The first mobile telecoms revolution seems to be over. Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) now have their own mobile handset and the scope for higher penetration rates is becoming ever more limited. Operators therefore have to focus on boosting their average revenue per user (ARPU) rates and data provision is the most obvious way to achieve this. Mobile internet access is the centrepiece of the second mobile revolution but this poses challenges in countries where governments have traditionally restricted access to some forms of information.

Most Gulf markets are becoming steadily more competitive, so profits are being squeezed and opera- tors are looking to invest elsewhere in the world. Both Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa offers scope for growth in terms of market penetration but also service penetration, as many people continue to make use of the ‘pay as you go’ model. The lack of access to landlines and broadband connections makes mobile internet access a tempting prospect for those able to afford it; while falling mobile internet access costs should rapidly expand the size of this potential market.

In this month’s edition of The Middle East magazine, Neil Ford reports on the future of the mobile phone industry in the Mena region and how developments in the information and communications technology sector are blurring the lines between business, politics and popular culture.

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