Slowing growth underlines challenges ahead in The Middle East Mobile Market
The mobile markets of the Middle East are entering a new phase of development marked by slow growth, indicative of its mature market status. As with any mature market a number of trends have emerged that are likely to influence future market direction. Key among these is increased competition, focus on profitability and mobile broadband.
Mobile subscription levels are high in part due to multiple SIM card ownership and demographic factors. Multiple SIM card ownership is common due to the high proportion of prepaid users relative to total users. With no lock in contract to any particular service provider, end users can purchase prepaid services to take advantage of market promotions. Another factor driving multiple SIM card ownership is the lack of mobile number portability in many markets although this is slowly improving, with just under half the markets in the region now offering the facility.
Perhaps more indicative of the mature market is the emergence of MVNOs which can better cater to specific market segments. Although MVNOs were late to arrive in the Middle East, a number have launched services and captured market share, particularly in Oman.
Demographic factors underpinning mobile subscriber growth include large expatriate populations in some Middle Eastern countries, particularly in the Gulf region. The latter deserves particular mention given expatriates make up the majority of the population in some cases and are quite fluid in nature, entering and leaving the host country on an as needed basis.
Operators in the Middle East are facing uncertain times. With strong growth rates no longer guaranteed and intensified competition, in some cases pressure from regulators to reduce tariffs, operators have looked to diversify, either into other countries or fixed markets. Other operators have voiced renewed focus on achieving operational efficiencies although the impending spending required to build and operate faster mobile broadband networks will make this target increasingly challenging.
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