Business | Technology

Arab States need more mobile broadband spectrum allocation

GSMA identifies fundamental challenges that put the continued growth of the sector at risk

  • By Naushad K. Cherrayil, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 18:29 February 12, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • The rapid pace of mobile adoption has delivered substantial economic benefits for the region, directly contributing $132 billion to the economies of the Arab States, or approximately 5.5 per cent of total GDP, in 2011.

Dubai: Governments in the Arab States urgently need to deliver adequate mobile broadband spectrum in line with internationally and regionally harmonised spectrum bands to transform society and foster further substantial growth in investment, innovation and productivity, Peter Lyons, director or public policy at GSMA Middle East and Africa, told Gulf News.

Different countries use different spectrum for different electronic devices. For instance, if you buy an iPad 4G LTE from US it does not work in the UAE.

Operators in the US mostly use 700MHz spectrum, while those in Europe and the Middle East prefer 1800MHz and in China it is 2.5GHz.

In the UAE, etisalat started in the 2.6GHz band while du started with 1800MHz frequency.

Etisalat’s future expansion will be on the 1800MHz spectrum.

“As of December 2012, the 800MHz band had been cleared by the TRA and by the end of 2013, the 700MHz band should be cleared. 900MHz could be used for 3G,” said Lyons.

The rapid pace of mobile adoption has delivered substantial economic benefits for the region, directly contributing $132 billion to the economies of the Arab States, or approximately 5.5 per cent of total GDP, in 2011.

Mobile broadband connections across the Arab States are expected to increase by a staggering 255 per cent by 2017, rising from 40 million in 2011 to 142 million, reflecting the enormous appetite for mobile broadband services. Mobile broadband connections have already outstripped fixed-line connections by over 350 per cent.

According to GSMA Arab States Mobile Observatory report, strong regional market competition and falling handset prices, fuelled a 32 per cent average annual growth in mobile connections over the past 10 years, soaring from 19 million connections in 2002 to 391 million in 2012.

Lyons identifies fundamental challenges that put the continued growth of the sector at risk, including limited spectrum availability, high taxation and stifling regulation.

“There are far greater opportunities that the mobile industry can deliver for the region. Governments need to take action now to increase spectrum availability and stabilise the regulatory environment if they want to continue the momentum and realise mobile’s full potential,” said Tom Phillips, Chief Government and Regulatory Affairs Officer at GSMA.

If additional harmonised spectrum were allocated to mobile broadband, 5.9 million additional jobs could be created by 2025, according to the report.

Governments in the Arab States can avoid spectrum scarcity by releasing harmonised spectrum through the digital switchover in the Digital Dividend bands (700MHz and 800MHz), promoting spectrum liberalisation by refarming the 1.8GHz band, and promoting further release of the 2.6GHz band.

The digital switchover from analogue television to digital television frees spectrum for alternative use. As digital TV requires less spectrum, the term Digital Dividend is given to this additional released spectrum, which can then be used for mobile broadband.

“The release of additional spectrum could raise the region’s combined GDP by $108 billion between 2015 and 2025. Harmonisation of spectrum bands would further lead to economies of scale for device manufacturers, which in turn would give more consumers access to affordable mobile technology,” Lyons said.

If spectrum needs are met and regulatory certainty delivered, there is a major opportunity for governments to generate significant additional revenue from the mobile ecosystem, with the potential to raise $528.7 million in the Arab States by 2025.

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