Etisalat is aiming to generate as much as half of its revenues from data as it goes head to head with rival du to win more fixed line customers.
It follows huge investment in the introduction of high- speed internet services across the country over the past four years and surging demand created by a boom in smartphone sales.
“In the whole 19 markets [that we operate in], around 30 per cent of our revenue comes from data,” Ahmad Julfar, Etisalat’s group chief executive said yesterday on the sidelines of the Gitex technology exhibition in Dubai. “It differs from market to market. We are aiming to have 50 per cent of our revenue in a couple of years coming from data.”
Data revenues are becoming increasingly important for phone companies as traditional fixed line voice revenues dwindle. Smartphone usage is the highest in the region.
According to Nielsen, smartphone penetration in the UAE last year was close to 80 per cent.
The popularity of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) programs, such as Skype and Facebook is drawing more people away from their phone to their connected device.
Over the past four years, regional mobile operators have spent more than US$40 billion on capital investments, or 18 per cent of their revenues, to improve network coverage and enhance capacity as they deploy higher speed broadband, according to a GSMA report on Mobile Economy.
Mr Julfar said there was a pressing need for capacity to improve service quality, prevent the dropping of calls, buffering of video and other signs of network congestion.
“In the UAE there is more spectrum available than the other 19 markets that we operate in,” said Mr Julfar. “But even then, because of the huge demand for content that is streamed over mobile there’s much more demand for spectrum. This is a big challenge that operators are facing globally.”
The telecoms body GSMA has warned against the lack of harmonised spectrum among Arab countries.
“Governments across the Arab world could help mobile operators address the fast-growing demand for mobile broadband services by releasing more internationally harmonised spectrum,” it said in a report released yesterday.
The issue will be discussed at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva next month. Mobile operators, broadcasters, regulators and policymakers will meet to discuss the allocation of more spectra for the mobile industry to cope with the growing demand for data and content.
Both Etisalat and du are seeking to grow their data revenues as they simultaneously enter into competition over fixed broadband and landline services.
The pair said on Monday that they will be expanding their services to the areas of the country where each operates exclusively.
Until now the public was limited to one provider, with the majority of Abu Dhabi residents restricted to Etisalat and residents of new areas in Dubai tied to du.
The two operators will now share their fibre network, giving customers the option to choose their provider for the first time.
However, TV services are still offered separately and are expected to follow over the next year.
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