Luddites have come last throughout history

Those that ignore the advancements of technology are doomed to be overtaken by them.

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By  Rob Corder Published  February 8, 2007

Two stories on caught my eye today: Emirates Airline flying direct to Houston, and Riyadh switching on a free, broadband wireless Internet service.

The two seemingly unconnected news items would not have been possible without dramatic improvements in technology and, more important, the vision of far-sighted individuals that chose to embrace it.

Broadband wireless networks are nothing new, nor could they be considered at the bleeding edge of technological innovation.

But the leadership shown by the Riyadh Governor's office in throwing the service open free of charge to the city's citizens shows true vision.

Saudi Arabia, so often criticised for trailing the rest of the Middle East, has leap-frogged countries that have claimed technological and communications leadership, in a stroke.

The UAE's Internet infrastructure is by no means out of date, but the prices charged by Etisalat look anachronistic compared to Riyadh's.

Dubai residents might be falling behind in terms of modern day Internet access, but they enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to air travel.

Over a decade ago, Emirates made a decision that it would become one of the world's greatest airlines, and it was going to grab first mover advantage with any new aviation technology that came over the horizon.

Those, like me, that have flown with Emirates for many years, will remember the excitement of the first seat-back television screens appearing in the airline's cabins.

We now marvel at the video-on-demand system upgrade that even economy passengers enjoy.

More important is the investment in the newest aircraft. At times, as we have witnessed with the Airbus A380 fiasco, this strategy is not without risk.

But the rewards can be substantial. The airline was among the world's first to invest in Boeing 777-200LRs (the LR stands for long range), which has allowed it to fly non-stop between the New York and Dubai.

Now Houston, a full 17 hours non-stop from Dubai, is in range. European hub airports that have got rich on flights from the USA to Asia, are now being bypassed.

GCC governments are rich with the spoils of the current oil price boom, and have a unique opportunity to invest those riches in far-sighted projects.

What must not happen - and we see this in the UAE with the protectionist handcuffing of Du - is for governments to maintain old working practices. Those that seize the future first will gain the greatest advantages.

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