Data growth is on the agenda and operators in the region are already sharing their concerns to regulators in the region to make sure that there is enough spectrum to allocate the coming demand.
According to Juniper Research, global mobile data traffic generated from devices including smartphones, feature phones and tablets forecast to exceed 197,000PB in 2019. Cisco published its forecast and estimates that smartphones generate 37 times more data traffic than feature phones, while 4G smartphones generate almost three times as much data traffic as 3G smartphones. The increasing use of mobile broadband-enabled smartphones will generate an explosion of data traffic, with volumes forecast to grow at a CAGR of 57% out to 2019, an almost tenfold increase.
The Middle East and Africa region has already launched 4G and data is expected to grow. The GSMA has highlighted the risks of policy makers and regulators when underestimating mobile broadband growth in the Middle East and Africa region.
In February, the GSMA and SAMENA Telecommunications Council called on governments across the Arab region to work together to secure more new spectrum for mobile to meet the long-term demand for mobile broadband services.
According to Cisco, the Middle East and Africa will have the strongest mobile data traffic growth of any region with a 72% average annual growth rate, increasing 15-fold between 2014 and 2019.
The countries where the mobile industry is not fully developed won’t have the flexibility to get additional spectrum if it is not agreed at an international level during the WRC in November 2015, as it takes around four years to agree internationally, commented the GSMA to CommsMEA.
Regulators are aware of the economic impact that the telecommunications sector has in the economy of their countries and this is the argument that operators are using when requesting more spectrum. The private sector wants to ensure the possibility to keep on developing the technology but they demand a commitment from the regulators to create a long term plan.
A 2012 report by Deloitte for the GSMA in association with Cisco suggests that a doubling in data usage per 3G connection across a sample of 14 emerging and developed countries would lead on average to a 0.5% increase in GDP growth.
“Inefficient spectrum allocation or use can exacerbate network congestion. This is not just a nuisance: it has an economic cost. Swift access to information and the ability to transact quickly drive economic productivity. Impeded communications lead to inefficiency,” explains the GSMA.
“In general, all operators in the region are working with the GSMA. We support their initiative [demand of spectrum]. We need to make sure there is more bandwidth, as there are more people connected to mobile. Facebook is a good example to show that most of the people use this service through their mobile phone,” said Scott Gegenheimer, Zain Group CEO, to CommsMEA.
He reckons that the governments are aware of this need, but it is needed an industry position to reinforce the idea. “We are saying the same thing about broadband, it is increasing and developing the GDP. We want to push for more spectrum for mobile to support the development of the country, but also to increase our revenues.”
Rakesh Lakhani, head of mobile broadband at Ericsson in region Middle East says that in Middle East and Africa there is huge latent demand for data. “I have no doubt that this will take off with users listening to music, watch films on line, films, books; all those will drive data growth. The demand is there but spectrum has to be available. I feel that limited spectrum is hampering data growth. Spectrum needs to be freed by the regulators to make sure it’s available because the subscriber demand is there,” he adds.
“In advanced data markets, such as GCC and Saudi Arabia, operators are requesting frequencies in 3.5GHz, 2.6 GHz and 800 band for LTE carrier aggregation to cater to data demand,” Lakhani said.
According to Lakhani, operators in the Middle East and Africa are adopting spectrum strategies that provide more WCDMA and LTE coverage using the GSM spectrum to cater to data demand. “Advanced operators are deploying lower frequencies to have deep indoor penetration, for example coverage and carrier aggregation in higher bands for capacity,” he concludes.