Telecoms & IT

Earth to Mars

In late 2016, ICT spending in the UAE was forecast to reach USD16 billion, compared to USD15.9 billion in 2015. Although an overall slower rate of growth than previous years, […]

In late 2016, ICT spending in the UAE was forecast to reach USD16 billion, compared to USD15.9 billion in 2015. Although an overall slower rate of growth than previous years, certain segments were expected to increase faster than usual. The IT services sector was predicted to shoot up 9%, while software and telecommunications were set to increase 6% and 2%, respectively.

The number of active mobile subscriptions in the UAE has continued to grow, reaching about 18 million by the end of 2015 with a penetration rate of 209.8%, one of the highest rates in the world.
The year 2017 is believed to be a growth year in general, with spending on ICT in the entire MENA region expected to reach approximately USD250 billion next year, and increase nearly 4% YoY. Abu Dhabi will benefit from spillover around the Gulf, and will certainly receive a cut of the USD6.2 billion that will be generated in the UAE. Cloud computing, big data analytics, innovation accelerators, security, and smart city initiatives are all at the top Abu Dhabi’s IT and telecoms investment landscape

Abu Dhabi’s main telecommunications provider, Etisalat, continues to dominate the local sector with popular internet and mobile services. However, as the IT and telecoms sector expands horizontally, space technology and media companies have stepped into the forefront with a focus on developing local initiatives that appeal to the country’s youth and pave the way for the future of the industry.


According to the latest figures released by Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), the average revenue per user for mobile services in the UAE reached AED112 per month, with average monthly call volumes of 151 minutes. Meanwhile, fixed lines, or landline services, reached revenues of AED102 per month and accounted for an average of 126 minutes of calls per line per month.

The year 2016 saw growth of more than 30% in terms of internet services in Abu Dhabi, where the average monthly revenue reached AED416 per user. Across the UAE, total internet revenues soared to nearly AED6 billion and the number of internet subscribers increased by 13%. Abu Dhabi mobile subscribers added to the UAE total of 15 million, while the number of post-paid subscribers reached almost 3 million.

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, Etisalat made headlines in early 2017 after it was recognized as the most valuable telecoms brand in the Middle East, as measured by London-based brand valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance. Etisalat boasts ownership stakes in companies around the globe, including Mobily in Saudi Arabia, PTCL and Ufone in Pakistan, and Maroc Telecom and Moov in Africa. With a total corporate portfolio value of approximately USD8 billion, Etisalat is a comfortable USD1.5 billion ahead of Saudi Telecom Company (STC), which came in second place.

Etisalat also improved from a AA- rating in 2016 to AA+ for 2017, increasing its overall brand value by 45% YoY. The success comes on the heels of an aggressive campaign to increase brand awareness through global sponsorships for organizations as large as FC Barcelona.

The company’s next mission is to carry Abu Dhabi into the future with the early adoption of 5G networks. Etisalat will start testing the technology in 2018 and launch commercially in 2019, according to Gulf News. Although not predicted to take off until 2020 or later, readiness for 5G technology will be a challenge for companies that are not already taking steps to reach it. In line with a penchant for being a leader in the region, Etisalat is planning to invest in a variety of new technology and innovations.


As mobile penetration continues to skyrocket, media regulators and publishers in the Emirate have taken steps to align themselves with recent trends. Digital content is already widely consumed in the form of news media, streaming services, e-books, and web radio. Now, the Emirate is adjusting its regulations to better suit the needs of the local population and ensuring that local content is promoted along with imported media.
“We saw a necessity to take a look at our regulation, look at our licensing procedures, at our content, and revamp them in order to cope with the reality of the market,“ Mansour Al Mansoori, Director General of the National Media Council of Abu Dhabi, told TBY, adding, “We have become much more robust and up-to-date, and we benchmark ourselves with international entities related to our sector.“ One of the key ways the National Media Council has improved the media available in the country is by placing more focus on making Arabic content available digitally. However, the vast majority of its work is ensuring that content that does enter the Emirate has been reviewed, licensed, and distributed properly. “We are now fully invested in providing our online services to the best international standards and we are working on legislation to regulate online and digital media to the highest standard. Our objective is to ensure that the legislative environment for the media sector in its entirety in the UAE is on par with the best anywhere in the world, “ Director General Mansoori concluded. As the National Media Council, the regulator is also working to ensure that the state news agency offers creative and appealing content that will appeal to youth and engage with its readers. By doing so, the entity hopes it can play a critical role in promoting the government’s agenda and ambitious plans for the future. In raising awareness about the work the authorities are doing to improve not only the Emirate, but also the UAE at large, the National Media Council can facilitate growth and inspire the next generation of young Emiratis.

