Business Management

Dan Swinhoe (Africa) - IT in Morocco

Back in 2005, King Mohammed VI launched the "Technopolis" project, a new 300 hectare, multi-million dollar technology city near Sale. Companies now based at Technopolis include digital security company Gemalto, Nemotek, Novec, HP, and Axa. The launch of such a big, new project was how Morocco announced itself to the wider world of technology. Today the country is trying to establish itself as a major player in African technology; government plans and investment from the Middle East are helping push things forward.

Morocco was the first country in North Africa to install a 3G network, and is in the process of awarding 4G licences with the aim of being operational by the end of next year. This is in conjunction with a ten-year infrastructure development plan to give the country's entire population access to high-speed, fixed or mobile broadband by 2022. According to Internetworldstats, around half of the country's 32 million people have internet access - the third highest in Africa. A digital divide still exists however, according to a report from the Open Society Foundations. "Internet access is still restricted to urban areas and educated categories in cities," it explains. "Morocco hasn't yet joined digitisation, given that there has been only partial migration to digital communication."

As with much of the continent, mobile and internet are closely linked in Morocco. Mobile penetration is over 100%, and more than 80% of the broadband market is mobile. At one point MT's ADSL broadband service held over 90% of the internet market, but the introduction of 3G opened up the market and promoted competition. As of a year ago, there were over 600,000 smartphones in Morocco [up to date figures are hard to come by], but estimated annual growth is more than 200%.

All this internet use has yet to translate into a massive social media culture. According to Socialbakers, Morocco has just under 5 million Facebook users, equating to around 15% of the population, while Twitter claims just 35,000, or 0.1% of people in the country. Surprisingly, since LinkedIn became available in March, it has shot up to 400,000 users.

The government, however, is being proactive on technology. The "Digital Morocco 2013" strategy envisages nationwide access to high-speed internet, by 2013, bringing the administration closer to the needs of the user through an ambitious e-government programme, and encouraging the computerization of SMEs. The government has also introduced projects in an effort to enhance the digital skills of small business owners. Students also benefit, with plans for Wi-fi at universities, and subsidized laptop and internet costs.

These new efforts seem to be paying off; IBM has recently opened a second office in the Kingdom. Abdallah Rachidi Alaoui, IBM General Manager Morocco, has said the company emphasises its investment in Morocco because it recognises the opportunities presented by high growth rates and an increasingly competitive market.

"By strengthening our presence in Rabat, we are able to offer the most advanced technologies and solutions to our local partners and clients - helping them to do things smarter and more efficiently," he adds. Rabat is also taking part in IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge, with the aim to devise a plan for a more efficient and better integrated transportation system. "IBM is strongly committed to helping cities improve themselves, and through this initiative will provide its best talent and expertise to help the city of Rabat develop smarter solutions for urban transport," said Abdallah.

And following Gitex Technology Week this month, links between African countries, such as Morocco, and the Middle East are predicted to grow in strength and number. Etihad Airways own a large share of its flag carrier Royal Air Maroc, while Qtel have expressed interest in purchasing a controlling stake in Morocco's largest telecom operator.

Problems with restrictive freedoms and cybercrime are present, but overall things seem to be on a positive trend. Who knows, in a few years Technopolis may become a world-leading smart city.

By Dan Swinhoe, Editorial Assistant, IDG Connect

Click here to take part in a survey on Morocco's IT sector. 


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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