|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2007|
|Topic:||ICT in the Gulf States|
|Organisation:||Etisalcom Bahrain W.L.L.|
Mr Rashid Al-Snan is the CEO of Etisalcom Bahrain W.L.L. Previously, he worked with Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), where he started as a technician trainee and advanced over the years to Executive Director when he established an ISP in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For his work in the joint venture between Batelco (Bahrain) and Jeraisy Computers (Saudi Arabia), Mr Al-Snan received the Arabian Business.com e-Achiever of the Year award in 2001 from H.E. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister. Mr Al-Snan has a Masterís in Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing from Bahrain University and a Bachelorís Degree of Engineering in Electrical and Electronics from Plymouth University, UK.
In the Middle East, ICT is considered something of a saviour. The phenomenal uptake of mobile services in the region has strengthened this belief; in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, mobile penetration has already exceeded 100 per cent – many people have several lines. Today, however, the big push is to build an ICT sector that can sustain the regionís growth and provide the sort of services that the developers of the local real estate mega projects are looking for.
According to Canadaís National Statistical Agency: ìThe ëNew Economyí is most often associated with information technology and innovations, including the production of computers, cell phones and related goods and services. Broad access to personal computers in business, government and households has led to rapid expansion of Internet use, changing the way in which Canadians access, share information and do business. Over the past two decades, and particularly the 1990s, ICT has been an engine of growth and a major thrust in long periods of low-inflation and economic expansion.î As in Canada, the people of the Middle East look to information and communication technology to drive the expansion of their businesses and of their economy in general. The development of information and communication technology, ICT, has brought a host of new services and facilities to people in their homes, their offices and at play. Today, people want always-on access to high-speed data even while on the move. This has created demand for systems and gadgets that offer mobility combined with high-speed access. This is evident in the increased use of complex mobile phones that offer PDA, personal digital assistant, features, WiFi wireless broadband access. WiMAX-enabled mobile phones will soon reach the market, as handset manufacturers work out the details of implementing the IEEE 802.16e wireless broadband standard. Multimedia phones that can store and play megabytes of content and enable the exchange of high-speed data are already quite popular in some of the worldís markets. User demand has forced manufacturers and service providers alike to face many challenges in bringing advanced, converged broadband and mobile services to the market. The first challenge is related to the growth of the bandwidth requirements for different types of user throughout the region. The bandwidth requirement for individuals and corporations has increased both in terms of penetration – that is the number of users – and in terms of actual bandwidth requirements. Dialup connections to the Internet no longer satisfy the needs of home users; increasingly, home users tend to want broadband Internet access wherever it is available and affordable. Today, ADSL, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, connections provide most residential broadband services in Bahrain. In Bahrain, the introduction of more easily affordable broadband packages at the beginning of 2007 led to a rapid increase in broadband take up. Since the end of 2006, the number of users grew from 20,000, or a three per cent penetration rate, to 60,000 users, a nine per cent penetration rate, in approximately six months. People use broadband at home for many applications, including Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP, home security, access to IPTV, as well as the usual messaging, chatting and browsing. This sort of usage is also found wherever people access WiFi zones via their PDAs and, more recently, their broadband data enabled GSM phones. The second challenge was related to the development of mobility in terms of growth in customer demands, as well as the change in complexity of the mobile devices. Since 2002, mobile phone usage worldwide has continued to grow rapidly. The number of mobile phones in use has already surpassed the number of fixed lines; by 2004, there were already 1.75 billion mobile subscribers according to the ITU. In 2006, there were 2.69 billion mobile users – a global penetration rate of 40.15 per cent. Source: Informa Telecoms & Media WCIS, December 2006 The dependency of people and businesses on mobile has lead to phenomenal growth in mobile penetration around the globe. In the GCC, Gulf Cooperation Council, region, penetration rates have reached 100 per cent and above in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. The mobile device tendency is to combine mobile phone functions with those of a PDAís or even an ultra portable, Windows enabled, micro-PC. Mobile phone manufacturers seem to compete in introducing complex phones that support a wide variety of networks such as 2G, 3G, WiFi, GPS, etcÖ Furthermore, this competition is not limited to the mobile phone manufacturers – the PDA and GPS manufacturers have joined the race to produce a variety of multi-function devices with a wide range of features. For business, corporations tend to seek converged solutions for their needs. This is currently apparent in the many real-estate projects in the region where building managers tend to demand full-scale ICT solutions for their projects. This leads businesses to search for, and establish, ICT-centric companies. The new telecom companies, recently established as a result of the liberalization of the telecom sector in the region, have structured themselves to handle this sort of demand. This, in turn, has put increasing pressure on the legacy telecom companies to develop quickly or acquire ICT capabilities in order to protect their existing telecom business, and to participate and compete in the regionís many major real-estate projects. In Bahrain, like the rest of the GCC region, there are a great number of major real estate projects, including the Bahrain Financial Harbor, the Bahrain World Trade Center, Durat Al-Bahrain, Amwaj, Al-Areen, Riffa Views, Marina West, Bahrain Bay, Bahrain Investment Wharf, and many not yet announced. All of these real-estate projects are looking for ICT solutions to ensure they get the latest technology and the latest and best products and services for their tenants. Telecom investments in these mega projects are not cheap; they call for substantial funding, a wide range of resources and strong ICT expertise. If the region is to cope adequately with this trend, our educational systems need to be enhanced to include courses in ICT technologies and services to train engineers and experts in the ICT business. It is important for government officials to pay careful attention to ICT development need in order to plan properly for and regulate its development. Some GCC governments are already making long-range plans for the successful growth of ICT and for the changes that it will bring to their countries. Looking to its future, the State of Qatarís Supreme Commission for Information and Communication Technology, ictQATAR, for example, has already launched a number of exemplary ICT initiatives.