Mobile data sparks a revolution

North, Africa, Com, mobile, operators, egypt, voice-service, data

Mobile value-added services are having a powerful transformational effect

In the Middle East and Africa,·the businesses of mobile operators and the lives of their customers are set to gain significantly. With voice-service revenues in the region forecast to record relatively little increase over the next few years, data services offer the best growth prospects.

It is clear that data services – especially access to the Internet – have had a profoundly transformative effect in the region, as the use of online social networking has played an important part in the big political developments that have occurred in the region in the past few months, notably the overthrow of governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

Egyptian operator Mobinil said, in its 1Q11 results, that “data appetite is exploding” as has been demonstrated in recent months, when “social networking, particularly via mobile, has been playing a critical role in political mobilization”.

Mobinil said that it plans to launch new digital applications and form new partnerships in order to take advantage of the opportunity in mobile data.

However, one should not overstate the links between mobile data and political change. Internet connectivity and social-networking services were important as facilitators and catalysts in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. But a high level of connectivity does not necessarily lead to revolution. And political upheaval can take place where connectivity is low. Syria and Yemen have among the lowest rates of mobile and broadband penetration in the Middle East but have recently experienced sustained protests, though the outcome of these remain uncertain.

Caroline Wiezien, North Africa Com

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