It’s official (again) – the UAE has the fastest Internet speeds in the Arab world, and the pace at which we are hogging bandwidth is faster than most of the world.
According to the latest Akamai State of the Internet report, three out of four UAE residents (75 per cent) with broadband connectivity now have a 4Mbps or better connection, ranking it among the Top 50 in the world (#44).
The UAE is at a par with the US, where 76 per cent have broadband speeds of 4Mbps or above (ranked at #43), and ahead of countries like Ireland (#48), France (#49), Australia (#50), Italy (#52) and India (#99).
The 4Mbps adoption rate in the UAE surged by 73 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same quarter last year. In fact, the UAE led the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region in quarterly growth rates of 4Mbps Broadband Adoption, with a 21 per cent increase in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the fourth quarter of the year.
Additionally, 9.2 per cent of broadband users in the UAE have a connection speed of 10Mbps or more, once again ranking it among the world’s Top 50 countries, with an annual growth rate of 197 per cent (highest in EMEA), suggesting a tripling in the number of residents who have the super speed connectivity.
Bandwidth cost, however, remains a hurdle to mass adoption of such services in the UAE, but analysts say it is going down, and set to fall further by 2020.
“Cost of mobile broadband access is steadily going down; mobile data traffic in the Middle East region is expected to skyrocket by as much as 14 times in the next five years and smartphone penetration in this region is one of the highest in the world,” Soubhi Droubi, Huawei’s Director of ME Hosting Business Department, told Emirates 24|7.
So, what are we doing with all this bandwidth?
Of course we’re surfing more – and more often – and social media is taking a chunk of that too, what with self-playing videos and all.
That’s not all – we’re now streaming more online videos than ever before on our smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
In the constant demand-meets-supply cycle, as available bandwidths improve, the race to stream online videos to our devices is getting hotter among local providers.
Huawei yesterday launched muchTV, its video streaming services in the UAE and across the Middle East, with a free 3-month promotion period.
“Huawei is offering muchTV service free of charge for the next quarter,” Droubi told this website.
Globally, the sector is dominated by Netflix, with Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus trying hard to upstage the leader.
But these global services are not available in the UAE, and until recently, the only way to stream an online video was illegal.
While accessories such as Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Roku 3 are available in the country and make it easier to stream from various services, a number of those services themselves remain inaccessible in the UAE.
However, earlier this year, the US-based Starz Play launched its local service here in the UAE and across 17 countries in the Middle East, offering a one-month-free promotion period.
The US firm offers subscribers access to more than 3,000 films and series for a Dh50 a month subscription.
Since yesterday, the choice of legal video streaming services available to UAE residents doubled, with the launch of muchTV.
Droubi did not, however, reveal what the service will cost once the promotion period is over. “Our goal is to provide choice when it comes to content and value when it comes to price,” he said.
He added that “muchTV will have over 3,000+ hours of video content by the end of the year, including Hollywood, Bollywood, Arabic series and kids’ entertainment programmes.”
The online service will have a focus on picture quality, with Droubi maintaining that “most of the content in muchTV is in HD format.”
The content will get automatically downscaled if connectivity isn’t to the desired level.
“muchTV provides adaptive streaming where the system calibrates the quality of the content depending on the network utilisation to guarantee the best user experience,” he added.
On the other hand, manufacturers like Samsung and LG are teaming up with global players like Netflix and Amazon to offer streaming HDR (high dynamic range) videos on demand.
While Samsung has an existing tie-up with Netflix, LG Electronics last week announced that customers of its 2015 range of Oled 4K TVs can now directly stream HDR videos via the Amazon Video app, available on the its webOS Smart TV platform.
With the battle to stream 'live' videos to your device heating up, the choice of video streaming services for UAE residents is no doubt set to grow further in the future.