Mobile Industry in the Arab States Growing Faster Than Global Average; Industry Contributes 4.4 Per Cent to Regional GDP and Directly Supports One Million Jobs

Dubai: More than half of the population across the Arab States of the Middle East and North Africa are now subscribed to a mobile service, presenting the region with a unique opportunity to use mobile technology to drive social and economic growth. According to the GSMA’s new report, “Arab States: Mobile Economy 2014”, there were 195 million unique mobile subscribers in the region at the end of 2013, a penetration rate of 53 per cent of the total population. Total mobile connections1 in the region stood at 404 million at year-end.

“Mobile has scaled dramatically in the Arab States over the last five years, delivering significant socio-economic benefits in every country across this diverse region,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA. “As regional operators continue to invest in mobile broadband networks and services, we call on governments in the region to collaborate with the mobile industry to deliver on a range of goals, from rolling out networks to under-served areas in North Africa to ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to support global business hubs such as Dubai.

“In the emerging economies, mobile commerce solutions are extending financial services to unbanked populations and helping bridge the digital divide. In the Gulf States, mobile is driving innovation in areas such as machine-to-machine and smart city solutions. We are also seeing mobile networks play an important role in disaster response and crisis management,” continued Bouverot.

A Diverse Mobile Landscape
The 19 markets that form the Arab States comprise both the advanced Gulf States and many populous emerging markets in North Africa. These two sub-regions vary widely in terms of socioeconomics, mobile penetration, technology maturity and regulatory environments.

A number of Gulf States, including Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), already have unique mobile subscriber penetration rates above 75 per cent. By contrast, just 16 per cent of the population in South Sudan is subscribed to a mobile service (see table). Egypt is the largest market in the region with 44 million unique mobile subscribers at the end of 2013, accounting for 23 per cent of the region’s total. The five largest markets, in order of size, are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria and Morocco, which together account for just under two-thirds of the region’s total unique mobile subscriber base.

Arab States, Unique Mobile Subscriber Penetration, 2013 (% of Population)

Algeria 48%
Bahrain 76%
Egypt 53%
Iraq 60%
Jordan 71%
Kuwait 77%
Lebanon 51%
Libya 61%
Morocco 51%
Oman 72%
Palestine 46%
Qatar 73%
Saudi Arabia 74%
South Sudan 16%
Sudan 41%
Syria 42%
Tunisia 53%
United Arab Emirates 83%
Yemen 45%
Arab States (total) 53%

Source: GSMA Intelligence

A Fast-Growing Region
The mobile industry in the Arab States has grown faster than the global average over the last five years. Unique mobile subscribers grew by 9.5 per cent per year (CAGR) between 2008 and 2013, compared to a global average growth of 8.2 per cent; mobile connections grew by 13.2 per cent per year over the same period, compared to an 11 per cent growth rate globally.

The general lack of fixed-line infrastructure in the region means that mobile is already the primary means of communication and increasingly also the primary means of accessing the Internet. Mobile has played an active role in addressing the digital divide and delivering financial inclusion to previously underserved populations, particularly in parts of North Africa.

Although in global terms the Arab States were relatively late to launch higher speed networks, a number of the Gulf States are considered global technology leaders. Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounts for well over a third of total connections in the Gulf States today and is as high as 60 per cent of the total connections in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Two of these markets – Qatar and the UAE – also have the highest smartphone adoption rates in the world (80 per cent of connections).

There are also now signs of an accelerating technology migration underway in North Africa. Countries such as Morocco are seeing rapid growth in 3G connections. The combination of accelerating mobile broadband network rollout and rising smartphone penetration is driving mobile data growth across the region. For the vast majority of local operators, mobile data now accounts for a significant and fast-growing portion of total service revenue.

Contributing to the Economy
Mobile is an important contributor to social and economic development in the region. The mobile industry contributed US$122 billion to the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, accounting for 4.4 per cent of the total2. In that year, the industry directly employed nearly one million people, while an additional 600,000 jobs were supported across the rest of the economy as a result of activity generated by the mobile sector. The local mobile industry also makes a significant contribution to public sector funding in the form of taxation (US$13 billion in 2013), in addition to regulatory and spectrum fees.

Mobile operators in the region grew mobile revenue by 7 per cent per year (CAGR) over the last five years, significantly above the global average of 4.6 per cent. Operators have invested US$75 billion over the last six years on improving network coverage, increasing network capacity and deploying mobile broadband networks.

“Mobile is powering a wave of innovative new services and applications across the region, though we are only just beginning to see the positive transformative potential of mobile broadband,” concluded Bouverot. “Regional operators are well placed to deliver new solutions that can address the region’s social, economic and public services challenges, and the GSMA is pleased to be collaborating with local operators, governments and other stakeholders to help bring these services to market.”

To access the full report please visit:


About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Spanning more than 220 countries and territories, the GSMA unites nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, as well as organisations in industry sectors such as financial services, healthcare, media, transport and utilities. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress and Mobile Asia Expo.

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA.

Media Contacts
For the GSMA:
Sara Bosco
[email protected]

Charlie Meredith-Hardy
+44 7917 298428
[email protected]

GSMA Press Office
[email protected]

1A unique mobile subscriber can account for multiple mobile connections. Mobile connections total includes cellular machine-to-machine (M2M) connections.

2The overall GDP impact includes a direct contribution from mobile network operators of US$35 billion (1.3 per cent of GDP)