x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

63 million log on to internet in region

Internet adoption in the Middle East has grown almost 2,000 per cent since 2000 and is expected to increase even more over the next decade.

Internet adoption in the Middle East has soared by almost 2,000 per cent over the past decade as accessing the web becomes easier and more affordable.

There are now more than 63 million internet users in the region - about 30 per cent of the entire Middle East population and an increase of 1,823 per cent since 2000, according to a recent report by the analyst Internet World Stats.

The rapid take-up is mainly because personal computers have become affordable and advances in mobile devices that can access the web more commonplace, said Omar Christidis, the vice president of the International Business Alliance Group and organiser of the ArabNet technology conference.

Mr Christidis said while the rate of growth may seem extreme, that could pale in comparison to how the next few years will shape the region's online environment.

"If you take something with a very small denominator, you're going to get a very high percentage," he said.

"In absolute terms, it's not that significant but over the next three years, we expect another 50 million users to come online. It's almost doubling the amount of internet users in the Middle East."

Other forecasts are even more optimistic, with another analyst report predicting 60 per cent of the region's population will be online by 2020, or about 260 million users.

Mr Christidis said the Middle East's swift online growth is expected to be a boon to advertisers and retailers who are in the process of moving their businesses to the web.

"It's going to mean more eyeballs, which means that more advertisers are going to be spending more of their ad dollars online to reach a bigger audience," he said.

"We're already seeing retailers shift from bricks-and-mortar to online commerce as well."

The region's online advertising industry is expected to grow by 4 per cent over the next three years, and be worth an estimated Dh977 million (US$265.9m) by 2013-2014, according to a recent report by Arab Media Outlook.

In the UAE, Carrefour and Lulu Hypermarkets have opened online portals offering home delivery for a variety of electronic goods, homeware and beauty products. More than 15 e-commerce websites launched in the UAE last year and there are more than 100 similar portals across the Arab world, according to Arab Advisors Group.

But Mr Christidis said the key to driving up internet usage was making it easier for older people to use the internet, such as his 70-year-old grandmother.

"Laptops are still too difficult for first-time users," he said. "I set up my grandmother's e-mail on an iPad and she doesn't have to login or do anything too difficult. All she has to do is click the envelope icon and she understands that she's sending an e-mail."