Local domain names to swell
Internet domain names in the region that now include .com and .ae are to increase from a few dozen to potentially thousands starting next year.
But experts say Middle East businesses and government bodies have been slow to apply for names "right-of-the-dot". Such names can include words such as "info.dubai" or "restaurants.abudhabi".
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the non-profit organisation responsible for registering domain names, has set a deadline of January 12 for applications for the next batch of domain names.
But the application process takes months, and the last window for submissions was six years ago.
"My concern, when I come into a place like the Middle East, is how little they actually know about the programme. Some of the bigger brands need to really mobilise very quickly," said Adrian Kinderis, the chief executive of ARI Registry Services, a consultancy that helps businesses, government organisations and individuals register generic top-level domain names.
It costs US$185,000 (Dh679,495) to apply and $25,000 annually to keep the name. Consultancies such as ARI Registry also charge further fees of up to $100,000 to help in applying for names.
Mr Kinderis forecasts there will be 1,500 applications for domain names globally, with between 1,100 and 1,200 names being approved. Of those approved, he expects fewer than 5 per cent to be owned by businesses or governments in the Middle East.
"We're really getting to the red zone now," said Mr Kinderis, referring to next year's early deadline.
Nabil Alyousuf, the chairman of Aljal Capital, a company that works with CentralNic, based in London, to help companies in the UAE and Middle East to submit applications for domain names, agrees there is insufficient awareness in the region about the opportunity to buy website domain names.
He says his company, working with CentralNic, has approached 60 organisations in the region to create more awareness. The two companies have not signed up any clients yet but say they have had discussions with governments and local businesses as well as with prominent families that want to preserve their family names.
"We have a lot of corporations that are aspiring to be global brands," said Mr Alyousuf. "Online marketing has had a growth of 40 per cent year-on-year between 2009 and 2010 in the Middle East."
Rod Beckstrom, the chief executive of Icann, is also trying to create more awareness in the Middle East about the biggest potential change for the regional internet in years.
He was in Dubai at the Gitex expo yesterday to discuss the forthcoming expansion of domain names.
"It's a good parallel to Dubai itself. … Dubai came in as the first country in the Gulf to say, 'let's open up our economy, let's open up to trade, let's create some rules of law so that you can actually do commerce here'," he said.
"That has led to tremendous economic growth, innovation, dynamism, employment and many other opportunities. We believe the same thing will happen by opening up right of the dot," he said.