More than 69,000 mobile lines are being added each day in the Middle East – with operators looking to broadband services for growth as voice revenues are set to slide.
Mobile, data and tablet customers have all helped push the Middle East’s mobile-subscription rate to 96 per cent, according to a report by Ericsson.
The number of Middle East mobile lines hit 266.3 million in the first quarter of this year, the infrastructure firm said. Some consumers have more than one line, meaning the number of individual customers is lower.
The Middle East’s mobile-penetration rate is ahead of the global average of 87 per cent and more than that in India, China and Africa, according to Ericsson’s Traffic and Market Report, which was published yesterday.
Despite there now being more mobile lines, Ericsson says revenues from voice calls are set to fall.
“There’s no doubt in anybody’s minds that the voice revenues will start to decline,” said Anders Lindblad, the president of Ericsson in the Middle East.
Mr Lindblad pointed to mobile broadband as the key driver of growth for operators over the next six to seven years.
“Mobile broadband is the number-one business opportunity in the short term for the operators.”
He pointed to markets such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where he said mobile data represented a relatively high proportion of operators’ revenues.
Greater use of smartphones was expected to drive data use in the Middle East, Mr Lindblad said. “We see a tremendous uptake in both traffic and the number of smartphones in the region.”
Smartphone subscriptions were forecast to reach 3 billion in 2017, compared with 700 million last year, the Ericsson report said.
Globally, about 10 to 15 per cent of mobile subscribers are using smartphones.
That figure stands at 6 to 7 per cent in the Middle East. Mr Lindblad forecastthe smartphone would become the norm in the region by 2017.
“The vast majority of mobile phones will be smartphones in the Middle East,” he said.
Globally, Ericsson forecastthe total number of mobile subscriptions would reach 9 billion by the end of 2017, up from 6.2 billion today.
The current number of customers is lower at around 4.2 billion globally.
In western Europe, the mobile-penetration rate stands at 126 per cent, with many consumers having two or more lines, Ericsson said.
Globally, the number of mobile broadband subscriptions is close to 1 billion and is predicted to reach 5 billion in 2017, with mobile-data traffic expected to grow by between 10 to 15 fold, Ericsson forecast.
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