Fixed broadband development making great strides in some Middle Eastern markets
Broadband infrastructure is becoming increasingly important in the Middle East as the large and increasingly tech savvy populations place more and more demand on existing infrastructure. In order to meet this demand, many governments in the region are investing heavily in broadband infrastructure including fibre-optic rollouts and improved mobile broadband networks. International and regional broadband connectivity are also key considerations for the future.
Currently the Middle East offers a varied picture when it comes to fixed broadband infrastructure with some markets moving ahead in terms of deployment and others lagging behind due to economic, civil unrest or political inhibitors. The UAE, for example, has one of the most advanced broadband markets at both a regional and global level where as Yemen, for comparison purposes, has seen a slow development of its telecoms market due its weak economic position at both a regional and global level, along with years of political unrest and civil fighting. Due to the instability of fixed telecoms infrastructure in Yemen there has been a surge in satellite broadband use.
Many countries in the Middle East are now transferring telecoms infrastructure spending towards fibre-optic deployment rather than new DSL infrastructure. The UAE boasts the world’s highest penetration of Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH), ahead even of South Korea and Hong Kong. The country has been leading the Global FttH Ranking since 2012 and in early 2015 the estimated FttH household penetration had reached nearly 70%.
In Qatar attention has also turned away from developing DSL networks as the operators and government focus their efforts on fibre network build-outs. This is in-line with the Qatar National Vision 2030 which was developed in 2008 and sees, in part, the country invest in its fibre infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia’s fixed broadband market is experiencing a major technology shift from ADSL to fibre as well, with STC expanding FttH coverage to most urban centres, and another two companies – Go Telecom and Mobily – also offering FttH services.
Broadband services are widely available in Turkey, with competition predominantly infrastructure based. ADSL continues to represent the majority of fixed broadband subscriptions due to the reach of Turk Telekom’s copper network. ADSL will eventually lose its dominance due to the rapid growth in fibre subscriptions however.
Israel has a very high household internet penetration rate, almost all of which are broadband connections. There are three competing broadband platforms – the DSL and fibre network of fixed-line incumbent Bezeq, the HFC network of HOT, and the mobile broadband products offered by the mobile operators.
Increased Internet speeds and improved broadband capacity has fuelled growth for Lebanon’s ICT sector. The government has made concerted efforts to introduce lower prices and offer higher speeds for broadband as well as reduce fixed and mobile telephone tariffs.
Prior to the current civil conflict in Syria, the country was making progress and had installed an extensive fixed-line infrastructure in terms of the number of lines. STE had also deployed equipment to support the delivery of broadband services and increased transmission capacity to provide the requisite bandwidth. While these were positive signs - the current situation in Syria means its telecommunications infrastructure is very vulnerable.
Iraq is also struggling due to the civil unrest and while attempts have also been made to deploy fibre optic infrastructure across Iraq; its penetration is still very low and expensive. The full extent of the damage to these networks by the current civil war is as yet unknown.
Jordan is also developing its fibre network and has been working towards a National Broadband Network since 2003. At times development has halted due to a lack of funds and in 2014 around 35% of the planned network had been deployed.
There has been a recent and renewed push towards improving fixed broadband infrastructure - particularly fibre-based networks in Oman. As part of it National Broadband Strategy, Oman Broadband Company (OBC) has enabled access to fibre networks for around 70,000 residential and commercial businesses around Muscat. By 2040 it hopes to have all homes and businesses connected to its national broadband infrastructure.
While mobile is booming in Kuwait; the same cannot be said for broadband and fibre deployment. Fixed broadband penetration is low, blamed on underinvestment in infrastructure and the lack of a national broadband policy. The absence of an independent regulator in particular is thought to be an inhibitor to attracting fixed broadband investment in Kuwait. However with parliament approving plans towards a regulator in 2015, this matter may be resolved in near the future.
Despite the relatively low penetration of fixed broadband in Iran; there are moves underway to improve broadband access, with the FttX operator Iranian-Net currently deploying a fibre network which aims to have 8 million customers by 2020.
Bahrain has always been at the forefront of Internet penetration in the Middle East region and since the introduction of greater competition, and the consequent fall in prices, broadband subscriber numbers have grown rapidly.
Overall the progress of fixed broadband development in many parts of the Middle East is very positive. The region is well serviced by international and regional submarine cables. The launch of the Tamares Telecom submarine network in 2012 more than doubled total capacity. In January 2014, capacity again surged and almost redoubled with the launch of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Cable System. The Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) and the SEA-ME-WE-5, with a capacity of 24Tb/s, which is due to become operational in 2016 will increase this capacity even further.
Since 2010, fibre broadband has become the fastest growing technology in the UAE.
Fixed home Internet access in Yemen is expensive with consumers required to purchase a router and pay for on-going monthly bundles, which can be cost prohibitive. For this reason many citizens choose to utilize Internet cafes instead.
Qatar is considered to be one of the most highly connected markets in the Middle East and offers significant opportunity with high numbers of mobile and broadband subscribers combined with wealth due to its large natural gas reserves.
Strong fixed broadband growth is expected in Turkey as Turk Telekom focuses on growing broadband revenue to offset expected falling Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) voice revenue due to continuing mobile substitution and competition entering the retail fixed-line voice market.
Israel’s fixed line sector has recently undergone an important reform with the government opening up the market to wholesale rental.
Lebanon was an early investor in fibre-optic technology with an extensive fibre network already laid throughout the country.
Syria has a tightly controlled market where the domestic and international fixed-line market remains under the strict monopoly of the government-owned Syrian Telecommunication Establishment (STE). STE is currently the sole provider of infrastructure and is responsible for all types of telecommunications, including Internet bandwidth.
Broadband penetration is growing strongly in Saudi Arabia. Broadband is available via ADSL, fibre, and wireless.
In Jordan the national broadband network is currently being built.
Iraq has traditionally supported the deployment of fibre infrastructure.
Oman has a number of broadband alternatives including ADSL, Fibre, WiFi, WiMAX and mobile broadband platforms.
The deployment of fibre networks throughout Kuwait has been steady but slow. The government recognises that the existing copper based infrastructure will not keep up with the data demands of the future.
Broadband penetration is improving in Iran, given the growing number of competing ISPs, made possible through a licensing scheme.
The TRA is overseeing the build-out of a national broadband fibre-optic network in Bahrain which it hopes that 80% of the population will have access to by 2018.
Companies mentioned in this report
Etisalat, du; TeleYemen, Public Telecommunications Corporation (PTC); Ooredoo Qatar, Vodafone Qatar, Qatar National Broadband Network (QNBN); STC, Go Telecom, Mobily; Turk Telekom, Superonline, Superonline, Vodafone Turkey; Bezeq, HOT Telecom, 013 NetVision, 012 Smile Telecom, Xfone 018; Ogero Telecom, Cable One, Cedarcom, GlobalCom Data Services (GDS), Pesco Telecom, Sodetel, IDM/Cyberia, TerraNet, Lebanese Broadband Stakeholders Group (LBSG); STE; ITPC, URUKLINK, Newroz,IQ Networks; Orange Jordan; Omantel, Oman Broadband Company (OBC); Kuwait Ministry of Communications (MoC), Qualitynet, Zajil KEMS, FASTtelco, Gulfnet; Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), Iranian-net; 2Connect, Batelco, Etisalcom, Kalaam Telecoms, Lightspeed, Mena Telecoms, Nuetel Communications, Rapid Telecoms, Zain Bahrain.