Mena embraces smartphones
More than half of the population of the Middle East and North Africa has a mobile phone connection, according the latest report from the GSM Association as sales of handsets reached an all-time high in the second quarter of this year.
The GSMA at the end of last year recorded 195 million unique mobile phone subscribers in the region or 53 per cent of the population, with the UAE topping the list at 83 per cent mobile subscriber penetration, followed by Bahrain with 76 per cent.
South Sudan had the lowest penetration with 16 per cent, followed by Sudan at 41 per cent, while Egypt was the largest market in the region with 44 million unique mobile subscribers.
The report comes as sales of smartphones reached 64 million units in the second quarter of this year across the Middle East and Africa, a growth of 27 per cent year-on-year, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).
Egypt’s handset shipment grew the fastest at 37 per cent followed by Qatar with 32 per cent.
“The growth seen in countries such as Egypt is because of economic and political recovery, while for countries like the UAE and Qatar that are still benefiting from successful bids to host Expo 2020 and Fifa World Cup 2022, it is simply the result of increased consumer demand stemming from economic growth and tourism,” said Nabila Popal, the research manager with IDC.
The mobile industry has had compound annual growth of 9.5 per cent a year between 2008 and last year compared to a global average of 8.2 per cent, but the total number of overall subscribers is not sufficient.
“Some governments have taken for granted when they see a headline that penetration numbers are over 100 per cent,” said Peter Lyons, the director of Mena at GSMA. “They say the work is done, the industry has grown, but even in the developed GCC countries there is still a quarter of the population who is not connected to a mobile.”
The number of people connected to the internet is significantly less, said Mr Lyons, as the cost of smartphones and the lack of mobile infrastructure, frequencies and investment are prohibiting growth. While smartphone penetration in the UAE is 80 per cent, one of the highest adoption rates in the world, in other parts of the region it falls below 10 per cent.
“It is important to be connected to the internet because the internet is information, communication, analytics – it is search and productivity,” said Mr Lyons. “The key is to be connected to information and knowledge. That’s why it is important for citizens. If they’re not connected to information, then they’re at a loss. They will lag behind in development, resources and investment.”
The mobile industry contributed US$122 billion to the region’s GDP last year, accounting for 4.4 per cent of the total.
According to the World Bank, a country’s GDP grows by 1.4 per cent for every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter