Mobile broadband networks will support more than two thirds of all mobile connections across the Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa by 2020, according to a new GSMA study published at the GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Middle East conference being held in Dubai. The study estimates that there will be 350 million 3G/4G mobile broadband connections in the Arab states by 2020, accounting for 69 percent of the region’s total connections, up from 34 percent at the end of 2014. The number of smartphones in the region is forecast to almost triple between 2014 and 2020, reaching 327 million. The report found that over the last four years, mobile operators across the Arab states have spent more than US $40 billion on capital investments, or approximately 18 percent of total revenue. 3G networks are now live in every country in the region except one, while there are 23 live 4G networks in 10 countries in the region and 4G launches planned in a further eight markets. The number of unique mobile subscribers in the Arab States as a whole reached 199 million at the end of 2014, equivalent to 54 percent of the region’s population.
The Arab world is a very diverse region in terms of both economic strength and political stability. Three countries, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE, have mobile penetration rates above 75 percent, whereas in four—Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—less than half the population has a mobile subscription. The GSMA study’s finding that broadband’s share of the connections throughout the region will virtually double in the next five years indicates the strength of the telecom sector in the Middle East, irrespective of national differences. The mobile operators themselves have been driving the migration to 3G and 4G networks. By making the capital investment necessary—some 18 percent of revenue—they are laying the groundwork for future expansion of services. The example of the Arab world shows that if MNOs take the initiative to build and strengthen networks, subscription rates and smartphone adoption will grow accordingly, in developed and developing economies alike.