x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE blazing trail in fibre optics

The UAE is now ranked fourth in the world, with 30.8 per cent of the country's households and businesses connected to fibre optic systems, behind Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The UAE has one of the highest rates of fibre optic penetration in the world, according to new findings by an industry body.

Fibre optic connections enable almost unlimited volumes of digital data to be transmitted using pulses of light. The technology is replacing traditional copper wiring for broadband internet networks.

The UAE is now ranked fourth in the world, with 30.8 per cent of the country's households and businesses connected to fibre optic systems, behind Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

"For the Middle East market, that's a really strong sign of progress," said Hartwig Tauber, the director general of the Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Council Europe.

The announcement was made at the inaugural FTTH Middle East Conference held this week in Beirut.

Although parts of Dubai such as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Marina have been connected to a fibre network since 2002, Etisalat has pledged to spend Dh5 billion (US$1.36bn) building a nationwide FTTH network that is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.

The UAE accounts for 96 per cent of fibre optic connections in the Middle East because of the success of Etisalat's eLife promotion.

That number could become higher still thanks to the planned infrastructure-sharing programme with du, which is scheduled to begin next year.

The Emirates was also recently found to have one of the highest quality broadband connections in the world, according to findings by the University of Oxford.

Apart from attracting further investment to the Emirates, Mr Tauber said, the FTTH Council ranking could act as a catalyst for the rest of the Middle East to develop its own fibre optic connections.

"Such an announcement in one country has an impact in other countries where decision makers are now beginning to ask why they're not included in the ranking and are now looking to develop their own fibre programmes," said Mr Tauber.

Delegates from Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia separately announced at the conference plans to begin building their own fibre optic networks.

"[Saudi Arabia] could be in the global rankings next year if they begin to deploy their fibre optic network," said Mr Tauber.

Broadband prices in the UAE, however, are significantly higher than in other countries in the rankings, he said. But he expected prices to eventually fall.

"We've seen in other markets, as soon as fibre connections are available, the price of bandwidth per megabit goes down over time because operators are able to offer better rates," he said.

Broadband prices in the UAE are subject to approval by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, although the watchdog may begin deregulating certain services over the next year.

dgeorgecosh@thenational.ae