Investment in the UAE technology sector will get a boost this year as internet mobility and the ability to access information “on the go” get set to go big in 2008.
Intel has called WiMax technology – which provides wireless information over long distances up to 50 kilometres – one of the key technology trends that will drive mobile computing and internet accessibility this year.
“[Wireless] technologies such as WiMax coming up across the region will be instrumental in making sure more people get on to the internet,” Samir Al Schamma, Intel’s GCC general manager told Emirates Business.
“The only question is how long – probably not over one year but it’s definitely going to accelerate, catching up with the rest of the world.”
Internet and PC penetration in the Emirates – currently among the most advanced in the Arab World at about 20 to 30 per cent – will reach nearly 70 per cent this year, he said.
The availability of broadband connections where there is WiMax connectivity will make it easier to “get the full internet experience in your pocket” even on the go, according to Al Schamma.
The WiMax standard is being piloted by UAE’s telecoms operators, which are currently testing the initiative. “The hope is that they will deploy it this year – it’s very likely it will be deployed this year,” Al Schamma said.
The UAE’s information technology market is already expected to soar to around $2.4 billion (Dh8.8bn) in 2011, from $1.5bn in 2006, according to a recent report published by the market research company RNCOS.
“One driving factor will be that the next-generation processors and notebooks coming out in the first half of this year will have WiMax embedded in them, and that by itself will drive the demand for the new technology.”
The move is similar to the widespread adoption of WiFi technology, which rocketed after Intel began introducing the Centrino-based laptops that included embedded WiFi connectivity.
The result was a significant increase in the number of WiFi hot spots and access points sold into homes, a similar outcome Intel expects with the introduction of WiMax-embedded notebooks.
“If service providers play it right they can really capitalise on [the WiMax trend] because it will significantly increase the number of internet subscribers that they have,” said Al Schamma.
According to the World Economic Forum 2007 Arab Competitiveness Report, internet bandwidth increased by 2.5 times from 2003 to the following year, while the UAE has the highest internet bandwidth in the Middle East.
Although PC and internet penetration is much higher in the UAE compared to the 10 per cent level in the Arab World, it is still lagging “halfway” behind Western Europe, the US and other advanced countries, according to Al Schamma.
“The main roadblock is getting people access – more people need to get connectivity to the internet. WiMax is definitely one piece of it but it’s not the whole solution.”
He added the other piece of the puzzle is the price of broadband connection, which needs to drop to allow more people to get access to the internet. “As competition in the telecoms market continues to increase in the region, it will hopefully help in driving prices to a more reasonable level,” he said.
“It’s all supply and demand – if more people access the web, then prices will come down, too.”
SHAPING THE TRENDS
The computer chip giant also highlighted social networking sites, that are just picking up in the region as a trend that will continue to gain momentum in 2008.
Social sites such as Facebook and MySpace are driving 20 per cent of internet traffic worldwide and are expected to continue to determine the way web users in the region communicate.
According to internet marketing research company ComScore, there are more than one billion subscribers on social networking websites worldwide today, over three billion minutes is spent browsing them, and eight billion pages are accessed on these websites every day.
The number of Western expatriates in the UAE seeking ways to connect with friends and family overseas, plus the region’s attraction of having latest gadgets and exclusive products, will also help shape upcoming technology trends.
“The UAE having a higher percentage of expats than a lot of other countries will also help explain the higher percentage of PC and internet penetration in the country,” said Al Schamma.
“People now want to be connected all the time, all in real time.” And, while worldwide statistics indicate that in the next year there will be more notebooks shipped than PCs, the GCC market has already surpassed the world average, with almost 60 per cent of computers shipped into the region being notebooks, he added.
For the first time during the third quarter of 2007, sales of notebooks overtook sales of desktop PCs in Europe, Middle East and Africa, recording more than 45 per cent growth year-on-year.
According to Intel, this trend is likely to continue across the Middle East as notebooks become faster, lighter and more energy-efficient, giving consumers the full benefits of mobile computing
“As an indicator of adopting new technologies, clearly we’re a market that’s much more technologically friendly.
“This goes back to why we believe once the internet and broadband is made more available to all, we will quickly catch up with the world average in terms of internet connectivity because people here are not afraid of technology.”
Notebooks are also to get smaller in 2008 in response to demands for improved portability, and a range of ultra-mobile PCs and mobile internet devices (MID) are set to lead the way for extreme portability, Intel said in a report.
“Clearly anything you do in terms of consuming more content on the internet and requiring more bandwidth implies requiring not only more infrastructure, but also more sophisticated devices that consume content.
“The new generation of media internet devices or ultra-mobile PCs will facilitate that,” said Al Schamma. According to Intel, the worldwide fixed mobile convergence market (FMC) is forecast to grow to $46.3bn by 2010, while the number of worldwide FMC subscribers is expected to increase from 188,000 in 2006 to 38.2 million in 2010. This growth will fuel the emergence of more MIDs.
This year will also see an increase in use of wide-screen liquid crystal displays in response to the growing demand for high-definition entertainment, a trend that is set to benefit gamers and anybody using graphics-intensive applications, said Intel.
Intel is set to launch notebook products based on its newly developed microscopic “45 nanometre” processor manufacturing technology this quarter, said Samir Al Schamma, Intel’s GCC general manager.
The company in November launched its 45 nanometre processor and has already began shipment of desktop products using the technology.
Intel expects half of all its shipped products to be based on the technology by mid-2008, said Al Schamma.
The technology, which reduces power consumption by up to 95 per cent, gives rise to more powerful and efficient notebooks, media internet devices and ultra-mobile personal computers.
WiMax – the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access – is a wireless digital communications system that is intended for wireless “metropolitan area networks”.
It allows delivery of wireless broadband services anytime and anywhere by providing broadband wireless access up to 50km for fixed stations and five to 15km for mobile stations.
“WiMax is the next great leap towards creating a wireless network evolution. It blankets large areas – be they metropolitan, suburban or rural – with multi-megabit-per-second mobile broadband internet access,” said Intel’s Samir Al Schamma.
“Customers are demanding the ability to access information ‘on the go’, demonstrating that we are becoming a much more mobile workforce. Due to this need, advancements in the mobile computing arena will continue to support the rising popularity of notebooks to allow our virtual life to be as mobile as we are.”
WiMax vs WiFi:
Although both “Wi’ technologies have a connection to wireless connectivity and the internet, the two standards are aimed at different applications.
WiMax uses a long-range system, covering many kilometres. Typically uses licensed spectrum to deliver a point-to-point connection to the internet from an ISP to an end user. It provides services analogous to a mobile phone.
WiFi has a shorter range system, typically hundreds of metres. It uses unlicensed spectrum to provide access, typically covering only the network operator’s own. WiFi is more analogous to a cordless phone. (Wikipedia)
UAE’s IT market to hit $2.4bn by 2011