Information and communications technology is considered a key enabler of economic and social development. Studies estimate that during the last seven years (2010-2017), fixed broadband has had a significant impact on the world economy; an increase of 1% in fixed broadband penetration yields an increase in 0.08% in GDP. Mobile broadband has even proved to have a higher impact; an increase of 1% in mobile broadband penetration yields an increase in 0.15% in GDP.[1]


Worldwide, mobile-cellular subscriptions have been substituting fixed-telephone subscriptions. In the Arab region, mobile-cellular subscriptions have increased by around 40% between 2010 and 2018 reaching a penetration rate of 103% in 2018, whereas fixed-telephone subscriptions have decreased by 7% during the same period to reach a penetration rate of 7.7% in 2018.[2]While fixed-broadband subscriptions are reaching saturation levels in Europe and the Americas, they continue to be low in the Arab region but increasing. Fixed-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants is estimated at only 5.1% by the end of 2018 in the Arab region. In terms of speed, high shares of subscribers in the Arab region, had subscriptions at speeds below 2 Mbit/s in 2017 at 31%, compared to a share of 89% in Asia and the Pacific and 87% in Europe at speeds equal or above 10 Mbit/s for the same year.


Mobile access is more flexible and more accessible than fixed-broadband. Growth in the Arab region has been one of fastest worldwide; with mobile-broadband subscriptions estimated to grow as much as 40% at the end of 2018 compared to 2016. Furthermore, the Arab States registered a higher share for mobile traffic than for fixed.. In some Arab countries, mobile technologies (such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE)) are being used to deliver fixed-broadband services.[3]


The percentage of individuals (% of total population) using the internet in the Arab region has more than doubled in 2018 at  54.7% in 2018 up from 24% in 2010; with wide variations between the different Arab countries. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries registered the highest penetration rates reaching around 98% in Kuwait followed by Bahrain (96%) and UAE (95%) in 2017; whereas Morocco achieved a rate of 61.8% followed by Tunisia (55.5%) and Egypt (45%) for the same year. The gender gap is also closing in the GCC countries compared to other countries in the region. For instance; Bahrain has more female internet users (99%) than men internet users (97.5%) in 2016. the percentage of female internet users reached almost 93% in Saudi Arabia compared to a rate of 93.8% for men in 2016, showing a small difference between men and women.  In Qatar, the rate of female internet users registered 91.7%  compared to 94.1% for men in 2015. The gender gap is higher in other countries like Morocco with a rate of 53.5% for female internet users (compared to 63.1% for male internet users and Egypt where the percentage of female internet users reaching  38.2% compared with 44.2% for men in 2016. [4]    


In line with the increase in the rates of fixed and mobile-broadband subscriptions and the percentage of the population using the internet, international bandwidth usage increased strongly as well, to satisfy the growing data needs. From a regional perspective, growth was the strongest in the Arab region, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% between 2014 and 2017.


According to the affordability targets set by the Broadband Commission for 2025, entry-level for broadband services should be less than 2% of monthly GNI p.c. in developing countries; this threshold was previously set at 5% in 2015.


Worldwide, mobile-broadband prices are more affordable than fixed-broadband prices. The same case is also noticeable in the Arab region. Mobile-broadband accessed through handset-based offer prices are more affordable than computer-based mobile-broadband. Corresponding prices were below the threshold of 2% of GNI p.c. in most Arab countries, and almost at that affordability level in Morocco, Iraq and Algeria. In the case of computer-based, the group of countries with prices between 2% to 5% of GNI p.c. comprises the same countries in addition to Lebanon and Jordan. The only Arab countries in which mobile-broadband services were above the 5% threshold and therefore remained unaffordable to some segments of the population were Yemen, Comoros, Djibouti, and Mauritania. All these countries are LDCs and have the lowest incomes in the region. Sudan is an exception to this categorization; with a percent of 0.94% of GNI p.c. in the case of handset-based mobile-broadband and 6.79% of GNI p.c. in the case of computer-based mobile-broadband.


Fixed-broadband prices represent less than 2% of GNI p.c. in all high-income GCC countries, except for Oman, as well as in Egypt and Tunisia. Other Arab countries with relatively affordable fixed-broadband services include Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, and Morocco, with all of them having prices that correspond to a range from 2 to 5% of GNI p.c. On the other hand, Comoros and Mauritania have the least affordable prices and the lowest fixed-broadband penetration in the region, along with Sudan.[5]




[1] International Telecommunications Union. (2018). The economic contribution of broadband, digitization and ICT regulation. Geneva. Switzerland

[2] ADP calculations based on data extracted from “Time series of ICT data for the World, by geographic regions and by level of development”, accessed on 28/12/2018.  Available at: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx

[3] International Telecommunications Union. (2018). Measuring the Information Society Report. Volume 1. Geneva. Switzerland & Ibid.

[4] ADP calculations based on data extracted from “Country ICT data (until 2017)”, accessed on 28/12/2018.  Available at: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx

[5] Op. cit., ITU (2018).

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