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Thu 30 Nov 2006 12:00 AM

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Gulf internet use set to double

Arab internet usage is predicted to double from the current 26.3 million to 50 million in three years, among the region's 290m people.

Arab internet usage is predicted to double from the current 26.3 million to 50 million in three years, among the 290 million people in the region, according to experts.

“Although challenged by a severe lack of content in the native language, we expect this to change in the near future, bringing the internet closer to the general non-English speaking population, making it a more useful and productive tool that can contribute to the overall advancement of the region,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Internet usage grew by more than nine million in 2005 to reach 26.3 million, according to figures released in September by Madar Research and reported in the MENA report. Growth rate of internet use substantially rose over 2004 levels, to average at around 55%, with few countries where internet penetration is lowest, witnessing three-digit growth.

This led to a pan-Arab penetration rate of 8.50% in 2005, compared to 5.36% in 2004. The United Arab Emirates remained the Arab leader in terms of internet user penetration rate in 2005, followed by Bahrain and Qatar.

Government initiatives, mostly supported by IT companies and private organisations, to increase the PC installed base at educational institutions and homes have largely contributed to growth in internet use in many Arab countries.

The recent launch in September of, the first search engine customized and localized to the Arab world as well as the impending launch of the Sawafi (“sandstorm”) search engine will also help increase internet penetration. Sawafi which also claims to have been ‘specially designed to meet the challenges of the Arabic language’ is the project of Dubai-based Seekport Internet Technologies Arabia FZ-LLC, a joint venture between Seekport and the MITSCO Group of Saudi Arabia.

Another new set of research figures for internet penetration is expected to be released next week.

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