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Gulf among fastest growing market for ICT – Terry He Kuwait IT spending to rise

The International Telecommun-ication Union’s ‘ICT Development Index’ monitors and compares the development of information and communication technology (ICT) across the world. In its latest Index, the ITU found that the global Top 20 countries were occupied almost exclusively by nations in Europe & Asia. However, this year the Middle East is set to feature amongst the fastest growing IT markets in the world, with analysts predicting that spending on IT projects alone will exceed $210 billion in 2014 and that IT spending in Kuwait in particular will continue to increase this year .

Following its recent announcement to set up a new Joint Innovation Center in Kuwait, Terry He, General Manager of Huawei Kuwait speaks, about the wider initiatives being advanced in the region to support governments’ vision for propelling the Gulf into the global digital economy.

Question: How do you feel the Gulf’s overall technology infrastructure has developed in comparison to the rest of the world during the past year?
Answer: There has been encouraging progress in the development of ICT infrastructure locally driven by growing demand for bandwidth and enhanced customer experience.
In this region particularly, we have seen rapid development of overall broadband infrastructure as reflected in the widespread backing of mobile broadband technologies such as 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced, which are already being supported by operators in countries such as Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and others. Telecom operators and enterprises are also taking a more serious look at the role of IT cloud infrastructure, with Gartner predicting that from 2013 through 2017 around $4 billion alone will be spent on cloud services in MENA region.
We think it is equally important that there are developments in terms of fixed broadband - such as fiber to the home connectivity. Regionally fixed broadband has been adopted in some areas, although there has perhaps been slower adoption due to the significant changes in infrastructure required to lay fiber. We observe globally that government policies and even direct investment is of key importance to boosting fiber connectivity. This has been seen in areas such as Europe where a shared regulatory framework and clear set of targets have helped many counties climb into the ITU’s top 30 on the ICT Development Index (IDI). 
When crafting a vision for the “digital economy” of the future, we have seen governments in the Middle East borrowing experiences from peers and choosing partners who can jointly research the market and set business targets. Many of these governments - including that of Kuwait - have succeeded thus far with the latest IDI rankings noting Kuwait as one of the top countries worldwide with affordable mobile broadband services.

Q: Is this momentum anticipated to continue throughout 2014?
A: The Gulf continues to stand out as one of the most rapidly growing markets for information and communication technologies (ICT) worldwide. Both governments and the private sector realize that new digital services and applications are emerging within Kuwait, especially in businesses such as healthcare, banking & finance, transportation and the energy sector.
Mobile broadband connections are also expected to increase by a staggering rate in the coming years, particularly in the GCC. Earlier this year the GSMA actually called on Arab States to release the spectrum required for seamless LTE services, allowing mobile broadband to further stimulate the region’s socio-economic advancement.

Q: For large multinationals like Huawei, how does the potential value of this region’s ICT industry compare to what you see in other parts of the globe?
A: This region has traditionally made up around 10% of Huawei’s global revenue. As such it is an incredibly important region for the company. With overall ICT spending in the Middle East predicted to top US$96 billion this year, the outlook is increasingly positive. That will be bolstered by projects such as our Joint Innovation Centers in Kuwait which will serve as research hubs for the advancement of broadband technologies and enhance the telecom customer experience.

Q: With heightened public-sector backing for the expansion of connected ‘Smart Cities’, what benefits can individuals and businesses in Kuwait expect to see as a result?
A: The role of ICT companies will almost certainly widen as there is a greater emphasis placed on powering Smart Cities of the future - communities in which the analysis and sharing of information provides a new level of intelligence to public facilities and services. From ubiquitous ultra-broadband connectivity to simpler access to e-Government portals, cheaper utilities, unified hospital systems, and more efficient public transportation networks, there is a lot for businesses and individuals to look forward to. That is ultimately what companies like Huawei are working to deliver in the Smart Cities era. Putting that into an economic perspective, groups like Pike Research forecasted that the Smart City technology market will grow from $6.1 billion annually in 2012 to over $20 billion in 2020. 

Q: What are companies like Huawei doing to ensure that new broadband services - particularly in the telecom space-remain accessible to the general public?

In 2014, ensuring widespread access to information and communication services is a key priority for us, and will ultimately require deeper cooperation amongst local operators, channel partners, technology vendors, and others in the communication ecosystem so that we as an industry can establish competitive yet sustainable business models; passing those benefits onto the end user.
Furthermore, the solution involves focusing on more than just providing the very latest technology. Success is no longer just about having the fastest network speeds and highest bandwidth, but enabling more of society to have access to communication services. As such, we help governments and operators to achieve smarter segmentation of their customer base, identify more precise usage trends, and reshape service packages to specific customer requirements - whether that is an individual subscriber or a public institution such as a hospital or university.  

Q: How can countries like Kuwait continue to make progress heading into 2014?
A: A great deal of that momentum will come from local companies and organizations that are looking to bring more of their services and products online in 2014.
What we often suggest to our own partners is to think big about digital connectivity, but to not be afraid to start with small steps forward. Taking advantage of the growth of data in the workplace and the wisdom this information contains can for example, be done in a fairly targeted way, and may not need to happen as a single massive investment. What it does require is businesses and the general public to regularly take a step back, consider how they are utilizing modern technology services, and redefine the role of ICT as a core business asset that drives innovation.
In fact, experts at Booz & Company have even estimated that were the pace of digitization in the MENA region to accelerate, it would add a cumulative $820 billion to regional GDP and create an extra 4.4 million much-needed jobs by 2020.

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