Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ICT Adoption and Prospects in The Arab Region

This report has been prepared as a background document for the ITU Connect Arab Summit, which takes place in Doha, Qatar from 5 to 7 March 2012. The main objective of the report is to provide an overview of the deployment and adoption of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the Arab region, and to carry out a needs assessment that will help policy makers in the Arab States to identify key ICT areas that require future action. The report in particular focuses on the ICT issues identified by the Arab States regional initiatives adopted by the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-10), such as broadband access, digital broadcasting, opensource software, Arabic digital content and cybersecurity

This section presents an overview of the regulatory status, information and communication technology (ICT) deployment and adoption of ICT services in the Arab States region.1 The Arab region is a rapidly developing region in terms of ICTs and characterized particularly by strong growth in the area of mobile telephony over the last five years. The move towards commercially available 3G networks in almost all countries of the region has driven the number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions and helped bring more people online. ITU estimates that by the end of 2011, around 30 per cent of the population in the Arab States were using the Internet. Compared to mobile-cellular services (and in comparison to other regions) both fixed-telephone and fixed (wired)-broadband penetration rates in the region remain relatively low. The penetration for fixed-telephone subscriptions reached ten per cent at its highest and has been declining since 2008. The number of fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions has grown from one million in 2006, to an estimated eight million in 2011, but penetration remains relatively low, at 2.2 per cent

In order to understand ICT developments within the Arab region, it is important to distinguish between ICT adoption and network deployments between the high-income GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries on the one hand, and the non-GCC countries, on the other hand. Due to ample oil reserves, GCC countries have higher income levels, which tends to translate into higher ICT adoption, stronger and wider network coverage and early migration to Next Generation Access Networks (NGANs). Chart 2 presents the 2010 GDP per capita in the Arab countries, with the six GCC countries ranking at the top, and GDP per capita levels above 15’000 USD. Qatar, with a GDP per capita of more than 61’000 USD has the highest income level in the region. Income levels in the non-GCC countries range from below 1’000 USD per capita in Comoros, to just under 10’000 USD in Libya, which also heavily relies on oil reserves. Despite a relatively high income level, Libya’s ICT networks, projects and adoption have remained substandard in rela ion to its peers (in terms of national income), mainly due to a political environment in which the ICT market has been dominated by a state-owned monopoly, except for mobile-cellular (voice) services, where two state-owned operators are competing with each other.

An overview of the regulatory landscape of key telecommunication services in the Arab States, demonstrates that there are important differences among countries in terms of the liberalization of services, as well as in the number of service providers operating each service. The most liberalized ICT services sector in the region is the mobile-cellular market, where Comoros and Djibouti remain the only two countries with only one mobile-cellular operator. In both Libya and Lebanon, two operators are competing, but both operators are government-owned.


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