Middle East IT & Telecom Update

Info-Prod Research (Middle East) Ltd. has a wealth of exclusive information on the Telecommunications and IT markets in the Middle East. We are currently considering producing a newsletter on the Region's telecommunications, computer, and IT sectors. In exploring the need for such a periodical, we would appreciate any feedback you could give us on its desirability and on specific coverage you would prefer.

Recent years have seen profound developments in the economies of the Middle East, with a switch towards privatization and a constant increase in the activities of extra-regional companies. Some of the most exciting developments have occurred in the telecommunications, computer, and IT sectors, which have witnessed the opening up of large and previously inaccessible markets and ensuing phenomenal growth rates. Local governments have increasingly come to attach great significance to the extensive development of the telecommunications and IT sectors. This has resulted in high state investment, easing of restrictions on foreign entry, increased liberalization and action against piracy. Many companies have been quick to take advantage of these developments, and are now highly active in the region. Microsoft, Intel and others have now opened numerous regional offices in the Middle East.

Throughout the Middle East, telecommunications infrastructures are expanding and modernizing. Recognizing the critical role of telecommunications in economic development, governments have been pouring large sums into expanding and improving local infrastructures. While the ratio of telephone lines to population is still low when compared to European countries, it is rising, and the technologies being employed are in pace with the latest developments in the West. More importantly, advanced networks based on fiber optic lines, wireless telephony or satellite transmission have been bypassing the existing infrastructure, providing businesses and affluent citizenry with alternative, high-grade telecom solutions. In this latter field, private companies have been playing an important role, providing such services as Internet connectivity and Cellular telephone services. Private industry's role has even expanded into traditionally state-controlled activities, an example being the introduction of privately owned and operated Public Telephone networks in Jordan.

The growth of the Internet has been an important factor in pushing forward the expansion and modernization of telecommunications infrastructure. Local governments were initially suspicious of the perceived threat the Internet posed to traditional values and political systems. However, even highly conservative and fundamental factions have come to embrace the medium, and nearly all of the region's countries now allow public access to the Internet. The late start the Internet has had in the Middle East is being made up for with phenomenal rates of growth, typically averaging 10% per month. The ranks of the region's Internet Service Providers are also swelling swiftly, with about 100 companies now providing Internet connectivity. The rapid rise of Internet use has translated directly into increased demand for both regular telephone and special broadband infrastructure.

As in the west, the rise of the Internet has also affected the PC sector, giving rise to increased demand. Even before the surge in Internet use the Middle East computer market was enjoying rapid growth at about twice the world average. Of this, the personal computer (PC) market was growing at an average 25 percent and as much as 40 percent in some Arab states. The market seems set to maintain the high level of growth. This has drawn leading computer firms such as IBM and Intel to the region. Acer computers, for example, are building an in-region assembly plant for production of 12,000 PCs per month. Business use has also seen an increase in demand for PCs. Small businesses increasingly come to rely on PCs for office use, and currently account for roughly 25% of the region's overall PC market.

Computer growth was not initially matched by the entry of software manufacturers. Piracy, which has run rampant throughout the region, severely damaged the viability of the Middle East software market. Local governments have recognized the barrier piracy poses to the entrance of leading companies into the region, and particularly to the development of Arabic-specific software. This has resulted in new legislation and enforcement against piracy, and although overall piracy is still widespread, its rate is dropping rapidly. This has resulted in a better atmosphere for both regional and foreign companies, and while the former are increasing their activities, the latter are opening branch offices throughout the Middle East, Microsoft being a case in point.

Entertainment has been a force driving demand not just for PCs and Internet, but also for Satellite television and cellular telephones. Over 150 satellite channels are already in use in the Middle East, and 200 additional channels are currently or soon to be available. Satellite broadcasting, initially fostered by state organizations, is now being pushed rapidly by commercial operators within the region and outside it. The 1991 Gulf war brought about a tremendous demand for satellite dishes to pick up CNN coverage, and this large-scale introduction has led to widespread acceptance and popularity of the medium. The demand by affluent and business sectors for high quality alternatives to regular telecom networks has also seen increasing use of satellites for data and voice transmission. Similarly, dissatisfaction with regular telephone systems led to high popularity of cellular telephones in the region, and consequent purchase and usage rates that are extremely high in comparison with other regions.

Telecommunications, Computers and IT sectors throughout the Middle East region are expanding rapidly. Some of the coverage we are considering includes:

  • Local demand.
  • Existing infrastructure.
  • Upcoming projects and tenders.
  • Government policies towards the sector.
  • Company profiles.
  • Involvement of multinational corporations.
  • conferences and events.
  • Industry related issues.
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