x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE world leader in mobile phone lines

The UAE has set a new world record for the number of mobile phone lines per person.

ABU DHABI // The UAE has set a new world record for the number of mobile phone lines per person while broadband internet subscribers total only one in 10 of the population, says a report released by the telecoms regulator. There are almost two mobile phones per person in the UAE, according to extracts from the report published today in The National. While mobile phone line uptake is high, broadband internet subscribers number only 10 per cent of the UAE's five million population, says the report by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). The figures relate to the level of subscriptions at the end of 2008.

Etisalat states that by the end of February it had more than 500,000 household broadband subscribers, providing services to around 60 per cent of households. "The 60 per cent figure seems high but that is because there is a very high number of people per household in the UAE," said Fernando Elizalde, a principal analyst at the telecoms research group, Gartner. "You are not really comparing like with like, if you are comparing the percentage household penetrations in Europe which has about 2.5 people per household."

He added that analysts worked on the principle that there were about 800,000 households in the UAE and just more than six people per household. The TRA report reveals that there were about 528,000 broadband subscribers in the Emirates by the end of last year, with a total of 148,000 new contracts signed during 2008, while the population numbers around five million. "This demonstrates that there is tremendous growth taking place in the UAE in terms of broadband connections," said Steven Hartley, a senior analyst with the telecoms consultancy Ovum.

"Uptake in the UAE broadband market seems to be following a pattern we have seen in the West. "Although the raw number of broadband subscriptions appears to be low, it is growing rapidly. There is a still a massive opportunity for the telecoms sector in this region to expand." The number of mobile telephone lines used by UAE residents in December reached a record high of 191 lines per 100 people - almost two phones lines per person.

This is an increase from 186 lines per 100 people in October, the last period for which figures were made public by the TRA. This means the UAE has the largest number of phone lines per capita in the world, exceeding even such densely populated regions as Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. According to the new data there were more than 9,357,000 active mobile subscribers at the end of December, an increase of more than 1,910,000 since January last year.

A number of explanations are offered for the Emirates' high take up of mobile phone lines. Experts suggest it is a combination of the spending power of expatriate residents, who rely more heavily on mobile communications and also a trend for consumers to buy separate phone lines for work and social life. Profits earned by the UAE's mobile telephones industry soared by more than a third. Revenues increased more than 30 per cent compared to 2007 to Dh30 billion.

There are two mobile telephone networks that are licensed by the TRA: the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) and du, which launched operations in Feb 2007, ending Etisalat's monopoly of the market. Two years later the companies are in the midst of a battle for market share with both sides launching discounts and special deals in a bid to woo potential customers. As the newcomer, du has been more aggressive in its pricing structure, introducing per-second billing and permanent discounts to selected numbers.

Etisalat reports it has a total mobile customer base of seven million. It aims to secure its position by offering additional services, such as the launch last month of the Apple iPhone, while du hopes consumers will become more price sensitive amid the economic slowdown, and chose its discount-focused offers. Using information previously provided by the TRA and the two mobile firms, more than 80 per cent of Etisalat's customers were active users while the rate at du was just below 80 per cent.

No one from Etisalat or du was available for comment on the new figures. chamilton@thenational.ae