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Kuwait at bottom of ICT readiness in region
June 10, 2018, 9:48 am

Data from the latest global Networked Readiness Index reveals that Kuwait trails other Gulf Cooperation Council states in Information Communication Technology (ICT) readiness. With a ranking of 61 out of the 143 global economies included in the index, Kuwait is far behind the UAE at 26th position, Qatar at 27 and Bahrain at 28; the country is also below Saudi Arabia at 33 and Oman at 52nd rank.

The Networked Readiness Index (NRI), produced as part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report (GITR), assesses 143 economies on the basis of factors, policies and institutions that enable a country to leverage ICT for shared prosperity.

The 2016 edition of the NRI ranks Singapore as the top country in the world when it comes to leveraging ICT for social and economic impact. The city state replaces Finland, which had been number one since 2013.

Occupying the third slot behind Finland is Sweden, followed by Norway and the United States in 5th position. The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Japan rounds off the Top 10 rankings.

The Index reveals that gap between the best and worst performing economies is widening. Those in the top 10 percent have seen twice the level of improvement since 2012 as those in the bottom 10 percent.

The NRI also demonstrates the challenges facing developing and emerging nations as they seek to develop the infrastructure, skills and institutions needed to exploit the potential of ICT in order to drive social and economic transformation in their countries. In addition, the report shows that although more than half the global population now owns a mobile phone, only 39 percent of people enjoy access to the internet.

“Mobile telephones may be becoming ubiquitous around the world, but the ICT revolution will not be carried over voice or SMS,” said Senior Economist at the  World Economic Forum and co-editor of the report Thierry Geiger. The Index shows that without access to affordable and consistent good quality broadband internet, a huge proportion of the global population will continue to live in digital poverty, missing out on the enormous social and economic benefits that ICT represents.

And this discrepancy, between mobile penetration and consistent quality broadband access, probably underlines a reason for Kuwait’s relatively poor showing in the NRI rankings. Though the country climbed up the ranks by jumping 11 places since the previous report, this improvement was driven mainly by changes in Readiness, Usage and Impact of individuals. The report shows that Kuwait did especially well in terms of individual indicators, coming first in mobile coverage, second in mobile subscriptions and mobile broadband, but 14th for the number of households with personal computers.

Internet bandwidth per user also demonstrated a significant leap, but again, this was brought about by higher mobile bandwidths offered by the country’s three telecommunications companies to individuals and businesses that could afford it. This data was mirrored by a recent survey conducted by Kuwait’s Central Agency for Information Technology (CAIT) which showed that most people used mobile phone operators to access the internet, and that internet usage was mainly for social connectivity and less so for its economic benefits.

Many analysts and telecommunication experts agree that a key ingredient to improving the economic influence of ICT is to widen access to quality internet for everyone through less expensive landline-based broadband connections.

They point out that delivering affordable broadband is an income multiplier not just for individuals, but for nations as well. According to Klaus Schwab, the founder of World Economic Forum, countries that fall behind in adopting and implementing inexpensive broadband access for their populace, risk getting left behind, as the world transitions to the fourth industrial revolution, which will involve innovative ecosystems in which digital, biological and physical technologies work together in new combinations.

However, in Kuwait, infrastructure for lower-cost high-speed internet through fiber-optic landlines from the Ministry of Communications (MoC) still lags far behind desirable levels. Way back in 2013, the government invested KD24 million to upgrade the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network by laying fiber-optic cables to new properties and replacing landlines in some areas.

Two years later, in December of 2015, the then Minister of Communications and Minister of State for Municipal Affairs Essa Al-Kandari, promised during the inauguration of the second phase of fiber-optic distribution in Kuwait, that MoC planned to replace all traditional telephone lines in the country with a fiber-optic system.

Regrettably, the minister did not specify any time-frame for achieving this changeover to a fiber-optic system. So, here we are now in the mid-half of 2018, with the latest available figures showing that despite an additional KD100 million in investments, we could have at best only 200,000 fiber-optic connection by 2019.

According to the MoC’s own records there are nearly 850,000 connections on the ministry’s public switched telephone network. Clearly, we have a long way to go before widespread conversion to fiber-optic system takes place and the dream of FTTH to every connection materializes.

Fortunately, ICT is a strong focus for the government's New Kuwait 2035 plan, which envisions transforming Kuwait into a financial, cultural and institutional center in the region by 2035.

There is growing realization that the key to realizing many of the strategies and programs of New Kuwait, including improving human capital by reforming the education system, encouraging entrepreneurship among youth and promoting small and medium enterprises, will rely to a large extent on having a robust fiber-optic enabled data and communication network. 

- Staff Report

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