Mobile phone services in the GCC are among the most affordable in the world, a United Nations report has found. Qatar and the UAE are fifth and sixth most affordable, with monthly pre-paid mobile phone services costing less than 0.3 percent of gross national income per capita (0.26 and 0.28, respectively), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Measuring the Information Society report says.
Kuwait (0.39 percent), Oman (0.43 percent), Saudi Arabia (0.65 percent) and Bahrain (0.73 percent) also were in the top 26 countries of the 166 analysed. On a raw costs basis, the UAE and Oman also were among the cheapest in the world, at $9.06 and $9.11, respectively. Monthly pre-paid services in Bahrain averaged $12.04, while in Saudi Arabia it cost $14.13, in Kuwait it was $15.07 and $18.68 in Qatar.
Qatar’s high GNI per capita levelled out its higher mobile phone costs, which were about level with the world average, making it more affordable.
The cheapest mobile costs were in Sri Lanka, at just 95 cents, while the most affordable according to GNI per capita was in Macau (China), followed by Hong Kong (China), Denmark and Singapore and then Qatar and the UAE.
The report found mobile penetration was often high in developing countries – including more than 100 percent in Bahrain and more than 80 percent in the UAE – but fixed-line connections were low at just 3 percent across the region. Only Bahrain (13 percent) and the UAE (13 percent) reach double-digit rates.
Fixed lines still were comparatively affordable in the GCC, except in Saudi Arabia which ranked 65 in terms of GNI per capita. Internet penetration also has soared in Arab countries, with about 137 million people online by the end of 2013.
Bahrain has the highest percentage of the population online at 90 percent, followed by the UAE (88 percent) and Qatar (85 percent). However, in terms of ICT household connectivity, “Qatar stands out not only in the region but in international comparison with more than 96 percent of households with Internet access and with a computer”, the report says.
“The remaining GCC states all reach high household ICT penetration rates of 70 percent and above.” The UAE also has the highest amount of international Internet bandwidth per Internet user (around 52,000 bit/s per user) in the region. It almost doubled its Internet bandwidth between 2012 and 2013.
Oman also significantly increased its total international Internet bandwidth, up from 17,792 bit/s in 2012 to 82,010 Mbit/s in 2013 the report says. The Europe-Persia Express Gateway that connects the UAE and Oman to Germany via Iran went live in 2013, increasing the region’s international Internet connectivity.