A few days after our immersion at the TowerXchange Meetup MENA 2024, we delivered a snapshot of the effervescent telecoms market in the MENA region in 2023.
The key figures for the previous year testify to remarkable expansion and reflect robust momentum:
- Mobile penetration: 75%, +5% compared with 2022.
- Mobile Internet subscriptions: 400 million, +10% in 2022.
- Market revenues: $150 billion, +7% vs. 2022.
Explore with us, in this article, behind the scenes of this rapid growth, and dive into the innovations of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Towercos that are sculpting the future of regional connectivity.
4 key factors for telecoms growth in MENA in 2023
The market’s spectacular growth can be attributed to various factors that have shaped the region’s dynamic landscape. These elements have helped propel the sector to new heights, paving the way for unprecedented opportunities.
The rapid adoption of 4G
The widespread adoption of 4G in most of the region’s countries has played a decisive role. With over 100 million users, 4G offers fast, stable connectivity, meeting the growing needs of consumers and businesses alike.
Progressive rollout of 5G
The first deployments of 5G networks have also marked a major turning point. Some countries have ushered in this technological era, and the prospect of rapid expansion of 5G coverage promises significant advances in the years ahead, propelling the region into the future of connectivity.
Strong growth in data traffic
The year 2023 saw an impressive 40% increase in mobile data traffic. This phenomenal growth reflects the exponential dependence on connectivity, fueled by data-hungry applications and increased adoption of online services.
Development of digital services
The emergence and expansion of digital services have played a key role in market growth. Sectors such as mobile banking, e-commerce, and online government services have gained popularity, stimulating demand for fast, reliable connectivity.
These converging factors have created an ecosystem conducive to the expansion of the MENA telecoms market, prompting industry players to constantly adapt to meet changing consumer demands and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
Innovative initiatives by MNOs and Towercos in 2023
MNOs and Towercos illustrate their commitment to innovation and progress, by redefining connectivity standards. To this end, they are embarking on some initiatives that are setting an example for regional players.
Initiatives led by mobile network operators
Among the Mobile Network Operators serving as case studies are three major players such as Orange Maroc (whom we are proud to count among our ClickOnSite customers), Etisalat UAE, and STC Saudi Arabia.
Orange Maroc has marked a significant breakthrough in the telecommunications sector by inaugurating 5G in several strategic Moroccan cities, including Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier. This bold initiative has propelled the mobile network to unprecedented heights of speed and connectivity, responding to users’ growing demands for faster, smoother online experiences.
At the same time, Orange Maroc has distinguished itself through its pioneering digital services, such as Orange Money, a mobile payment service, and Orange Bank, a digital bank. These modern financial solutions have been designed in response to changing consumer needs, offering convenience and accessibility.
Affirming its commitment to technological innovation, Orange Maroc has also invested in artificial intelligence, enhancing service quality and improving the customer experience. This approach demonstrates Orange Maroc’s determination to be at the forefront of the digital revolution in the MENA region.
Etisalat UAE has asserted its leadership in the telecoms sector by in turn initiating the large-scale rollout of 5G, extending its coverage to the UAE’s major cities. This remarkable breakthrough has opened up new horizons, offering users faster and more sophisticated mobile experiences, and propelling the region into an era of revolutionary connectivity.
A pioneer in the adoption of emerging technologies, Etisalat UAE has also invested strategically in IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. This visionary initiative has resulted in tailor-made smart solutions for cities, businesses, and individuals, testifying to Etisalat’s commitment to digital transformation and the shaping of a connected intelligent future.
Finally, the launch of Etisalat Digital has added a new dimension to Etisalat UAE’s arsenal of innovations. This platform offers a complete range of digital and cloud computing services, meeting the diverse needs of its customers. This bold initiative testifies to Etisalat’s ongoing commitment to providing cutting-edge solutions, reinforcing its position as a driver of technological innovation in the MENA region.
STC Saudi Arabia
For its part, STC Saudi Arabia has strengthened its footprint in the telecommunications sector by expanding its service offering to include cutting-edge cloud computing and cybersecurity solutions. This strategic expansion meets the growing demand from businesses and governments for secure, high-performance digital solutions. By offering cloud computing services, STC provides organizations with greater flexibility to manage their operations and store their data efficiently, while its cybersecurity solutions provide robust protection against ever-evolving threats, reinforcing digital confidence.
