Mid-East spotlight

Arab telecom operators served 85 million cellular subscribers and 30 million fixed telephony lines in 2005. The Middle East and North Africa is a rapidly expanding market, as detailed in a new report.

These statistics are brought home by a new report from Jordan based Arab Advisors Group which analyses and ranks 18 fixed voice operators and 39 cellular operators in 18 Arab countries. "The scorecard of key performance indicators of Arab telecom operators" offers analytical comparisons between the service providers by examining their performance in terms of the absolute number of subscribers, penetration rates, revenues, monthly Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), market shares, and financial ratios.

 With the advent of new operators and increased competition in 2005, subscribers for 39 examined cellular operators in 18 Arab countries reached 84,844,000. Al Jawal and Maroc Telecom sustained their top rankings by the end of 2005, with 11,845,000 and 8,237,000 subscribers respectively. Orascom Telecom Algérie ended 2005 with 7,109,000 subscribers, becoming the third largest mobile operator in the region. Bahrain recorded the highest cellular penetration rate in 2005, which stood at 105.8% followed by UAE (99%). UAE and Bahrain also had the highest fixed line penetration rates in 2005, which stood at 27% and 26.6% respectively. The simple average for the operators- ARPU was US$26 in 2005 for cellular services, compared to a fixed line ARPU of US$45.7. Qatar's Qtel recorded the highest ARPU for both fixed and cellular services in 2005.

 Serene Zawaydeh, a consultant with Arab Advisors Group stresses the contribution of cellular markets: "The Arab cellular markets are growing at a high pace, while the fixed line markets are stagnating. In 2005 cellular operators added around 34 million subscribers while all the fixed line operators added a mere 2.4 million mainlines. Cellular operators in Algeria, Egypt and Saudi recorded the highest subscriber additions in 2005, Algérie Telecom Mobile topping the ranks with 3,731,000 additional subscribers...Telecom Egypt added the highest number of mainlines in 2005, which stood at 900,000...Competition in cellular services is a main driver for growth. Several cellular operators recorded high growth rates in 2005. Wataniya Telecom Algérie recorded the highest growth rate, which stood at 413.2%, followed by MTC Atheer (339.1%). As for fixed line operators, Iraq's ITPC recorded the highest growth rate (82%) in 2005, while the fixed line markets in Sudan, Jordan and Bahrain declined." 

The report covers the Integrated Communications Providers (ICPs) in the region that provide both fixed and mobile services. They include Algérie Telecom, Batelco (Bahrain), and Etisalat (UAE). It also covers the operators that offer only fixed line services, e.g., Telecom Egypt; Lebanon's Ogero; Syrian Telecommunication Establishment; and Kuwait's Ministry of Communications. The report further covers nearly 30 operators that provide cellular services only. 

The full report can be purchased from the Arab Advisors Group for US$1,500, its 50 pages and 38 detailed case studies analysing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the fixed voice and mobile operators in the Arab region for 2004 and 2005.

In a second report the Arab Advisors Group turns its attention to a country which has received scant attention from anyone - Sudan. 

Earlier this year the Internet in Sudan commenced a journey of transformation. The second telecom operator, CanarTel, initiated competition, starting with its wireless Internet service. Moreover, Canar's ADSL services will be launched as this article is being published, a challenge to the ADSL monopoly held by Sudatel. All those factors are expected to energise the market, specifically on the broadband front.

 Dialup Internet is competitive in Sudan. All 15 ISPs offer Subscription Free Internet (SFI) via phone lines. Sudatel has revenue-sharing agreements with all the ISPs (except for those who provide wireless Internet), being the only fixed line operator prior to the entrance of CanarTel. An additional factor is that the datacomm market was liberalised with the entrance of CanarTel in early 2006. 

Comment on Sudan's potential is made in the report by Andrawes Snobar, Arab Advisors Group senior research analyst. In his opinion: "Internet accounts in Sudan grew at a healthy CAGR of 56.7% over the period from 2001-2005. Despite this, Internet penetration in Sudan is still very low by absolute and relative standards. By the end of 2005, the Internet account penetration rate stood at a mere 0.2% of the population, including subscription-free Internet, and ADSL...With competition initiated in late January 2006 by CanarTel, the Arab Advisors Group projects that the absolute yearly additions into the market will increase to 150,000 accounts added over the next five-year period (2006-2010). Furthermore, CanarTel's launch of its ADSL service in mid 2006 is expected to energise broadband uptake in the huge Arab-African country. The Arab Advisors Group forecasts a gradual growth in the broadband market size over the coming five years. ADSL accounts are projected to make up more than 10% of the total Internet market size by 2010."

"Sudan Internet and datacomm landscape" was released on May 8. It can be purchased from the Arab Advisors Group for US$950. The 39-page report, with its 30 detailed case studies, provides a detailed analysis of the Sudanese Internet and datacomm markets, and profiles the operators currently serving Sudan, namely, Sudatel and CanarTel. There are five-year historical and five-year projections on Internet uptake and revenues. What is more, the report provides a detailed and comprehensive picture on the Internet market strategies and regulations, e-commerce, and online content and services landscape. 

In a third report "Arabic Online Portals Featuring News Content" the Arab Advisors Group reveals that Saudi Arabia and the United States host the largest number of viewers of Arabic online news portals.  

Most viewers of Arabic-language news portals in the region are in Saudi Arabia, while the majority of Arabic-speaking users from outside the Arab world live in the United States. 

In a turbulent region, news is one of the most sought after types of online content. This has led to the emergence of several portals featuring news targeting the Arabic-speaking community, and page impressions and unique users are two common methods to assess the performance of such portals.  

The selected portals are all regional in their outlook and include major satellite news channel websites, business and financial news portals, and general websites featuring Arabic news. The portals are: Al Arabiya's news portal, Al Bawaba, AME Info, CNN Arabic, Maktoob, Menafn, Mena Report, Middle East Online and MSN Arabia. The report also features demographic information for Al Jazeera's news portal. 

One persistent factor in the Arabic new market is that males consistently outnumber females as viewers of Arabic news on the web, in the opinion of Arab Advisors Group media analysts. 

"Arabic Online Portals Featuring News Content" can be purchased for US$950. Its 33 pages contain 28 detailed case studies, analysing monthly page impressions, unique users and demographic breakdowns of the selected portals featuring news content in Arabic.

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