Five things you need to know about mobile and the Middle East

From its hunger for mobile data and IPv6 to where it comes in the speed league table, here's the latest on mobile across the large and varied region.
Written by Damian Radcliffe, Contributor

Getting a handle on mobile tech in the Middle East is no easy task. On the one hand, the region has seen some of the highest levels of growth mobile data traffic, yet equally it's also behind some emerging and more mature markets in other areas of mobility — and risks falling even further behind.  

A new study from Cisco into the development of mobile tech in the region shows where it's pulling ahead and where more needs to be done. Here are five key findings from the report (PDF):

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) led the way in terms of growth in mobile data traffic last year.
Although "all of the emerging market regions experienced a doubling of mobile data traffic", growth in MEA was highest at 107 percent year on year — just ahead of both Latin America (105 percent growth) and Central and Eastern Europe (99 percent).

Globally, mobile data traffic grew 81 percent in 2013, with nearly 18 exabytes of traffic being carried across the mobile networks in 2013 — a figure the report notes is "nearly 18 times the size of the entire global internet in 2000".

MEA will also have the strongest mobile data traffic growth of any region in the next five years.
The reports predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 70 percent for the region, just ahead of Central and Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific.

But despite a 14-fold increase over the period, it is estimated that MEA will still only account for 9.4 percent of global data in 2018. In contrast, the Asia Pacific and North America regions will account for almost two-thirds of this traffic, with the populous Asia Pacific region consuming nearly half (42.4 percent) of the total worldwide mobile data.

Despite leading the world in terms of mobile data growth in 2013, MEA has the lowest share of smart devices and connections, and will still do so in 2018.
In 2013, just 10 percent of devices in the region were 'smart' compared to 45 percent in market-leading North America. By 2018, the MEA connectivity figure will have grown to 36 percent, but other markets are growing faster — Latin America, for example, growing from 14 percent to 55 percent over the period. The report envisages that 93 percent of devices in North America will be 'smart' in five years' time.

MEA also has the lowest average mobile connection speeds.
The average speed across the region is currently 529Kbps. Speeds in other emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe are more than double this, although Latin American users only enjoy an average of 684Kbps. This is against a global average in 2013 of 1.4Mbps.

Not surprisingly, this is also a field where North American users typically get the fastest speeds, with the average connection being around 3.5 times faster. This speed gap is also anticipated to grow, with North American users expected to enjoy connectivity of 4.55Mbps in 2018, compared to 900Kbps in MEA.

In fact, the projected speeds for MEA in 2018 are around half the speed enjoyed by North American consumers today, reflecting perhaps some of the wider challenges outlined previously by the World Bank. There is however good news for MEA tech watchers in terms of IPv6 adoption.

The region already has more IPv6 enabled devices than many other developing markets, and its growth – at 35 percent CAGR — is the joint fastest in the world.
Cisco anticipates there will be nearly 600,000 IPv6 enabled devices in the region by 2018. Although enabled devices do not necessarily translated into actively configured connections, this figure offers some good news for those promoting the adoption of this protocol in the region.

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