As Etisalat's multibillion-dirham network modernisation nears completion, consumers can expect lower prices, better packages and the world's fastest mobile internet, the company said Monday. Etisalat has spent more than a decade rolling out a national fibre-optic cable network that has a practically unlimited capacity for data transfer.
And yesterday, it announced the completion of a major upgrade of its mobile network. The two developments mean UAE users will soon have access to one of the world's most advanced telecommunications networks, based entirely on internet protocol (IP) technology. "We have always been the leader and the innovator in technology in the whole region, not just in the UAE," said Ahmad Julfar, Etisalat's chief operating officer. "In the mobile world, broadband will be the differentiator going forward, and what we are doing is bringing in the best and the latest."
Data will move through the air on the latest evolution of the high-speed packet access (HSPA) standard, and over land at the speed of light through fibre-optic cables linked directly to homes and offices. Abu Dhabi is set to become the first city in the world connected entirely to such fibres when the rollout is completed this year. And as the company completes its huge infrastructure investments, prices for broadband internet should fall. "Most of the cost is now already in the ground and new investments will be incremental," Mr Julfar said. "This is one thing that is going to drive the costs down."
Customers in the UAE are charged far more for internet, fixed-line and mobile, than those in the high-tech economies in East Asia, Europe and North America. But Mr Julfar said pricing in the country should be benchmarked against other states in the region, which share the country's unique demographics and economics. "You have to look at the costs of labour, power, costs of doing business; they all have an effect," he said. "International connectivity is another cost element. You have to bring most of the content from Europe and America."
The company is working with major content providers overseas to host or "mirror" their data in the region, reducing the reliance on expensive international connections. Some industry figures believe that video streaming through the YouTube website accounts for up to 30 per cent of all international bandwidth consumed in the region. In another drive to cut costs, Etisalat is using its large overseas operations in boom markets such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India, to create economies of scale unavailable in the UAE, a market of less than six million people.
Mr Julfar also agreed that as mobile broadband speeds increase - Etisalat's mobile network upgrade means mobile users could download a two-hour Hollywood movie in less than 10 minutes - the need for an unlimited mobile data package becomes more pressing. Etisalat offers mobile internet access with a maximum monthly download limit of 10 gigabytes, with penalty rates in the tens of thousands of dirhams for use above the limit.
"The trends in the market and in the technology will demand some sort of unlimited packages going into the future," Mr Julfar said. "We have no technical or business limitations for a such a package, but there are reasons for why it is not offered today. Going forward, it is an option that will have to be put on the table." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org