate segment, having provided companies such as local motor specialists Gargash and trading and maintenance company Tamco Middle East with in-building wireless connectivity.

"The reality is that pretty soon almost every building in the corporate and education sector is going to be wireless meaning the ongoing requirement for this technology and subsequent services is massive," states Higgins.

However, he believes that the development of the MEA's wireless infrastructure has been slow to emulate the exponential growth rate the technology has enjoyed in Europe.

"It has been harder to find good investment opportunities in this region than I had originally thought. I would attribute this to the regional market's heavy emphasis on trading (rather than technology and communications infrastructure deployment)," he explains.

Higgins claims the proliferation of ‘no charge' wireless hotspots in the UAE over the last two years has also led Purple Patch to veer away from its traditional public wireless hotspot business model, which had proven so successful in the UK.

"In the UK we were very much focused on the Wi-Fi segment and rolling out hotspots in public areas. However, my personal feeling is the amount of ‘no charge' public hotspots in the UAE makes it difficult to build a sustainable business using this model.

"I would say that if a company offering wireless hotspot services is to remain financially viable it would need a client-base of at least 200 venues," he adds.

Given the current market conditions and regulatory climate in the GCC, Higgins believes that potential hotspot operators will find it difficult to compete against incumbent operators.

However, he also claims that some regulatory issues could be addressed to make the market more amenable to the entry of smaller players in this segment.

"In the UAE for example, it is prohibited to deploy any kind of wireless network without a licence issued by the regulator - this has been a very limiting factor," he says.

"We had developed a very good meshing technology for outdoors and we were keen to deploy this technology in the UAE but the regulatory requirements in the country halted our plans," he adds.

Taking these market conditions into account, Higgins goes on to explain how he is still eager to pair with potential wireless hotspot operators by licensing Purple Patch's catalogue of intellectual property in the wireless segment across the MEA region.

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