Social media and OTT services see double-digit monthly growth in UAE users amid Covid-19

Google-owned YouTube saw a 16% increase in local subscribers in March, according to the TRA

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Most social networking sites and over-the-top services, video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, registered a double-digit growth in the number of users in March, according to the UAE's telecoms regulator.

YouTube saw a 16 per cent month-on-month increase in users during March, whereas Facebook and Twitter experienced 17 per cent and 22 per cent monthly increases, respectively, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said, without disclosing the exact numbers.

"Increase in the internet activity and traffic on social media sites without any disruption reflects the strength of the communications and information technology infrastructure in the UAE," Hamad Obaid Al Mansouri, TRA director, told The National.

The greater use of digital platforms comes as the UAE temporarily closedschools and advised companies to shift to remote working as part of its efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The average fixed-line broadband speed has spiked to 100.1 megabits per second in March, an 11 per cent increase than December last year, the TRA said.

The demand for internet services has sharply “increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic” that is forcing people to stay home and it “may or may not decrease even after the end of this pandemic”, Mr Mansouri said.

“We are fast moving to 5G networks because we believe that the country's ambition for digital transformation requires high internet speeds.”

A 5G network promises an internet speed of up to 1.2 gigabits per second, which will gradually reach 10Gbps. It also has a latency of less than one millisecond, compared to 20 milliseconds for a 4G network.

Other social media platforms to see an uptick was the photo and video-sharing platform Instagram, which saw a 12 per cent jump, while Snapchat recorded a 9 per cent rise in monthly users.

Among OTT platforms, Amazon Prime subscribers increased 44 per cent last month, whereas its rival Netflix registered a 26 per cent jump in user numbers.

Research by Dubai-headquartered research and digital media agency Global Media Insight revealed that Google-owned YouTube had 8.65 million users in February.

It was followed by Facebook and Instagram with 7.88 million and 6.68 million users, respectively.

"With the lockdown in place, social media usage and networking have seen an increase … not to mention the spike in video conferencing," Francis Kalarickal, director of Global Media Insight, told The National.

With Google and Facebook “upping their video services, April usage would be higher", he said.

Ramadan will also "contribute to an all-time increase in users' engagement” with the channels, he noted.

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