The telecoms market remained resilient in 2021 and is expected to continue its robust nature due to the high demand for fixed broadband and mobile data services.

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Telecom services in the MENA region and elsewhere significantly drove economic recovery during the pandemic. The number of mobile users in the MENA region exceeded 300 million in 2021 and is anticipated to reach 50% of the population by the end of 2022. Major players in the region include Saudi Telecom Company, Etisalat by e&, Ooredoo Group, Zain Group and Oman Telecommunications Company. 

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50% of the MENA region will have mobile users by the end of 2022.

The GCC Arab states are home to the highest concentration of mobile internet users; meanwhile, smartphone adoption is reportedly growing well and is set to increase most strongly in MENA’s less advanced mobile markets over the period to 2025. 

In addition, continued network investment from operators and increased user engagement due to bandwidth-hungry applications are also expected to lead to a surge in data consumption across the region, growing by 43% between 2021 and 2027. 

App use in the MENA region will grow by 43% between 2021 and 2027.

With this huge penetration and fast advancements, developments in the telecom sector are positively influencing the MENA region. Here are the top five you need to know about.

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1 – 5G technology in the GCC exceeds other regions

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, the Gulf region will exceed 62 million 5G mobile subscribers by 2026, accounting for nearly 73% of all mobile subscriptions in the region. Moreover, GCC service providers were the first in the world to launch 5G, positioning it only second to North America for 5G subscription penetration by the end of 2026. In addition, technological innovations are driving the growth of users in the region. 

Over 62M people in the Gulf region will be 5G mobile users by 2026

2 – New data privacy and cybersecurity regulations

As the global network grows more connected and digitally driven, the need for telecom regulations and data protection are paramount. Data privacy and cybersecurity are two elements that businesses in the region take more seriously.

As a result, stringent laws and legislation have been introduced to protect users’ data and the economy in the MENA region. As such, certain jurisdictions are leading the way in the GCC region with robust data protection laws heavily influenced by the European Union. 

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3 – Resilience in the region due to increased revenue

The latest report by Analysys Mason notes that telecoms revenue in MENA will increase despite the challenging economic outlook for the region, and oil- and gas-producing countries will be in a particularly privileged position. According to the report, the telecoms market was resilient in 2021 and is expected to continue its robustness. The main revenue drivers are the high demand for fixed broadband and mobile data services. 

The mobile ecosystem in 2021 made a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with $20 billion raised through taxation, GSMA noted, adding that it also generated around $50 billion of economic value during the same time. 

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The mobile ecosystem added $70B economic value in 2021.

4 – Mobile operators enjoy wide spectrum services

Non-profit organization, Middle East Institute, says making more spectrum available has meant lower coverage and lower prices for consumers – the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been the most effective at allocating spectrum to mobile operators. For instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, Saudi made additional spectrum available to mobile operators at no extra cost helping them rapidly meet the surge in demand for more broadband services. 

Even though consumer services represent MENA’s largest revenue contributor, enterprise is the main growth driver as operators are targeting digital transformation across vertical industries. 

Enterprise is the main growth driver as telecom operators are targeting digital transformation across all industries.

5 – Sustainable transformation as telecom’s future

As sustainable transformation is gathering pace across the MENA region, operators including Du, e& and MTN are implementing programmes to deploy base stations powered by renewable energy, hybrid solutions and advanced cooling solutions while reducing dependence on diesel for base-station backup power. In line with this, e&, STC, Zain, Batelco, Du and Omantel have signed an MoU aimed at strengthening their cooperation to preserve and protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint through operations.

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The region is heading in the right direction

Research notes that mobile communication is the fastest growing technology in history and that the Middle East is no exception. According to 2021 figures, mobile telecommunications reached 400 million unique users in the Middle East region in 25 years, and approximately 280 million are mobile internet users.

In retrospect, the region is heading in the right direction, with countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia prioritising an ecosystem that attracts and retains digital talent, enabling businesses to scale rapidly. 

Furthermore, as private sector commitments across the region are growing with respect to net-zero, renewable electricity demand is also expected to grow, driven by rising energy prices and the region’s access to solar as a natural resource. 

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