x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Etisalat puts mobiles on faster track

4G for the UAE: Etisalat's high-speed 4G network hopes to cash in on increasing demand for mobile broadband.

Etisalat says its high-speed service will help it cash in on increasing demand for the mobile internet. Jeff Topping / The National
Etisalat says its high-speed service will help it cash in on increasing demand for the mobile internet. Jeff Topping / The National

The speed of the mobile internet in the UAE is set to double following the launch by Etisalat of the country's next-generation broadband network.

Etisalat says its high-speed service - which allows for streaming videos and viewing high-definition YouTube clips over a smartphone - will help it cash in on increasing demand for the mobile internet.

It offers data speeds of more than 100 megabits per second - more than double the best connection offered by the existing 3G service.

Matthew Willsher, the chief marketing officer at Etisalat, said there was "exponential" growth in demand for mobile data.

"Mobile data is a huge opportunity for growing revenue," he said. "We're growing at approximately double a year. Our number of smartphones is increasing very fast as well."

The so-called 4G network - the fourth generation of mobile phone broadcast standards - covers most of the main urban areas of the UAE, with a wider service being launched next year. A small group of users will start testing the new network over the next couple of days.

"In about a month we'll be making the service available to all customers right throughout the country," said Mr Willsher.

Consumers will initially be able to access the 4G network by using a "dongle", which plugs into the USB port of a computer.

Retailers are also gearing up to stock 4G-compatible phones, which Etisalat forecasts will hit the market over the next six months.

Etisalat's mobile-internet network uses long-term evolution (LTE) technology, which is sometimes referred to as "4G" for marketing purposes.

Nasser bin Obood, the acting chief executive of Etisalat, said the company had invested Dh6 billion (US$1.63bn) in both its next-generation mobile and fibre-optic networks.

"We are proud today to launch the LTE network in all major cities," said Mr bin Obood.

It is believed the 4G network cost just a fraction of Etisalat's Dh6bn infrastructure investment. But analysts said it could provide one of the operator's most important revenue streams in the future.

"Data is the growth area really," said Matthew Reed, a senior analyst for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms & Media.

"In terms of people having SIM cards, the UAE mobile market is pretty saturated. So they really need to make as much in the way of finding growth in other areas, and data is one of the key ones," he said.

The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, is among the first markets in the world to offer 4G services.

"It certainly shows that the UAE and Middle East is keeping pace with technologies in other parts of the world," said Dino Wilkinson, a partner at the law firm Norton Rose in the Middle East.

"That's a feature of telecoms in the more emerging markets. They have those sort of legacy systems. Sometimes you find that they do leapfrog in terms of technology," said Mr Wilkinson.

Earlier this month, three operators in Saudi Arabia claimed the crown for launching the region's first 4G network, as STC, Mobily and Zain Saudi all announced the "region's first" 4G networks within days of each other.

A representative of Etisalat said its network was the most comprehensive, designed for mobile use, and operating to a different standard than the Saudi Arabia networks.

"We're very excited to be certainly the first in the country with LTE, and the first in the region with mobile LTE," said Mr Willsher.

Etisalat's rival du said this year it was also gearing up to launch a 4G network, although not a nationwide service. The company did not comment yesterday.