Digital media in the Middle East Image Credit: Source: PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2009, Informa (WCIS, WBIS), Booz & Company analysis

Abu Dhabi: Technologically rich societies, such as the UAE, have entered the digital age, and media industries are now grappling with new opportunities and new threats, said Ahmad Bin Ali, Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications, etisalat, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

News and telecoms have always been linked, said the senior official.

"When you hear good news, you used to use your telephone; bad news was once conveyed by telex. Advances in telecoms mean that news travels fast. Happy birthday announcements, birth announcements and other celebrations are most often communicated by SMS rather than a card," he told Gulf News.

Telecommunication technologies have brought a radical change in people's lives over the last quarter century and have had a serious impact on urban lifestyles.

Change is now increasing exponentially with more changes having taken place over the last quarter century than in the last 150 years. The linkage of mobile phones, television and video technology with the internet has dominated technological research for over a decade and has resulted in easily portable communication devices compatible with a modern lifestyle.

With the advent of BlackBerrys and iPhones, most executives are virtually carrying their offices with them while away. The only gap remains in enabling them with video technology.

With the right technology such as high performance computers, digital platforms and the creation of high-speed computer networks, almost any device can be connected, thus encouraging new innovations.

"Old barriers of time and space are practically eliminated. You can view, hear or read virtually anything, anywhere, anytime. This gives rise to an augmented reality whereby any object can be a source of news or entertainment content.

"Merely by waving your camera phone, or taking a photograph of an item, you will soon be able to capture all news and comments made about that object," he said.

Mobile connections in the Middle East and North Africa region are growing at 8 per cent year on year, reaching 271 million or 92 per cent by the end of this year, rising from 237 million or 82 per cent of the population in 2009.

Massive growth

By 2014, Booz and Company research shows, this will jump to 354 million. Fixed telephone connections will account for 17 per cent of tele-connectivity in 2014.

Mobile penetration in the UAE has already exceeded 240 per cent, meaning, most people in the UAE have more than two active cellphones with etisalat and du driving the mobile industry here.

Etisalat has deployed a 3G mobile network across the region, and is offering media content across the fastest broadband connectivity via their Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) service, eLife, which maximises the availability of digital content.

Commenting on the Abu Dhabi 2010 Media Summit, Bin Ali said: "By supporting this event, we are not only helping to develop the industry by making them aware of the technologies that are there to help them, but are also learning from our customers and partners what their needs are.

"Transparency is one of our core values, and participating in the summit helps us convey this value," he said.

During his speech at the summit press briefing, Bin Ali spoke about digital alternatives becoming increasingly sophisticated but added, "However, there is still a place for traditional media, as we still value the added details within a newspaper, magazine, television, or radio."