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Mobile Communications

Michael Kogeler (Middle East) - Content Consumption in the Middle East

In a recent blog for IDG Connect, I wrote about how the Middle East is speeding up its consumption and adoption of the Cloud. In many cases this is to meet demand from tech-savvy customers who increasingly want services delivered through multimedia and accessed via the latest devices. This trend is common in many regions, but it's interesting to note that internet usage in the Middle East stands at just over 40%, which is higher than the global average of 34%. The Arab world in general has a huge appetite for digital content, both creating it and consuming it - and most of us can recall the global media hype about the surge in social media during the Uprisings in late 2010. The question is, how is this trend evolving and how can the Middle East best capitalise on it?

Firstly, as barriers to sharing content with the world from this vibrant region have started to come down, so new TV and radio channels and websites have emerged. Interaction and sharing of content on social networking platforms has steadily continued too. According to the Arab Social Media report, Arabic is the fastest growing language in Twitter history, while back in 2012 several sources estimated that over 40 million people in the Middle East region were on Facebook. So it's not surprising that digital platforms are recognizing the lucrative opportunities their growing regional popularity brings. As an example, both Facebook and Twitter are now seeking to capitalise on this, recently launching digital advertising services.

But let's focus again on the opportunities that increased internet penetration and multimedia consumption can bring to the people and businesses of the Middle East. The wider economic opportunity can be seen when you couple this with the rapid pace of mobile adoption in the Arab States. Mobile connections have grown 32% on average every year for the past 10 years according to the latest GSMA Arab States Mobile Observatory report, contributing 5.5% of total Arab States GDP in 2011. This trend is showing no signs of slowing and as more and more people get online, while on the move or otherwise, the potential marketplace and customer base for tech-savvy businesses grows too.

Young developers and entrepreneurs in the Middle East are beginning to see how they can reap the rewards by starting small businesses online and using mobile and cloud technology to scale their services beyond their country borders to target customers in other Arab nations. One example is Nabbesh, a Dubai-founded jobs site connecting skilled workers in the Middle East and North Africa seeking freelance and other short-term job opportunities with employers looking to fill temporary gaps in their workforce. Nabbesh's founders have recently moved their virtual platform to run on Windows Azure, a Cloud solution which scales to suit the business demands, and are further optimising for customers with a Windows 8 application. We're also witnessing exciting things coming from the young student developers at the AppFactory in Egypt, launched under the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative in February 2013. Building apps from crowd-sourced ideas, we've seen apps launched that are relevant for users in the local market: enabling people to fulfil their religious commitments while on the move; or highlighting hotspots for harassment of women in urban areas and allowing victims to call for help.

Bigger businesses in the Middle East are also recognising the increased end-user satisfaction that multimedia services can offer customers. As technology becomes more and more touch-enabled and intuitive, several big corporations are investing in cutting-edge IT infrastructure to deliver improved services and greater business value. For example, the Union National Bank (UNB) in the UAE recently decided to upgrade their IT infrastructure to Windows 8 to meet customer demand for speedy, multi-device access and touch-screen capabilities when delivering financial services.

My final point is to note that despite the strong impact of the digital world in the Middle East, Arabic remains an underserved language on the web. Although Arabic is the fifth most-spoken language in the world and 100 million Arabic speakers are web-connected, they have access to relatively little native language digital content. There is a huge opportunity to enable Arabic speakers to communicate and become more integrated in today's wired world. Microsoft Advanced Technology Lab in Cairo is focused on advancing technological outreach to Arabic speakers through beta projects like Afkar, designed to make Arabic a more web-friendly language.

‘Afkar' is an Arabic word for ‘ideas', and the goal of Microsoft Afkar is to give Arabic speakers tools to explore the opportunities in their native language and devise their own new ideas for websites, products and businesses. Meanwhile, it's evident that the Middle East is already taking great advantage of the content that technology is steadily making more and more accessible, for private and commercial gains. There are so many passionate, business-savvy people in the Arab-speaking world and the economic opportunities afforded by technology advances and adoption will be of enormous value for those that float on this rising tide.

 

By Michael Kogeler, COO/CMO Microsoft Middle-East and Africa

 

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