Taking stock

A look at the key trends in 2012, and predictions for 2013

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Taking stock A host of providers are expected to expand their presence across the MEA region.
By  Roger Field Published  January 13, 2013

There is no doubt that the past year has been one of the most exciting yet in the region’s telecoms sector. In the past 12 months we have seen some major advances with operators investing heavily in their networks and services.

In the mobile sector, operators have continued to invest in mobile broadband - expanding LTE coverage, and upgrading HSPA+ networks. Operators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain expanded their LTE networks while others, including Zain Kuwait, launched for the first time. Combined, these investments have strengthened the Gulf region’s position as a technology leader not just in the region, but globally.

Further afield, Africa experienced its first taste of LTE after Movicel launched the continent’s first commercial network in Angola. Meanwhile, operators have also brought 4G to markets including Namibia, Mauritius, Tanzania and South Africa, spreading the many benefits of broadband.

The MEA region has seen huge fixed-line investments, with new sub-sea cables transforming the region: Newcomer Gulf Bridge International and India’s Tata Communications brought vast amounts of international capacity online, while operators have taken the initiative and deployed fibre, giving end-users IP services they crave. But these projects are not cheap, and we all understand the challenge that the operators face in generating the return-on-investment they need.

In the past year, operators and vendors have worked hard to address this issue, investing in network optimisation technology and new billing systems, while tower sharing is also increasingly common.
New services, from IPTV to flexible data packages, are also helping operators to generate profits in a fast-changing landscape.

Given the scale of innovation in technology, the region’s telecoms sector looks set to surmount the challenges it faces. Indeed, looking ahead to 2013, it is interesting to consider the type of investments that we’ll see operators make. The major concern for mobile operators in 2013 is LTE. Operators that have already deployed networks include Etisalat and Du in the UAE, and STC, Zain and Mobily in KSA.

In North Africa, Morocco will probably be the first country to deploy LTE. The technology could become a commercial reality in Morocco by 2014, according to Pyramid Research, so some investment could take place in 2013. Other operators are testing and committed to deploying LTE, including Qtel, Nawras, Omantel.
So far, these networks are mainly in metropolitan areas and we can expect to see significant expansion in 2013.

LTE deployments, and general rising demand for mobile broadband will also lead to increased spending on other related technology including small cells, which increase and improve mobile broadband coverage in built up areas.

In terms of fixed-line, operators are investing heavily in fibre optic networks, allowing them too offer new fixed-line services such as IPTV, but also to improve backhaul and support their mobile networks. This is a trend that will continue in 2013 and beyond.

It is not just the mainstream operators that are investing in fixed-line infrastructure. Regulators are assessing new models such as National Broadband Networks, such as Q.NBN in Qatar, which is set to invest $500m in fibre in the next few years.

Improvements in network infrastructure will allow operators to offer improved services including faster downloads and improved access to content.

To maximise their ROI, operators must offer more tailored services rather than one-size-fits-all offerings. In order to do this, operators in the region are working to improve their billing systems, allowing them to offer different packages and special offers. In this light, spending on OSS and BSS will surely to increase in 2013.

We can also expect more deployments of optimization and network monitoring tech among Gulf operators in 2013, as they seek to maximise ROI from existing 3G and HSPA networks.

A lack of spectrum in the correct bands means that some LTE deployments in the region are not supported by most smartphones, so 3G networks will continue to see strong demand in 2013.

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