New GSMA Report Sees Rise in Mobile Broadband and Smartphone Adoption Across Middle East and North Africa
Mobile broadband networks will account for 61 per cent of mobile connections by 2020, up from 41 per cent today, across the diverse Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a new GSMA report published today at the GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Middle East conference in Dubai. The new study, ‘The Mobile Economy – Middle East and North Africa 2016’, highlights that there are currently 339 million unique mobile subscribers (Q2 2016) across the region’s twenty five markets1, a figure expected to rise to 385 million by 20202. The number of smartphone connections3 has also more than doubled over the last three years to reach 263 million in Q2 2016, accounting for 42 per cent of total connections, and is forecast to reach 467 million by 2020. The availability of mobile broadband networks has increased smartphone adoption and is helping to bridge the digital divide and usher in innovative new mobile services.
“Operator investment in mobile technology is playing a crucial role across the Middle East and North Africa, helping to connected the unconnected in less developed markets and introducing innovative new services, such as the Internet of Things and smart cities, in more developed countries,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “However, we encourage governments to continue to invest in mobile infrastructure and ensure that there is sufficient spectrum to meet demand, as well as follow policies that encourage the adoption of mobile services. Governments should also provide citizens with affordable internet access that will help to drive economic growth.”
Mobile Industry Delivering Economic Growth, Employment and Public Funding
In 2015, the mobile industry contributed more than $150 billion to the regional economy or 4 per cent of the region’s GDP, which is forecast to increase to almost $200 billion by 2020. The mobile industry also supported the local economy with more than 1 million jobs in 2015, including workers directly employed in the ecosystem and jobs indirectly supported by the economic activity generated by the sector. The mobile sector also contributed $15 billion in 2015 to public funding in the form of general taxation.
A Diverse Regional Landscape
There are huge variances in the levels of market maturity between countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states such as Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where 77 per cent of the population have a mobile subscription and some African Arab markets such as Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia, where subscriber penetration is less than 30 per cent. The report highlights that subscriber rates will slow over the next few years, due to the more advanced markets approaching saturation and less developed markets suffering from unstable political and economic conditions. Penetration across the region is set to reach only 63 per cent of the population by 2020, below the global average of 73 per cent.
Mobile Addressing Social Challenges
The report highlights how mobile technology is playing a key role in addressing a range of social challenges in less advanced countries across the region, in areas such as unregistered populations, the digital divide, financial inclusion and disaster response. Mobile internet adoption is growing rapidly with 200 million or 36 per cent of the MENA population using mobile to access the internet in mid-2016, with an additional 87 million expected to be online by 2020. However, in developing countries, such as some of the African Arab States, more than two thirds of the population on average are not using the mobile internet.
In a region where more than 120 million people lack an official form of identification, mobile is helping to address the challenge of unregistered populations, enabling birth registration, particularly in rural areas. Increasing digital inclusion also helps improve access to financial services and provide effective responses to disasters and humanitarian crises. For example, there are now 20 mobile money services live in 10 markets, enabling efficient and convenient payments and international money transfer, particularly for the 60 per cent of the region’s population without access to formal financial services.
Mobile Driving Innovative Services Across Region
The deployment of 4G networks is also accelerating, with 40 LTE network launches in 17 countries to date. This has helped establish mobile as a platform for new, innovative digital services in more advanced markets, with many tech entrepreneurs taking advantage of the mobile ecosystem to introduce new mobile-based solutions catering to local interests and cultures. A number of countries in the region including Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE are launching advanced services such as the Internet of Things, smart cities and digital identity. Meanwhile, countries such as Jordan and the UAE are increasingly being seen as hotbeds for start-ups and digital innovation.