Communication breakdown

The UAE is failing its citizens and businesses with woeful investment in broadband services, argues Rob Corder.

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By  Rob Corder Published  January 9, 2009

The UAE can be justifiably proud of its record on using world class communications to gain competitive advantages against other countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The Emirates claim not just one, but two, world-class airlines in the form of Etihad and Emirates. Dubai International Airport is the envy of the world for its passenger, cargo and other commercial services.

Jebel Ali port revolutionised shipping in the region when it opened. It remains the largest deep water port in the world, and underpins the success of Dubai Ports World, which now dominates shipping across the globe.

Residents may still grumble, but investment in roads over the past five years has been truly remarkable. Crossing Dubai creek used to be an hour-long grind every day for commuters who today whiz across the new Garhoud Bridge and Business Bay Crossing in seconds.

Even rail communications will soon be brought into the 21st century as Dubai Metro opens, and a pan-Emirates inter-city rail system moves beyond the planning stage.

This is a country that has learnt all the lessons of history and appreciates that communications drive economic expansion.

It is therefore unfathomable that the UAE internet infrastructure remains so slow, expensive and unreliable.

Etisalat is one of the most profitable communications service providers in the world, but its investment in broadband has been woeful.

Du, which was supposed to provide competition, has settled into a comfortable duopoly with Etisalat that has been of little benefit to consumers.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority is well-meaning but toothless.

The UAE is a nation of high wealth households that will happily pay for high speed broadband. Few would balk at paying Dhs250, Dhs500, or even Dhs1000 if they were guaranteed 20-50 Mbit/s always-on broadband.

These would effectively be business class customers that could subsidise the rollout of mainstream services to more modest households that might choose a 5 Mbit/s service at Dhs150 per month.

This is merely an example of s simple business model (I’m not pretending to be an expert at running Internet Service Providers), but it illustrates the ease with which services could be improved if Du, Etisalat or a new entrant pulled their fingers out.

International bandwidth remains a significant problem, but only because telcos refuse to pay for more. Additional satellite-based and undersea cable-based bandwidth requires investment, but Etisalat, with its staggering profits, could certainly afford it.

Du could commit future internet royalties to nudge Etisalat to press on faster.

Or perhaps this is an area where government should be directly investing. The government has recognised the power of communications by land, sea and air. It is high time it brought the country up to speed in cyberspace.

3791 days ago
hiro bachani

Mr. Corder has hit the nail on the head. It is really unfathomable why Dubai- which has the best of most everything- is not being served very well as far as internet broadband and speed capability is concerned. Is it something to do with monopolies. Even in a bureaucratic country like india - they have several competing operators- so india has better services in this category, and in telecommunications overall. Let us hope things will improve soon here too. regards- hiro bachani- mg. director- -

3807 days ago

If the new shift is towards online marketing and rich media, they definitely need to make the web much faster and more accessible to everyone. Increase the speed, lower the prices or else interactive advertising will fall flat.

3807 days ago

its just a very sad case. My sis uses 20mbps in london at half the cost. I got upgraded to the 4mbps package, so i could see her on video cam without any jitters. But the wireless is still too slow. Not to forget the random disconnections.

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