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Fri 9 Jan 2009 01:33 PM

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Communication breakdown

The UAE is failing its citizens and businesses with woeful investment in broadband services, argues Rob Corder.

The UAE can be justifiably proud of its record on using world class communications to gain competitive advantages against other countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The Emirates claim not just one, but two, world-class airlines in the form of Etihad and Emirates. Dubai International Airport is the envy of the world for its passenger, cargo and other commercial services.

Jebel Ali port revolutionised shipping in the region when it opened. It remains the largest deep water port in the world, and underpins the success of Dubai Ports World, which now dominates shipping across the globe.

Residents may still grumble, but investment in roads over the past five years has been truly remarkable. Crossing Dubai creek used to be an hour-long grind every day for commuters who today whiz across the new Garhoud Bridge and Business Bay Crossing in seconds.

Even rail communications will soon be brought into the 21st century as Dubai Metro opens, and a pan-Emirates inter-city rail system moves beyond the planning stage.

This is a country that has learnt all the lessons of history and appreciates that communications drive economic expansion.

It is therefore unfathomable that the UAE internet infrastructure remains so slow, expensive and unreliable.

Etisalat is one of the most profitable communications service providers in the world, but its investment in broadband has been woeful.

Du, which was supposed to provide competition, has settled into a comfortable duopoly with Etisalat that has been of little benefit to consumers.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority is well-meaning but toothless.

The UAE is a nation of high wealth households that will happily pay for high speed broadband. Few would balk at paying Dhs250, Dhs500, or even Dhs1000 if they were guaranteed 20-50 Mbit/s always-on broadband.

These would effectively be business class customers that could subsidise the rollout of mainstream services to more modest households that might choose a 5 Mbit/s service at Dhs150 per month.

This is merely an example of s simple business model (I’m not pretending to be an expert at running Internet Service Providers), but it illustrates the ease with which services could be improved if Du, Etisalat or a new entrant pulled their fingers out.

International bandwidth remains a significant problem, but only because telcos refuse to pay for more. Additional satellite-based and undersea cable-based bandwidth requires investment, but Etisalat, with its staggering profits, could certainly afford it.

Du could commit future internet royalties to nudge Etisalat to press on faster.

Or perhaps this is an area where government should be directly investing. The government has recognised the power of communications by land, sea and air. It is high time it brought the country up to speed in cyberspace.

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Bhavishya Kanjhan 11 years ago

I couldn't agree more. Dubai boasts of advancements in a variety of fields and yet its communication bone remains weak. du has only recently introducing a 12Mb connection - that too at a whopping 750 AED per month. Etisalat charges 460 a month for data package on your phone. Reduction in these prices will see increased adoption of them and increment in the use of online services which will eventually benefit the tech industry of Dubai.

Salem Mohamed 11 years ago

It is spot on, we used to sms from email on our PCs but shortly afterwards were blocked. SMS cost for carriers is zero yet it is a multibillion industry for telecos. We thought 3G means we could have video calls but in reality we can not or can not afford it. Interent performance is as fickle as the weather. Youtube? forget it most of the time it is not working even for those paying more than 500 per month. How come a company like Etisalta who were once at the cutting edge of telecom technology offer such inferior services is a mystery. Is it that the marketing and the finance departments having their say in the policy of the company at the expense of comon sense and higher decision makers? you tell me

Ralf 11 years ago

Absolutely, in most european countries 20 monthly Euros buy you up to 20 MBit/s DSL connections and 80 euros (400 AED) will buy you 50 MBit down- and 10MBit/s upstream. Look at Korea (!!!!) having 100 MBit/s at home is normal. I am paying 50 Euro per month for 1 MBit/s, including filtering and poor response times. Come on TRA: Let the guys compete, bring in competitors, open the market, please.

ahmed 11 years ago

is this what they call 'sadism'?

paul 11 years ago

As a business owner in Dubai Internet City, I have become really frustrated by the costs and poor performance of the telecoms sector in the UAE. The Du/Etisalat situation is still a monopoly as both carve up areas for internet provision between themselves. The costs are outrageous - we run two DSL connections in our UK office, both at twice the speed of our Du connection, and in total it works out as a quarter of the cost. And there is no bandwidth cap. And we came to Dubai to save costs!? The filtering and blocking is disruptive for business; we occasionally find customers sites that we need to work on inexplicably blocked (for example, one selling ladies underwear which you can see the same items in windows of Mall of the Emirates lingerie shops). Now that the economy is slowing rapidly, the UAE really needs to review its policies and get provision into the 21st century.

iPaw 11 years ago

its just a very sad case. My sis uses 20mbps in london at half the cost. I got upgraded to the 4mbps package, so i could see her on video cam without any jitters. But the wireless is still too slow. Not to forget the random disconnections.

Val 11 years ago

If the new shift is towards online marketing and rich media, they definitely need to make the web much faster and more accessible to everyone. Increase the speed, lower the prices or else interactive advertising will fall flat.

hiro bachani 11 years ago

Mr. Corder has hit the nail on the head. It is really unfathomable why Dubai- which has the best of most everything- is not being served very well as far as internet broadband and speed capability is concerned. Is it something to do with monopolies. Even in a bureaucratic country like india - they have several competing operators- so india has better services in this category, and in telecommunications overall. Let us hope things will improve soon here too. regards- hiro bachani- mg. director- http://www.merlin-me.com -