“Balance between fixed and mobile is paramount for ICT development: without a balanced fixed and mobile infrastructure, the ICT sector simply can’t be sustainable." These are the words of Dalya Al-Khalaf, director of Strategy and Planning at Vodafone Qatar, who believes in the need of a strong telecoms sector that supports the ICT sector.
The link between ICT and development in a country is undeniable, the telecoms sector needs to provide a viable infrastructure to create the right environment that supports the ICT sector.
“Robust, reliable and affordable telecoms networks are critical for the success factor of a sustainable ICT sector. Beyond that, especially in areas of the MEA region that do not have a very developed ICT ecosystem, telecom operators play an important role in bringing ICT services to market, building on their customer relationships and technology skills. B2B ICT services have some of the most promising potential for many of our telecom clients in the region,” said Hermann Riedl, partner and managing director at The Boston consulting Group.
Riedl also highlighted that the telecoms sector is not the only factor to sustain a healthy ICT environment. “Over and above, a developed telecom sector is necessary, however not sufficient to develop a vibrant ICT ecosystem. Other factors, such as the ease of setting up a business, targeted investment attraction, flexible immigration policies or sector acceleration through e-government, play an important role as well,” he added.
In the Middle East region, the most advanced countries in terms of balanced fixed and mobile infrastructures are Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain, according to Al-Khalaf. However, in Africa, all countries have a fixed Internet penetration below 5% with mobile penetration that go between 10% and 110%. Global mobile phone penetration is 96%. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 47% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, mobile data use is expected to grow twentyfold by the end of 2019, according to a mobility study by Ericsson. It is predicted there will be 930 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2019 – nearly one for every resident.
“The MEA region still has a long way to go, when it comes to Fixed roll-out, in order for it to rival more established regions of Europe for example,” Al-Khalaf said.
In order to improve the ICT sector, the telecoms sector is embracing the ICT sector, as it is seeing as a source of revenues. “Telecoms operators’ role is evolving in the entire world as well as in the MEA region. From being the providers of pure connectivity – mobile, fixed, or both – they are evolving to become a full-ICT partner, with a particularly important role for individual consumers and SME’s. As a matter of fact, these two categories are the ones that benefit most from the innovation and the off-the-shelf solutions that Operators can bring to market,” Al-Khalaf said to CommsMEA.
The telecoms industry is not the only party that see profits when developing ICT, as governments value the social benefits that the sector can bring to the country.
“Governments need to consider both ICT as a sector and as an enabler both in parallel and in conjunction. ICT, as a sector, is an important contributor to ICT and a necessary base upon which to build further economic and social benefits. Considering ICT solely as a sector however misses the broader potential that the industry can bring to other sectors in the economy, such as telematics for travel & transportation, e-health for health care or e-government for the government itself. Ideally, the ICT policy will be linked to the overall economic strategy of the country, linking the ICT industry with the chosen focus sectors for development,” said Riedl.