While the National Media Council regulates, licenses, and distributes content, twofour54 creates it. The company considers itself “the home of quality creation,“ with content across all platforms, but especially in digital media. To that end, the company also places special emphasis on Arabic content that can be used to educate and empower young people in Abu Dhabi. “There are new opportunities and untapped markets and we want to facilitate those opportunities for Abu Dhabi’s media industry. We want to focus on digital, gaming, apps and on the platforms we use to promote the work being done by the industry here,“ Maryam Eid Al Mheiri, CEO of twofour54, told TBY. The company employs over 600 freelance content creators from over 430 companies.
Parallel to its objective to increase the amount of quality local content in Abu Dhabi, twofour54 is striving to engage the region’s youth in the industry as a career choice. By focusing not only on how youth consume content, but also involving them in the process and demonstrating the value of the industry, the company seeks to contribute to diversifying the economy and bettering society at large. As of 2017, the company has successfully support 18 entrepreneurs in the execution of media projects.


While mobile operators and media companies increasingly shift their gaze to technology and innovation, more data is sent to be stored digitally. Thus digital security companies have the opportunity to carve out a highly specialized niche in Abu Dhabi to support firms across many sectors as they seek to protect their company and customers’ privacy. However, IT companies that choose Abu Dhabi as a starting point have access to an even broader GCC market.

Founded in Abu Dhabi, DarkMatter is one of the first UAE-based cyber security companies that has made the leap into global expansion. “Our ultimate goal is not to serve the UAE market alone, but to go global and compete with the titans operating in the US, France, and the UK. We aim at becoming a global service provider with the UAE brand in its blood,“ Faisal Al Bannai, CEO of DarkMatter, said.

The company has also expanded its services through R&D centers in Canada, China, and Finland, mapping out different talent pools that are willing to enter the industry and join 400 other employees through its headquarters in Abu Dhabi. “We want to capitalize on this talent to foster a knowledge transfer culture whereby the industry makes the most of potential opportunities,“ Al Bannai concluded.


Being present in Abu Dhabi, expanding to other Emirates in the UAE, and establishing a presence in the region is not enough for some companies in Abu Dhabi. In fact, for the UAE Space Agency, the planet is just a stepping stone for true progress.

Established in 2014, the UAE Space Agency began as an instrumental part of the national plan for the development of the country’s space industry. “We started with a proposal for a national space policy by putting different documents together and we launched the first space policy in the Middle East,“ HE Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, told TBY. Through this policy, the agency has managed to make an impact on multiple sectors such as education, business, and the government itself. With huge emphasis on R&D culture, the agency is open to partnering with universities and any institution interested in eveloping space technology. Its research centers at the UAE University in Al Ain and the Masdar Institute serve as tools to attract new hires and generate ideas for projects such as building and launching satellites.

The capstone project of the agency is the Hope Mission to Mars 2021. “This mission will help us understand more about Mars and educate international organizations on how to better protect Earth,“ Dr. Nasser Al Ahbabi continued. “We want to make sure our planet does not suffer the same fate as Mars—a dry and cold planet with no water.“ Through tackling some of the world’s most daunting challenges, Abu Dhabi is setting an example in the UAE and the GCC. Through programs such as Hope Mission, anyone from an IT expert to a science student can look forward to a career in Abu Dhabi making contributions that could change the world.