After tuning into BBC World News recently and watching with interest a report about the delay that the UK is experiencing in rolling out 4G, it made me think about the UAE telecoms market and its approach to 4G.
The main issue in the current UK climate seems to be a financial one; the government auctions for the 4G spectrums have still not taken place and you have to wonder if the operators will be as keen to splash out seven digit sums to get hold of a licence this time around. I remember the year 2000 very well as my first year in telecommunications recruitment and as the year that the five UK operators paid over GBP20 billion between them on 3G licences, putting their actual rollouts on hold due to lack of funds.
Other challenges include equipment deployment, people do not want another base station in their back yard and landlords have gotten wise to operators renting a piece of land on the cheap; although luckily operators are now sharing sites which make perfect sense financially, technically and environmentally. Finally, the technology from the users’ perspective is far from ready – the handsets and tablets aren’t around yet and by the looks of things won’t need to be for a while.
In the UAE things are very different, we only have two operators and both have 4G coverage, which is a fantastic achievement and shows the commitment of both companies to have cutting edge technology, and not many countries that can stake the same claim.
The question is how many people are actually using it? Firstly, there are no devices in the UAE that are actually compatible with the networks, even the latest 4G iPad only has real 4G mobile broadband speed when used in the US, and there is no information as to when this will change.
If there are no handsets or tablets then the only way to use this technology is with an internet key or dongle, and I do not know anybody that owns or uses a 3G version, let alone a 4G one. Sure, there will be some consumers out there that are feeling the benefits of this exciting technology but its full potential is still a long way off. In the meantime there are plenty of coffee shops in the UAE and most people on the move with their tablets or laptops, including myself, are making use of the Wi-Fi that is provided.
It’s fair to say that the UAE has taken advantage of the lower costs of setting up a network in comparison to the hefty bills involved for European operators and after all, it’s better to have the technology than to not have it. For this we have to commend the providers for being ahead of the curve.
Where I feel the market could do better is to improve the levels of service and quality of more widely used technology that people are using on a day to day basis such as home wireless broadband for instance.
I have lost count of the amount of calls I have made to my domestic internet provider to complain that my internet is not working. When I explain that I have a wireless router I am told that they are not able to support them and I should use the cable directly from the wall.
When I explain I am using an iPad that does not have a socket I am told that I should buy a computer that has one! Apparently the wireless routers interfere with the TV decoders, which is laughable really.
Perhaps I should get a 4G USB modem when I want to use the internet at home, but surely that defeats the object? It’s not as if I can choose my supplier either, as the area in the UAE you live in dictates which provider you have to use, which in this day and age can be frustrating. When the consumer is able to choose provider he or she uses, things will be a lot different – competition can only be a good thing for everyone.
On a positive note, we have to be realistic and appreciate what has been made available to us in such a short space of time in a relatively small country. The services available in the telecoms market in the Middle East and Africa are excellent and keep improving, but perhaps we need to focus more on the basics before getting carried away with next generation technology.
John Armstrong is the owner and general manager of JCA Associates, a UAE based recruitment business specialising in IT, telecommunications and engineering recruitment servicing the MEA region.