People and businesses will struggle to take advantage of the next generation of internet applications due to the poor performance of the UAE's broadband internet systems, a new report says. The UAE ranked in the bottom quarter of 42 nations covered in a study of the quality of high-speed internet services, below neighbours Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as developing countries including Egypt and Tunisia.
While the the country has the highest broadband penetration rate in the region, the quality of the service - defined by the report as the speed and responsiveness of connections and whether lines are over-crowded or unreliable. The study, led by the Said Business School, of Oxford University, said the notion of a "digital divide" between those with internet access and those without is now shifting to a "quality divide," where those with access to high-quality broadband are at an advantage over those who access the internet through low-quality connections.
"The study also found significant correlation between a nation's broadband quality and its advancement as a knowledge economy," said Alastair Nicholson, an associate fellow at Said Business School. "Policy makers may need to consider how to create an environment to improve key broadband performance parameters in the future." The UAE does not have a national minister for telecommunications or a national broadband policy. But the Federal Government promotes a national telecommunications agenda, primarily through its ownership of Etisalat and the oversight of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Etisalat is in the final stages of building one of the world's first national fibre-optic broadband networks, which will soon reach almost every home and office in the country. Fibre-optic broadbant networks are capable of internet speeds up to 100 times faster than available today, and have theoretically unlimited capacity for data transmission. But while the network already reaches hundreds of thousands of users, the speed of internet available in the UAE remains low by global standards, while its price remains among the highest in the world.
"A nation's leadership in broadband was typically determined by its ranking on penetration, and now we know that this will not be enough," said Fernando Gil de Bernabé, the managing director of internet business solutions at Cisco, a networking company that sponsored the study. "Without high-quality broadband, we will not be able to take full advantage of the next wave of productivity, collaboration and entertainment that can be gained from the web."