Middle Eastern telecoms companies are making waves at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Etisalat makes its presence felt
BARCELONA // Passengers arriving at Barcelona airport's baggage claim area are greeted by a large green Etisalat logo.
The signage, familiar to anyone in the UAE, may seem out of place given that the country's largest telecommunications operator has no investments in Spain.
But when the world's telecoms industry convenes in the Spanish city for the Mobile World Congress, which starts today, it serves as an indication that Etisalat and its regional peers have arrived as major global players.
After a year that has seen Middle Eastoperators such as Etisalat, Qtel and Orascom make waves through international acquisitions, many industry giants are now paying attention to the region's recent growth in the sector.
"Players that were rarely present in previous editions of this congress, today play an increasingly important role in this congress," said Marc Biosca, the head of AT Kearney's Middle East telecoms unit.
"A number of leading telecoms operators from Europe and US are looking with more and more interest on the emergence of large Middle East and African telecoms operators such as Etisalat, Qtel, Saudi Telecom and MTN," he said.
As well as having a large stand in the central courtyard of Fira De Barcelona, where the congress is being held, Etisalat's head of international investments, Jamal al Jarwan, will deliver a keynote address on mergers and acquisitions.
Apart from Etisalat, Qtel will be the other major regional operator with a solid presence at the congress and is scheduled to announce a partnership with Skype, the internet telephone provider, tomorrow.
Executives from rival operators in the Middle East region such as du, Zain, Orascom, Korek Telecom and STC will be holding closed meetings all week aiming to strike new deals.
"It's still early days but that's why operators go to the congress - to try to figure out what's next in their industry," said Matthew Reed, a senior research analyst with Informa Telecoms and Media.
Meanwhile, Middle East operators will be also discussing how to boost momentum as revenues from mobile voice decline.
"What's happening is the industry is reaching that stage where voice is still very important and, generally speaking, counts as a majority of revenues - but the growth is coming from new opportunities and new kinds of data orientated areas," Mr Reed said. "For Middle East operators, particularly for those who are in advanced GCC markets like the UAE, they are at this stage as well."
The issue is also of interest to telecoms equipment manufacturers and providers of consumer applications and popular smartphones such as the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy.
"If you look at the smartphone explosion and you look at the video traffic, people say that the mobile networks are broken but I tend to think that the networks are being stretched," said Kim Perdikou, an executive vice president for Juniper Networks, a technology company that sells internet network equipment.
"What we built and what we're using today is completely different."
The answer lies in the mobile applications space and how it is managed. The app industry now accounts for almost one third of the US$159 billion (Dh583.99bn) global wireless market, figures from ABI Research, a technology consultancy, show.
Mobile app developers will account for about one fifth of the estimated 50,000 attendees expected to converge in Barcelona this week.
Of those, perhaps the most keenly anticipated may be Dick Costolo, the chief executive of Twitter, and Eric Schmidt, the outgoing chief executive of Google, who will each deliver keynotes explaining their vision for the mobile industry.