Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 February 2020

4G’s high-speed potential goes unrealised in UAE

Many smartphone users may hesitate to use mobile data for high-bandwidth activities, despite push for an infrastructure with even faster speeds.
Business people on cellphones in DIFC. Sarah Dea / The National
Business people on cellphones in DIFC. Sarah Dea / The National

ABU DHABI // Smartphone users are hesitating to use mobile data for high-bandwidth activities, despite a nationwide push for even faster speeds.

With 4G available and a fifth-generation mobile network said to be on the horizon, some users still shy away from taking full advantage of these speeds because of issues such as the high cost of data packages, wifi availability and battery life.

Fourth-generation mobile networks, or 4G, make it possible for activities that use a high amount of bandwidth, such as video conferencing, gaming and watching high-definition videos.

But many users still mostly use smartphones for checking email or social media and other activities.

“3G came into play because the world demanded higher speeds. It was the natural reaction of supply to the existing demand,” said Tareq Masarweh, analyst at Ovum research and advisory firm in Dubai.

“I see 4G as the opposite, where the competition between vendors and operators brought 4G to the table, and adoption – specifically in this region – is a result of differentiation and of demand reacting to supply.”

The average millennial may check Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp as soon as they wake up, maybe moving to email and watching short videos later, Mr Masarweh said.

He or she might stream a playlist from music services like Soundcloud or Spotfiy while driving to work, later using instant messages, watching content, laughing at videos, browsing the web and responding to emails.

“This person doesn’t really need 4G yet as he’s been offloading his connection to wifi at multiple stops and his activities are completely satisfied by 3G.”

Wifi availability and fiber internet means that many people take advantage of those connections to avoid using mobile broadband.

“A significant chunk of smartphone owners in the UAE do not actually have data packages,” said Mr Masarweh.

Websites for activities such as streaming videos utilise technology that tests someone’s connection and adjusts the bandwidth accordingly, meaning that 4G users will consume more bandwidth in a given time than 3G users, due to the increased speed of their connection.

This may not affect heavy data users, but does affect others.

“In my opinion, that can be a big problem for a light user that purchases a gigabyte or two per month, as they would have a smaller margin or buffer of spare data per month,” he said.

However, Jawad Abbassi, founder of Arab Advisors Group, based in Jordan, said that new smartphone capabilities create demand for faster mobile broadband speeds.

“It’s really a question of supply creating its own demand,” Mr Abbassi said.

Most smartphone users now have 4G enabled and when new models become available on the market, every two to three years there is replacement of almost all smartphones, he said.

The Arabian Gulf countries do not have low data prices but are affordable when considering income level, he said. Prices can depend on infrastructure and amount of competition between telecommunications companies.

“Across the region, you have massive disparities of pricing of data,” he said.

The UAE’s prices are “relatively on the high side” but are affordable considering income levels, he said.

“It’s not just streaming video when you have faster networks,” Mr Abbassi said. “It just makes a lot of things more easy to do.”

lcarroll@thenational.ae

Updated: January 18, 2015 04:00 AM

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