ABU DHABI // Domestic broadband internet in the UAE is among the most expensive in the Arabian Gulf and the country ranks only 55th worldwide for broadband affordability.
Kuwait provides the best service and the UAE also falls behind Qatar, Oman and Bahrain in the annual report by the International Telecommunication Union.
However, the UAE was ranked sixth in the world for the affordability of mobile phone services.
Experts say the disparity exists because providers Etisalat and du compete for mobile-phone customers, but not for fixed-line internet users.
“Basically the two operators compete everywhere in cellular services,” said Jawad Abbassi, general manager of Arab Advisers Group, a research company in Jordan.
“Wherever you are in the country, you have a choice of subscribing to du or Etisalat,” Mr Abbassi said.
But with fixed-line broadband, there is only one option. “If you’re in Dubai Media City, for example, you only have du to be able to use broadband service. This means there is less competition.”
The UAE was also ranked behind Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain for affordability of most types of mobile broadband services.
“People using mobile broadband tend to be higher-income people, and the top operators are less likely to offer them major discounts,” Mr Abbassi said.
The UAE was deemed the most dynamic in the ICT Development Index, which compares information and communication technologies among countries, showing the largest improvement in the past year.
The country ranked 32nd out of 166 countries in the index, compared with 46th last year. Denmark was first.
The UAE’s increase is “mostly due to the expansion of wireless-broadband penetration”, which doubled from 45 per cent in 2012 to 90 per cent in 2013, the report said.
Household internet connectivity levels and the increase in mobile telephone penetration by more than 17 per cent in 2013 also boosted the UAE’s ranking, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority yesterday.
The rankings are “significant achievements”, said Mohammed Al Ghanim, director general of the TRA.
“With 88 per cent of individuals using the internet, the UAE is significantly above the world average of 40 per cent. This is a testament to the penetration and quality of services provided by the information and communication technology sector.”
The UAE and Bahrain also achieved the highest rank worldwide for the proportion of the rural population covered by a 3G mobile network or higher. Both countries had 100 per cent coverage.
In many other countries the ITU identified a divide between urban and rural areas.
“ICT performance is better in countries with higher shares of the population living in urban areas, where access to ICT infrastructure, usage and skills is more favourable,” it said.
“Yet it is precisely in poor and rural areas where ICTs can make a particularly significant impact.”
More technological development in these countries could be linked to progress towards the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, the ITU said.
The UAE has sought to foster competition and improve telecommunications infrastructure and services and a “knowledge-based online community” was key to that development, which will help business, Mr Al Ghanim said.
The ITU released the index as part of its year-end Measuring the Information Society Report, which analyses available statistics from 2013.
No one from Etisalat or du was available to comment.