By Roger Field
Despite the bleak economic outlook for many sectors, opportunities abound for telecom operators focusing on the right areas.
While telecom professionals in the region may have had some of their optimism dented in recent months, as the global economic downturn continues to lower expectations for growth in 2009, the CommsMEA Awards, held at Dubai’s Grand Hyatt in December, acted as a sobering reminder of the huge strides the sector is making in the region.
Regional operators including Zain, Etisalat, Batelco and Qtel were among the heavyweight operators that gained awards, along with smaller players that have also punched above their weight to prove that market share and big cash reserves do not count for everything.
Indeed, operators such as Roshan, Kalimat, and Warid Telecom Uganda, demonstrated the huge difference that the telecom sector can make to developing economies, by bringing telecoms services to untapped, but often difficult markets.
The awards also acted as a reminder that there remains plenty of room for growth for the region’s operators, even if targets have been revised downward compared with projections made a few months ago. While many Gulf markets in particular have a reputation for being saturated, operators can still discover growth potential by looking at other services, with demand for data and 3G services offering plenty of opportunities.
This was amply demonstrated by Batelco, which scooped the award for Best Technology Investment of the Year for the rollout of its 3G/HSDPA network, which gained significant growth for the company in the first two months of operations.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia, a country renowned for its high mobile penetration also offers a host of opportunities for companies prepared to brave the fixed-line sector. Dr Ahmed Sindi, CEO of Atheeb Telecom, the latest entrant into KSA’s telecoms sector, is just one telecom professional to recognise that the Saudi Arabian market is something of a conundrum, with very high mobile penetration, but dire broadband and fixed-line penetration.
Atheeb Telecom is hoping to seize the opportunity to take a slice of this potentially lucrative market, and certainly the fundamentals look promising, not least because some 38% of the country’s population of 28 million people is 14 years of age or below, indicating huge potential growth in the next few years from a growing young population hungry for data services.
Despite the doom and gloom, there remain plenty of opportunities for telecom operators in the region.
Roger Field is the editor of Communications Middle East & Africa.
The UAE market is carved up between two government companies (Du and Etisalat) and no actual competition is permitted. I am sorry, I fail to see where these 'opportunities' are in the UAE!? Selling hardware to end users (phones, etc.) is about as far as it goes. But with expensive and low quality network features, the best handsets are useless here anyway.