At the same time, STC’s commitment to digital transformation is evident in the development of solutions for smart cities. By focusing on crucial aspects such as traffic management and intelligent lighting, STC is demonstrating its commitment to reshaping urban infrastructures to make them more efficient, sustainable, and connected. These initiatives aim to create smarter, more pleasant urban environments for citizens.
STC’s quest for innovation is also supported by strategic partnerships with global technology players. These alliances underline STC’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of technological advances, stimulating innovation, and fostering digital transformation in the MENA region. These strategic partnerships reinforce STC’s position as a major catalyst for technological progress, paving the way for new opportunities and cutting-edge solutions for its customers and partners.
Innovative initiatives from towercos.
While Mobile Network Operators are busy developing new solutions, Towercos are not to be outdone. Examples include IHS Towers, American Tower Corporation, and Emirates Towers
The strategic acquisition of Helios Towers has propelled IHS Towers to the top of the African telecommunications infrastructure market, consolidating its position as the undisputed leader. This bold move underlined IHS Towers’ strategy of geographic expansion, demonstrating its ambitious vision to extend its influence and offer state-of-the-art connectivity solutions across the continent. At the same time, the company has undertaken a remarkable international expansion, penetrating key markets such as Egypt and Pakistan. This expanded presence reinforces its stature as a key player in the international telecoms infrastructure scene.
To guarantee optimum performance from its towers, IHS Towers has made significant investments in cutting-edge technologies. These technological initiatives have had a major impact on operational efficiency, ensuring reliable and efficient connectivity, and positioning IHS Towers as a catalyst for innovation in the telecoms sector.
American Tower Corporation
At the same time, American Tower Corporation stands out for its commitment to environmental sustainability and social innovation. By adopting renewable energy solutions for its towers, the company is affirming its commitment to reducing carbon impact and preserving the environment. This approach reflects a proactive vision of environmental responsibility in the industry.
And, American Tower Corporation’s significant investment in rural connectivity has had profound implications in bridging the digital divide. By providing essential Internet access to marginalized populations, the company actively contributes to digital inclusion, promoting equal opportunities in rural areas. This focus on connectivity demonstrates American Tower Corporation’s social commitment.
As a key partner in digital transformation, American Tower Corporation’s close collaboration with governments plays a decisive role. This cooperation, focused on the development of 5G and the implementation of policies favorable to infrastructure expansion, positions the company as an essential contributor to technological and economic growth, embodying a socially responsible and forward-looking business model.
Emirates Towers’ successful collaboration with local authorities in the United Arab Emirates to develop 5G and create smart cities is testimony to its unwavering commitment to technological innovation. By actively contributing to the implementation of 5G, the company is positioning itself as a key player in the country’s digital transformation, fostering an advanced technological ecosystem.
In addition to its involvement in 5G advances, Emirates Towers plays a crucial role in facilitating the pooling of resources through its infrastructure colocation solutions. This strategic approach benefits Mobile Network Operators and Internet Service Providers by enabling efficient use of infrastructure, contributing to more extensive and robust connectivity in the region.
Emirates Towers’ sustained investment in the research and development of new technologies illustrates its determination to remain at the forefront of the telecommunications industry. This willingness to explore and adopt innovative solutions reinforces Emirates Towers’ position as a pioneer in the sector, ensuring continued sustainability and relevance in an ever-changing technological landscape.
Finally, these bold initiatives by Mobile Network Operators and Towercos in the MENA region reflect a proactive adaptation to emerging trends, favoring the expansion of connectivity, technological innovation, and the satisfaction of user needs.
Strategic challenges for MENA operators and towercos in 2023
At the heart of the MENA zone’s dynamic telecoms market, Mobile Network Operators and Towercos face distinct challenges and opportunities. Between market saturation, pressure on margins, and the advent of 5G, let’s take a close look at the forces redefining their trajectory.
Challenges and opportunities for Mobile Network Operators
In the MENA region, Mobile Network Operators face challenges such as market saturation, pressure on margins, and the constant need for innovation to remain competitive. However, promising opportunities are emerging with the rollout of 5G, offering growth prospects in diversified sectors such as industry, healthcare, and smart cities. Digital services such as mobile banking and e-commerce, as well as the ability to target specific vertical markets, offer significant revenue streams. Key strategies for Operators include investment in infrastructure, partnerships with key players, and diversification of revenue sources.
