Geneva, 5 March 2012 – New figures released today at ITU’s Connect Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar show that information and communication technology (ICT) uptake continues to accelerate across the Arab region, but underline the need for more effort to be put into rolling out broadband infrastructure to meet burgeoning demand from a young, tech-savvy population.
Data from ITU’s ICT Adoption and Prospects in the Arab Region 2012 report reveal that, over the past five years, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in the region has almost tripled, from 126 million in 2006, to nearly 350 million by end 2011. At the beginning of this year, regional mobile cellular penetration reached 97 per cent – ten per cent higher than global penetration.
However, the report warns that such figures can obscure wide disparities between the region’s ‘hyper-connected’ economies and its less connected nations. For example, for every 100 people in Saudi Arabia, there are around 188 mobile phone subscriptions; in Djibouti, there are fewer than 20. More than 80 per cent of the population in Qatar uses the Internet, but the figure is below five per cent in Mauritania, Iraq and Somalia. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with their higher incomes, have more than twice as many Internet users per 100 inhabitants as non-GCC countries.
Region-wide, ITU estimates show that less than 30 per cent of the population was online at end 2011. Fixed broadband penetration stood at just above two per cent – well below most other regions, and under the world average of around nine per cent.
While most countries in the region have launched 3G mobile broadband services, and more and more people are using mobile devices to access the Internet, the region’s active mobile broadband penetration – estimated at around 13 per cent – lies below the world average of 17 per cent.
“With the ‘mobile miracle’ we have brought the benefits of ICTs within reach of virtually all the world’s people. It is now time to make the next step, and to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré. “In the 21st century broadband networks must be considered basic infrastructure, just like roads, railways, water and power networks. Broadband is a powerful social and economic enabler, and will help accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, now just three years away.”
Encouragingly, the report highlights significant growth in the volume of Arabic language digital content in the form of online portals and applications, and notes that regulators are making good progress in establishing Arabic domain names.
ICT development rankings
In general, the level of access to ICTs within the Arab States region closely correlates to a country’s economic status. This is revealed by ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI), which combines 11 indicators covering 152 economies worldwide to monitor and compare ICT uptake.
The latest IDI findings contained in the new Arab region report show that of the 16 Arab States included in the index, five lost ground between 2008 and 2010 and dropped in the global ranking. Four countries maintained their positions and seven (Algeria, Comoros, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) improved their IDI rankings. Top of the regional list was the UAE, which was in 32nd place out of 152 in the global IDI rankings. Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia filled places 44, 45 and 46, respectively.
Between 2008 and 2010, Saudi Arabia saw a massive rise in mobile broadband, from two million subscriptions to almost 16 million. Morocco also substantially increased its number of Internet users and mobile broadband subscriptions, and stands out as the star performer overall, rising ten places in the IDI rankings. Along with Saudi Arabia, Morocco is well placed to meet the goal of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in having half its population online by 2015. Qatar has already reached this target, as have Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.
To ensure all citizens throughout the region fully benefit from the potential of ICTs, the report recommends a number of steps governments could take. These include ensuring a transparent and predictable regulatory environment that fosters investment, stimulates competition and helps reduce prices for ICT services.
“ITU encourages all countries to promote digital inclusion by developing a national ICT plan that includes concrete targets to evaluate policies, track progress, and identify market opportunities,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau is committed and ready to put its expertise and experience at the service of each and every Member, accompanying national authorities in the development of tailored policy frameworks and review processes aligned to their unique ICT environment and vision.”
An executive summary of the report is available at: www.itu.int/net/newsroom/connect/arab/2012/index.aspx.
The full report is available for download in English at www.itu.int/pub/D-IND-AR-2012. The Arabic version will be available shortly – please contact the ITU Press office at email@example.com if you wish to receive an alert when this version is available.
View the webcast of this event at: www.itu.int/ibs/ITU-D/201203doha-press/index.phtml