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The Middle East mobile market offers some opportunities for growth due to its large populations and increasingly progressive outlook. However, there are vast differences between the various countries. Some markets have significant mobile penetration and are looking towards mobile broadband for growth – while other markets face more challenging issues with infrastructure destruction and civil tension inhibiting current growth. This report provides comprehensive insights and statistics into the mobile markets of the Middle East and includes the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Mobile network operators in the Middle East rise to the challenges
Many Middle Eastern mobile operators are facing increased challenges in the mobile sector, due primarily to regulatory reforms, liberalisation, Over-The-Top providers, economic and civil conditions, the lifting of sanctions (Iran) and mobile market saturation.
Competition in particular has grown in many markets. Saudi Arabia, which has the largest ICT market in the Middle East, has seen mobile market competition increase significantly with the introduction of MVNOs; along with a reduction in Mobile Termination Rates (MTRS).
The level of competition differs between country to country however. The mobile market in the UAE, for example, is served by a duopoly comprised of incumbent Etisalat and, since 2007, competing operator du. Both operators are majority owned by the government.
In Israel, factors that have helped drive competition include the introduction of full mobile number portability and the installation of regulatory barriers that prevent operators from linking sales of handsets to services, or offering discounts to customers that commit to longer periods. Strong competition in Israel has led to operators focusing on mobile data and content opportunities as well as on costs, resulting in a number of infrastructure sharing agreements.
To cope with rising competition in Bahrain, Batelco, expanded its operations internationally to offset the competitive domestic market and its foreign operations now contribute almost 60% to group revenues.
In Lebanon, there has been growing pressure from both consumers and the telecommunications minister to see the two mobile operators (Alfa and Touch) lower mobile pricing. In response, the operators began offering cheaper packages in late 2016. Jordan’s mobile operators have also begun to experience a similar growing discontent from its mobile consumers as its telecoms sector is one of the most highly taxed in the region.
Taxes have also impacted upon Iraq’s telecoms markets where the mobile operators’ revenues have declined due partly to the 20% tax levy placed against mobile services in 2015.
The mobile market in Kuwait is highly competitive amongst the three major mobile providers, (Zain, Ooredoo, Viva) and while Zain has the highest market share of about 38%, the other two are not far behind, capturing over 30% each as well.
The various OTT messaging providers have disrupted the market in Oman. This has caused a decline in revenue from streams such as SMS as well as voice for the traditional operators. To combat this trend, the major operators in Oman are focusing on improving the customer experience through both fixed and mobile network upgrades.
In Qatar, both Ooredoo and Vodafone Qatar have launched mobile broadband services, underpinned by 3G or LTE networks. Adoption of such services provides a new revenue growth opportunity as the mobile voice market has come under increased competition.
The operators in Syria face additional issues surrounding security concerns, power outages, staff retention and access to diesel. Despite this challenging environment, there are some glimpses of hope with both mobile operators reporting growth in mobile data services. Growth in Yemen’s mobile market however has all but reached a stalemate due to ongoing civil unrest.
Generally speaking, the mobile operators have risen to the challenges presented across the various markets. By using methods such as network infrastructure sharing, international expansion, acquisitions and partnerships, cost cutting and service improvements, many of the operators continue to survive and even grow. Focusing on mobile broadband opportunities is becoming particularly beneficial to many operators.
- While the number of post-paid subscribers in Bahrain is lower than pre-paid – this market segment actually contributes around 52% to overall retail mobile market revenues;
- MCI holds the majority market share in Iran’s mobile market with 57%;
- In January 2017, it was reported that Electra Consumer Products from Israel had agreed to acquire Golan Telecom.
- Lebanon’s Alfa, in conjunction with Nokia, recently launched the first LTE-A network in Lebanon.
- In 2016 Etisalat reported an annual revenue increase of 2.0% which was attributed to rising data usage in the UAE as well as an increase in revenues derived from the enterprise sector.
- Mobile data services are becoming an increasingly important source of new revenue in Iraq given the maturing mobile voice market.
- The well-established mobile sector in Kuwait sees the large operators moving towards offering more value-added services as well as conducting technology and network upgrades.
- Ooredoo Qatar aims to have the first stage of its 5G network deployed by 2018.
- The two major mobile operators in Oman (Oman Mobile, Ooredoo Oman) are investing huge amounts in expanding and improving upon mobile networks in order to keep up with the growing demand for data.
- In early 2017 reports were surfacing that a third mobile operator would enter the Syrian mobile market based on a consortium from Iran.
- Operators in Saudi Arabia are turning their attention towards new service offering such as M2M and cloud related services.
Companies mentioned in this report
Mobile Telecommunications Co (MTC) / Zain, Ooredoo Kuwait (previously National Mobile Telecommunication Co (NMT) / Wataniya Telecom), Kuwait Telecom Company (KTC) / Viva, Batelco, Zain Bahrain, Viva Bahrain, Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), Mobile Communications Iran (MCI), MTN Irancell, Tamin Telecom (Rightel), Mobile Telecommunications Company of Isfahan (MTCE), Telecommunication Kish Company (TKC), Iraqi Telephone and Postal Company (ITPC), Asiacell, Zain Iraq, Korek Telecom, Regional Telecom, Cellcom, Orange (Partner), Pelephone (Bezeq), HOT Mobile, Golan Telecom, Rami Levy, Jordan Telecom Group/Orange, Zain Jordan, Batelco/Umniah, Saudi Telecom Company (STC)/Bravo, Integrated Telecom Company (ITC)/Bayn Consortium, GO Telecom/Etihad Atheeb, Mobily/Ettihad Etisalat/Bayanat Al-Oula, Zain KSA, Lebara KSA/Etihad Jawraa, Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa (Virgin Mobile MEA), Axiom Telecom, VIVA, Etisalat, du, Jordan Telecom Group/Orange, Zain Jordan, Batelco/Umniah, MTC Touch, Alfa Telecom, Ooredoo Qatar, Vodafone Qatar, OmanTel, Ooredoo Oman, FRiENDi, Majan Telecom (Renna), Samatel, Syrian Telecommunication Establishment (STE), MTN Syria, Syriatel, Turkcell, Vodafone Turkey, Avea.