Challenges and opportunities for Towercos
Towercos (tower infrastructure operators) likewise face challenges related to site acquisition, restrictive government regulations, and growing competition. However, opportunities are arising with the growth of the telecoms market, the increased need for towers for 5G, and the emergence of technologies such as IoT. Key strategies for Towercos include geographic expansion to take advantage of market growth, development of new services, and market consolidation through acquisitions and mergers to increase market share and reduce costs. In short, collaboration between Operators and Towercos, and strategic adaptation to market challenges and opportunities, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of telecommunications in the MENA region.
Countries to be monitored
In the dynamic telecoms landscape of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), several nations are emerging as key players to watch.
In Saudi Arabia, a booming market is emerging with ambitious projections, including an estimated $40 billion telecoms market by 2025 and major government investments of $60 billion in digital infrastructure by 2030. Mobile Network Operators such as STC, Zain, and the Saudi Telecom Company, as well as Towercos like Crown Castle International, American Tower Corporation, and IHS Towers, are playing a key role in this transformation.
The United Arab Emirates is positioning itself as a leading regional technology hub, ranking first in the MENA Digital Economy Index. With advanced digital infrastructure, rapid adoption of new technologies, and an innovation-friendly government, Operators such as Etisalat and Du, as well as Towercos like Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC) and Helios Towers, are setting the standard for innovation.
Further afield, in Morocco, a mature market is characterized by high mobile penetration, exceeding 100%. Competition between operators, affordable prices for mobile services, and the development of digital services, illustrated by the “Maroc Digital 2020” program, are shaping this landscape. Towercos such as Maroc Telecom and Inwi are playing a growing role in this dynamic.
Finally, in Egypt, a young and dynamic population offers significant growth potential, with the telecoms market estimated at $20 billion by 2025 and a forecast of 100 million mobile subscriptions. Here, ever-expanding Operators and Towercos are helping to harness this potential and meet the needs of a young, connected population. These trends point to a promising future for telecommunications in the MENA region.
Telecoms in MENA: challenges and prospects
Beyond all these issues, the telecoms market in the MENA region faces some challenges:
The MENA telecoms sector faces several crucial challenges:
- Cybercrime and Data Security: The growing threat of cybercrime requires significant investment from mobile network operators and tower infrastructure operators (Towercos) to ensure the security of user data.
- Digital Divide and Social Inclusion: The persistent digital divide in the region requires close collaboration between MNOs, governments, and businesses to extend Internet access, thereby promoting social inclusion.
- Impact of 5G and Emerging Technologies: The imminent adoption of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) requires Operators to make substantial investments to remain competitive in a constantly evolving market.
- Regulation and public policy: Governments need to develop public policies favorable to innovation and investment to support the development of the telecoms sector.
- Evolving competitive landscape: Changing market dynamics require constant adaptation and the development of innovative strategies to remain competitive.
This dynamic and constantly evolving market requires Operators and Towercos to adapt nimbly to rapid transformations, while offering innovative and competitive services. Collaboration between industry players and innovation-friendly government initiatives will be essential to capitalize on the promising opportunities offered by this fast-growing region.
As we conclude our in-depth exploration of the MENA telecoms market, 2023 stands out as a pivotal year. The eloquent figures, the innovative initiatives of Mobile Network Operators and Towercos, and the challenges identified paint a dynamic picture of connectivity in this fast-changing region.
As Mobile Network Operators and Towercos strive to innovate and meet the challenges, the MENA telecoms market is clearly at a crossroads, ready to embrace digital transformation more deeply. Emerging opportunities, whether with the advent of 5G, the expansion of digital services, or rural connectivity, are opening doors to a future where connectivity becomes a catalyst for social and economic progress.
As active participants in the TowerXchange Meetup MENA 2024, we remain committed to following these developments closely and sharing the latest trends and analysis. MENA is positioning itself as a major player in the global telecoms landscape, and we look forward to seeing how these dynamics will continue to shape the exciting future of connectivity in this region, and how ClickOnSite can respond to these challenges!
- The Arab Advisors Group: https://www.arabadvisors.com/
- GSMA: https://www.gsma.com/
- World Bank: https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/mena/overview
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU): https://www.itu.int/en/Pages/default.aspx
- TowerXchange: https://www.towerxchange.com/
- Analysys Mason: https://www.analysysmason.com/