Shining a light on Middle East telecoms

Upbeat company announcements at Gulfcomms point towards an optimistic outlook for the regional ICT sector.

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By  Administrator Published  November 13, 2008

Upbeat company announcements at Gulfcomms point towards an optimistic outlook for the regional ICT sector.

While pessimists set the rumour mill churning as to whether this year's Gitex Technology Week and Gulfcomms would mark a decline from previous editions, evidence from the event points to a successful show, particularly given the current global economic climate.

And even if visitor numbers at Gulfcomms failed to eclipse last year's edition, there were plenty of upbeat announcements from regional and international ICT players that painted an optimistic assessment of the Middle East's telecom sector.

Gitex Technology Week has on the whole been a fruitful week for Avaya Intelligent Communications. We have met with many business opportunities, which will require further discussion after [the event]. - Roger El-Tawil, director for channel and marketing for Avaya MENA and Turkey.

If a global economic slowdown does have any effect on the region, it seems likely that the sheer scale of many projects in the Middle East and North Africa, from real estate developments in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to the roll out of new telecom networks in Africa, should see the sector through.

Among the many plans revealed at Gulfcomms, a number stood out for the level of investment involved, while others demonstrated the progress the region is making towards having a more liberalised telecom sector.

Many of the developments announced at the event also served as a reminder of why the region's telecoms infrastructure is developing so rapidly - demand. A fast rising population throughout the region, as well as rising a hunger for better mobile and data services, provides a strong foundation for ongoing growth.

Many of the projects announced will help provide improved services. For example, it was revealed at the exhibition that Gulf countries are set to be connected via an advanced submarine cable network, provided by Gulf Bridge International (GBI), a privately-owned submarine cable operator that is being backed by a number of enterprises such as Knowledge Ventures and Al Madar Telecom.

The organisation, which also receives support from British Telecom (BT), will work on constructing a submarine cable infrastructure around the Gulf region, to be operational in 2011. Rashid Alnaimi, chairman at Knowledge Ventures, said the new service will "enhance the level of competition and quality on the submarine traffic market."

Meanwhile, satellite operators Inmarsat and Yahsat also unveiled significant investments. Inmarsat is planning to increase the guaranteed IP data speed available on its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service, in a move that could offer near-broadcast quality video by mid-2009.

The project, which is currently in development, will deliver a minimum guaranteed streaming rate of 384kbps, making significant improvements to video quality. The premium streaming service will be available on all existing BGAN terminals that are capable of accessing current streaming rates of 256kbps, and will be accessible without the need for additional external hardware.

UAE-based Yahsat, meanwhile, is planning to launch a satellite broadband internet service aimed at businesses and individuals in remote areas in the Middle East, Africa, and South West Asia.

The service will be available for both home users and enterprises through Yahsat 1B, Yahsat's second satellite, which is to be launched in mid-2011. The service is the latest announcement from Yahsat, which is investing a total of US $1.8 billion in the launch of its two satellites and the rollout of its services.

Even handset makers, far more open to being hammered by the credit crunch, are ramping up operations in the Middle East. The creators of the popular Blackberry smart phone are expanding "aggressively" across the Gulf in a bid to meet high demand, a Research In Motion (RIM) executive said in October.

Khaled Kefel, director of sales for Turkey, Middle East and Africa, said on the sidelines of the Gitex technology exhibition that the growth potential of the region was enormous.

Kefel said RIM is boosting the presence of Blackberry in Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.

Roger El-Tawil, director for channel and marketing for Avaya MENA and Turkey was also upbeat about the event. "Gitex Technology Week has on the whole been a fruitful week for Avaya Intelligent Communications. We have met with many business opportunities, which will require further discussion after [the event]," El-Tawil said.

Helal Saeed Almarri, director general, Dubai World Trade Centre, organiser of the event said: "Gulfcomms always proves a very popular segment of Gitex Technology Week, by providing a focused platform for the communication market across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia," he said.

Population growth and deregulation will see the MENA region take over from America and Europe in the next five years, and much of the new business will be generated during Gitex Technology Week."

The wider Gitex Technology Week event, of which Gulfcomms is part, also turned in a strong performance, according to Almarri.

"This year has seen some of the most exciting deals done in the Middle East and we are delighted with the feedback from industry leaders on their participation," Almarri added.

Dell, du, Dubai EGovernment, Etisalat, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Panasonic, RTA, Samsung and Sony were among many leading companies to use Gitex as the perfect event to make some of their biggest announcements of the year, according to Almarri.

Microsoft Gulf announced the launch of the new Microsoft Dynamics AX (Axapta) 2009, furthering its commitment to developing a comprehensive product portfolio under its business solutions portfolio. Tamer Elhamy, Microsoft business solutions manager said: "Microsoft has been very happy to participate for the first year with our Microsoft Dynamics product line through our partners. We showcased our vertical solutions through 45 industry specific sessions and were also pleased to see high levels of interest in our ERP and CRM offerings."

Samsung Gulf Electronics launched the new Omnia and Innov8 mobile phones at the exhibition. "We have had positive feedback from consumers, business partners and prospective clients alike," said Ranjan Mazumdar, Vice President, Samsung Gulf Electronics.

ICT in MENA

According to US-based financial analysts Global Insight, the UAE is currently spending some US$11.4 billion on information and communication technology, and that figure is set to rise to US$14.8 billion by 2011.

The largest area of spending in the UAE ICT market, according to the research, is within the consumer sector, with US$5.3 billion currently being spent; a figure that is set to rise to US$6.8 billion in the next three years. The UAE is also currently spending nearly US$1 billion on ICT in the communications, energy and utilities, and government sectors, with each rising to US$ 1.2 billion by 2011.

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