Forecast for region to be a web of 4 billion connected devices by 2020

There will be four billion connected devices by 2020 across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, according to a new forecast.

Such items include gadgets and home appliances with access to the internet and the ability to communicate with one another.

“We are looking at seven to eight devices per household in Mena and everything will be connected” said Sarwant Singh, a senior partner at Frost & Sullivan, the United States-based research company that issued the forecast.

While part of the forecast is based on population growth, the technological key is 4G – mobile network technology with three times the speed and capacity of its predecessor, 3G. That greater capacity means it can move much more data without glitches arising.

Mr Singh said the GCC was a pacesetter in the shift to 4G.

Frost & Sullivan’s forecast also has a global component. Worldwide, it expects 50 billion to 80 billion connected devices by 2020, and a machine-to-machine communication market worth US$1.5 trillion. The forecast predicts that globally, there will be 10 connected devices per household.

To cope with the number of devices communicating with one another, telecom operators will come under increasing pressure to invest in infrastructure to ensure seamless connectivity.

“There is a lot of interest among UAE businesses for machine-to-machine [M2M] solutions … some of the key application areas include smart vehicle tracking, smart waste management, smart metering infrastructure and smart job management,” said Hany Ali, the executive vice-president of enterprise marketing at du. “We believe that as telco operators roll out next generation 4G networks and beyond, the region’s airwaves will be busy with M2M conversations between millions of connected devices.”

Already in the UAE and elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf, the visions of smart cities are coming to life, but the rest of the Mena region has a long way to go. Connected homes with appliances that communicate with the user’s smartphone or are directly connected to the internet, smart cars with 4G connections and connected cities with e-governance and Wi-Fi-enabled malls are expected to push the region’s internet users to 390 million by 2020 among a population of 450 million. Frost & Sullivan is expecting 36 million 4G subscriptions across the Mena region by that time as well.

“Connected devices are driven by population and the connectivity will be driven by the most cost effective solution,” said Rolfe Meakin, the global chief for telecoms, information, communication and entertainment at the consultancy PWC. “Whether it is four billion or 20 billion in the Middle East, it will largely depend on the population, income levels and the skill of the device manufacturers to make things that people want to use.”

Needing to spend hours to program a Hoover would be likely to turn consumers away, said Mr Meakin, so companies would need to simplify the process of connecting devices to one another.

“The issue quite often when you have a lot of technology-driven products [is that] the average consumer uses a small fraction of it. People don’t have the patience and don’t want to know how to connect lots of devices in their home. For the mass market there is the opportunity to simplify all of this. Making that easy is a managed service opportunity for someone,” said Mr Meakin.

How might daily life be different if M2M caught on?

Once you leave work and head towards the car park, your car senses your presence (through your smartphone perhaps) and switches on the engine. When you arrive at your villa, the garage doors (it’s a pretty nice villa) open automatically without the need to press any buttons. The lights in your living room switch on as soon as you step through the front door and the television switches on with your favourite channel.

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