The idea of a mobile revolution may seem like old news in the west, but a new study from GSMA shows how that development is catching on in the Middle East and North Africa regions.
The GSMA report shows that by 2020, mobile broadband networks will support more than two out of three mobile connections. Additionally, there will be roughly 350 million total connections covering both 3G and 4G in the region by then, which will account for 69 percent of the total connections by 2020. That's up from 34 percent at the end of 2014, meaning the total will better than double in just five years' time. Plus, the total number of smartphone connections in the region is expected to hit 327 million by the end of 2020, up roughly three-fold from 2014's numbers.
Pushing this development forward is the rise of greater investment in 3G and 4G networks, as well as a rising tide of device usage in the region. Reports suggest that the Arab States have spent around $40 billion on capital investments to broaden network coverage and increase overall capacity. 3G networks are in all but one country in the region, and 23 4G networks are currently live in 10 countries, with another eight set to follow.
The mobile industry added roughly $115 billion to the area's economy just in 2014, and by 2020, that should reach $160 billion. That's roughly 4.5 percent of the area's gross domestic product (GDP), and that means plenty of jobs involved. The mobile industry accounted for 1.3 million jobs in the region, and by 2020 that should pass the 1.5 million mark. Tax contributions are likewise on the rise, with $12.6 going in in 2014, expected to reach $14.3 billion by 2020. That doesn't include spectrum auction funds raise or regulatory fees, so the full number is likely higher still.
GSMA chief technology officer Alex Sinclair, who also serves as the firm's acting director general, noted that the Arab States region has had to face many challenges, including high unemployment and a young population, both of which contribute to social and political instability. But with increasing mobile connectivity, Sinclair pointed out, major advancements can be brought into the region, including the Internet of Things (IoT), new options for banking and healthcare, as well as education and digital commerce.
When looking at the idea of “ongoing social and political instability”, especially coupled with high unemployment and a young population, the idea of anything that can bring more jobs to a region is a great way to defuse social unrest. Plus, adding jobs in one sector can add other jobs elsewhere, as those with money from telecom jobs have it to spend in shops and restaurants.
Increasing connectivity adds a sense of greater community to a region, and that can mean a loss of those tensions described earlier. But regardless of the outcome, it's clear that the mobile environment in the Middle East and North Africa region is primed for growth, which will bring plenty of other changes to the region.