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United Arab Emirates - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

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Last updated: 11 Aug 2020 Update History

Report Pages: 112

Analyst: Sebastien De Rosbo

Telecom operators in the UAE face various challenges in 2020

The telecoms sector in the United Arab Emirates has had to quickly adapt to the changes and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar to other countries around the world, an increase in citizens working and studying from home created a surge in demand for fixed services, including video-streaming. This in turn, prompted the regulator to temporarily lift restrictions on some OTT services including Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The UAE has a strong mobile market which is dominated by the two major operators of Etisalat and Du. Both operators are majority owned by the government. Interestingly, the COVID-19 outbreak has created a change in some mobile consumer behaviour. Du reported, for example, that some users had switched to pre-paid services in order to manage personal budgets – creating a decline in the more lucrative post-paid sector.

Etisalat and du have deployed sophisticated HSPA+ and LTE networks that cover most of the population, underpinning growth opportunities centred on mobile broadband, content and applications. Both Etisalat and Du have launched 5G networks and 2G spectrum is expected to be re-purposed for 5G use by the end of 2022. The remaining 2G networks will be shut-down at that point.

The well-established fibre-broadband network in the UAE is providing the operators with opportunities to grow new services and offerings such as triple-play.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.

Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.

The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.

Key developments:

  • Regulator confirms plans to close down 2G networks by the end of 2022 and refarm spectrum for 5G;
  • Fall in the number of mobile subscribers exacerbated by COVID-19;
  • Growing availability of low-cost smartphones drives mobile broadband penetration;
  • Etisalat and du supported in 5G ambitions with spectrum allocations;
  • Telecom regulator encourages affordable roaming rates within GCC countries;
  • Report update includes the regulator’s market data to May 2020, Telecom Maturity Index charts and analyses, assessment of the global impact of COVID-19 on the telecoms sector, recent market developments.

Companies mentioned in this report include:

Etisalat; du; Thuraya; Yahsat; Virgin Mobile; Swyp

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