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Less than 50% in UAE can access high-speed internet

Insiders say time to improve broadband access via fixed lines, mobiles, wireless

Less than half of the population of the UAE has access to high-speed internet, a situation that requires a concerted push from the telecoms industry to resolve, industry figures have said.

Figures presented by the research firm Arab Advisors Group on Tuesday show that less that 50 percent of households in the UAE have high-speed connection – a figure that drops to 22 percent in Qatar, 14 percent in Oman and less than seven percent in Egypt.

The figures for the UAE are the most surprising as it is the country with the best internet penetration in the region.

However, while phone lines reach most homes, many customers do not subscribe to the internet or share a line with their neighbours, explained Jawad Abbassi, general manager of Arab Advisors.

For high-speed internet access to improve in the UAE fixed-line operators were in the best position to encourage millions of customers to sign up for broadband, he added.

“If they are visionary enough to leverage their last-mile dominance, they should be getting the lion’s share of new broadband customers,” Abbassi said.

However, others in the industry see mobile operators or wireless providers as better placed to capture the untapped broadband market, especially in other parts of the region, according to UAE daily The National.

“We can build a competitive carrier for the fraction of the cost and in much less time than the legacy networks,” said Michael Penner, the chief executive of Kulacom, one of Jordan’s newly licensed wireless broadband providers.

Five new firms have recently been licecnsed in Jordan to provide internet over WiMAX, as part of a government plan to stimulate competition and increase use of high-speed internet.

“Now in Jordan you can get an ADSL line, all inclusive, for about US$22 (Dh80). Jordan Telecom [an incumbent provider] wouldn’t have slashed the prices so rapidly if it was the sole operator in the market,” Abassi said.