GSM sector comes of age

The recent GSM-3G Middle East and Gulf convention staged in Dubai proved a strong draw for a host of multinational companies keen to tap the regional telecommunications market. CommsMEA caught up with some of the key players in attendance.

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By  Administrator Published  October 8, 2007

GGSM-3G Middle East and Gulf attracted 3,000 of the Middle East GSM industry's top players with much of the activity at the event focusing on the latest technological developments and trends impacting the regional telecommunications industry.

Highlighting the massive growth in demand for mobile telco services in the Middle East, event organiser Informa revealed statistics that suggested the region's mobile service subscription base had grown by 8.5 million subscribers in 1Q07.

The demand for voice-related telecoms services remains very robust across the Middle East region.

At present, the Middle East boasts more than 80 million GSM subscribers with this number set to grow to 108 million by 2010, equating to 45% total market penetration.

These figures confirm that the Middle East is the world's fastest growing telco market, while growth rates remain consistently high across the region.

Inside of its first year of operations, telecoms solutions provider Acision showcased its intuitive messaging service technology at this year's GSM-3G exhibition.

Acision's managing director for MENA, Nabil Khalil claimed that the vast majority of messaging traffic in the Middle East is handled by Acision-developed technology.

"For more than 15 years [our technology] has been key to driving mobile data revenue growth, which provides us with a unique understanding of what it takes to bring innovative services to market," Khalil claims.

"Our expertise in intuitive messaging has helped us become the partner of choice in high volume mobile data services for the region's leading telecoms operators including Zain, Qtel, Oman Mobile and many others. We deliver more than half of the world's text and multimedia messages and serve three quarters of all videomail users."

Acision appears well-positioned to further expand its business in the Middle East and Africa, with Portio Research revealing statistics at the event which predicted that SMS traffic would grow by 120% in the Middle East and Africa by 2012.

"Successful companies are employing strategies that accelerate returns on investment (ROI), while reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) as they compete to introduce innovative services and generate revenue," notes Khalil.

Acision also used the event to highlight its recent deployment of an IP-based next generation short message service centre (SMSC) for Kuwait's Zain. This next-generation deployment is designed to provide Zain with expanded messaging service capacity to enable it to meet the expected increase in demand for SMS services from its subscriber base.

The double-digit increase in the volume of SMS traffic across the global market demonstrates the continued relevance of SMS in both emerging and developing markets. This popularity is expected to continue further with SMS and internet-based messaging services such as mobile instant messaging being made interoperable.

With so many high-powered industry players in attendance, event organisers took the opportunity to invite a number of them to be involved in a series of panel discussions.

A notable inclusion in the line-up was Motorola, whose representatives highlighted the company's vision for wireless broadband services in the Middle East.

While analysts predict that cellular technology such as GSM and HSxPA will continue to provide the backbone for service expansion across the region, Motorola believes that new wireless broadband technologies such as WiMAX will also play a key and often complementary role in addressing the Middle East's growing appetite for data connectivity.

"The demand for voice-related telecoms services remains very robust across the Middle East region. Some countries are approaching saturation points for voice penetration and mobile subscription but operators are now faced with a tremendous demand for high-speed data services that they must satisfy," says Noel Kirkaldy, director of wireless broadband for Motorola Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, home networks and mobility.

Kirkaldy also notes that several barriers are prohibiting the application of more widespread wireless broadband services in the Middle East. He points to Motorola's recent WiMAX deployment with MenaTelecom in Bahrain as indicative of the commercial opportunities the technology presents to new market entrants.

"Bahrain's highly liberalised regulatory environment made it a target market for us. If you look at the three main players in the market there it's worth noting that Batelco did not enter agggressively into the WiMAX space although it has with its overseas interests," notes Kirkaldy.

"Typically, an incumbent operator will say, ‘I've got fibre, copper and HSDPA and there's no need to go for WiMAX'. But what the technology does offer to operators is an opportunity to achieve rapid market penetration compared to alternative technologies," he says.

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