Qatar and UAE are global leaders in fibre deployment

28 September 2020 3 min. read

The Middle East remains among the regions with the largest fibre penetration in the world, driven primarily by well over 90% coverage in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is according to a new Arthur D. Little study.

The transition from copper transmission cables to fibre optic cables – fibre to the home (FTTH) – has been underway for years now, given the latter’s ability to offer better speeds and bandwidth. Copper uses electrons to transmit data, while fibre transmits data via light particles that travel at higher speeds than electricity.

Global management consulting firm Arthur D. Little has been monitoring the state of the global fibre market for years now, and has found copper replacement initiatives to be gaining momentum at a fair clip. Last year, only Singapore had crossed the 90% threshold of fibre penetration. This year, nine other countries – led by Qatar and the UAE – have gone beyond 95% fiber coverage, indicating the scale and speed of the transition worldwide.

Ten global markets now have 95%+ fibre coverage

Qatar has been among the most highlighted success stories for fibre penetration. The country’s fibre rollout first began in 2011, and within two years an Arthur D. Little report at the time had labeled Qatar’s efforts the “fastest fibre rollout” in the world. The success was pinned on the private sector’s involvement and significant investment in the launch, in what is among the leading connectivity markets in the Middle East and the world. 

The UAE has been similarly prominent in its fibre success. In 2017, the FTTH Council Europe positioned the UAE as the country with the highest fibre optic penetration in the world, drawing significant attention to the country’s broadband landscape. Leading the charge are the country’s leading brands and top internet service providers (ISPs) Etisalat and du – each investing billions of dirhams per year in fibre infrastructure.

The country’s Telecommunications Regulations Authority has also been involved in pushing the fibre agenda. According to the authors, part of the success in both Qatar and the UAE has been driven by their ‘migration programmes’ – where legacy customers are visited door-to-door, and transitioned to fibre connections with new routers and speed upgrades included.

Growth in fibre household connections since 2012

As many as 85% of all legacy broadband customers have been transitioned to fibre networks via migration programmes, as per the report. Another trend that is apparent in both markets is that incumbent ISPs are taking the lead when it comes to fibre penetration, which involves reinventing their own infrastructure and delivery models.

This is different from other markets – particularly in Europe – where “alternative operators or new open access fibre entrants have secured billions of euros to deliver promised nationwide fibre coverage in the next four to six years, potentially becoming new future fibre leaders in their respective markets,” according to Karim Taga, co-author of the report and a partner in Arthur D. Little’s Vienna office.

Arthur D. Little points out that another market in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia – is rolling out a similar model, evidenced by the launch of an open access initiative just earlier this year. The Kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission brought six telecom companies on board to ensure broadband could be delivered by any ISP irrespective of who owns the fibre infrastructure. Saudi Arabia is currently at just over 40% fibre penetration, although the new initiatives might push it up the list.