x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Illiteracy to drag on net penetration levels

Internet penetration among Gulf states is unlikely to reach the levels in developed countries because of illiteracy and the number of unskilled workers without access to the web.

Internet penetration among Gulf states is unlikely to reach the levels in developed countries due to illiteracy and the number of unskilled workers who will not have access to the web, a report says.

This comes as mobile penetration continues to surge above 150 per cent on average in the GCC, although growth will slow due to market saturation, the report by the Madar Research Group shows.

A Gulf country with an illiteracy rate of 35 per cent will not have most of its population using the internet until technologies such as advanced voice recognition and video conferencing become widely used, said Abdul Kader Kamli, the president and research director of Madar Research Group.

The average internet penetration rate in the Arab world stood at 17.8 per cent last year, although it was almost 36 per cent in the GCC. The report did not break down specific country rates.

"It will never reach the level reached in developed countries such as Scandinavia," said Mr Kamli, the report's author.

"We visited some of the labour camps in Qatar and the UAE. About 60 per cent of the unskilled labourers use mobile devices but almost none of them use the internet. It will take a very long time to reach this level."

But Mr Kamli said internet use in the region would increase because of the popularity of social-networking websites such as Facebook, and blogs.

It will also benefit from Arabic translation services introduced by companies including Google and Yahoo.

"There will be growth in readership because blogs is a new channel for Arabic speakers and gives them more freedom to express themselves as it's not controlled by governments," Mr Kamli said.

Growth in mobile penetration rates will begin to slow to about 6 per cent over the next four years from 24 per cent last year.

To offset declining adoption, mobile operators will focus on providing new services to boost revenue, Mr Kamli said.

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae