Middle East mobile subscriptions ready to boom

Average penetration rate to pass 100% with over 250m subscriptions
More than 250 million mobile subscribers are expected in the Middle East in 2012.
More than 250 million mobile subscribers are expected in the Middle East in 2012.


In 2012, the number of mobile subscriptions in the Middle East will cross the 250 million mark, reaching 271.27m by the end of 2012 and rising to 352m at the end of 2016, according to forecasts by Informa Telecoms & Media.

The average mobile penetration rate for the Middle East region will also pass 100% from 97.72% at the end of 2011 to 107.09% at the end of 2012, exceeding the mobile penetration rate in the US and Canada for the first time.

According to Informa, the mobile penetration rate in North America at the end of 2012 will be 102.77%.

The largest mobile market in the Middle East by subscriptions will continue to be Iran with 82.91m subscriptions forecast for end-2011, rising to 122.13m at end-2016.

Saudi Arabia is the second largest market in the region by subscriptions, with 50.8m active mobile subscriptions forecast for end-2011, rising to 71.32m at end-2016.

"The impact of competition, the availability of new data-based services, increasing affordability and population growth will all contribute to the continued rise in mobile subscription numbers in the Middle East in the coming few years," said Matthew Reed, Dubai-based head of mobile research for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms & Media.

"However, the rate of growth in mobile subscriptions in the Middle East will slow over the coming years. The markets have become tougher as they have become more competitive and mature, and operators have been seeking to cut costs where possible; put more effort into customer retention; and focus more on the main clear growth area, which is data services."

Data services only account for 13% of mobile revenues in the Middle East in 2Q 2011; the lowest percentage for any major world region other than Africa.

According to Informa, this low figure represents the capacity for mobile data growth in the region. Iraq and Iran have yet to introduce 3G networks, for example.

The smartphone penetration rate in the UAE is forecast to be 47.23% at the end of 2011 and is likely to rise to 70.35% at the end of 2016, while Saudi Arabia will see an increase in smartphone penetration from 25.01% at end-2011 to 48.63% at end-2016.

The rates of smartphone adoption will be lower in regional markets such as Jordan, where the smartphone penetration rate is forecast to be 2.2% at end-2011, rising to 17.98% at end-2016.

All three of Saudi Arabia's mobile operators have unveiled LTE services, while the UAE's Etisalat is also poised to launch LTE in the country.

According to Informa, LTE subscriptions in the Middle East will number only 1.94m at end-2013 but will reach 15m at end-2016.

Fixed-broadband subscriptions are also set to grow, with the number of fixed-broadband subscriptions in the Middle East rising from 6.51m at end-2011 to 11.6m at end-2016.

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