Analysys Mason recently conducted primary research with mobile Internet users in six countries in the Middle East and Africa (MEA): Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the UAE. They were asked about their Internet access, decision criteria for selecting operators and handsets, and their usage of over-the-top (OTT) services and other apps. The survey was conducted during November 2012–January 2013, in association with On Device Research.
Mobile is the main channel to the Internet in the six surveyed countries in MEA
Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated that they use their mobile as the main means to connect to the Internet. The prevalence of mobile over fixed for Internet access in all of the surveyed countries shows the important role played by mobile in extending online access to previously unserved or underserved groups.
This proportion is slightly lower in Saudi Arabia and the UAE where fixed broadband is more available than it is in Kenya and Nigeria.
In fact, we observed a reverse correlation between the level of fixed broadband penetration and the proportion of respondents who use their mobile as the main means to connect to the Internet.
Surveyed mobile Internet users in MEA have a great appetite for online services
Despite the limited access to capable devices such as smartphones, and fast mobile networks such as 3G, survey respondents showed a high take-up of non-traditional communication services. Smartphone users are more likely to use OTT communication services than feature phone users, but as the results show, the difference between the two segments is not huge. Surprisingly, three-quarters of feature phone respondents also accessed OTT services, which are often SMS-based.
In terms of the most commonly used apps, we found that worldwide usage trends are repeated in the Middle East and Africa. Social network sites come first, followed by email and instant messaging. VoIP and videoconferencing come last in MEA, but around a third of users in Saudi Arabia and UAE indicated they used these services. These countries have a high proportion of foreign residents and smartphones and Wi-Fi is widely available (which is important because these services are generally blocked over cellular networks in Saudi Arabia and UAE). VoIP and videoconferencing services were much less popular in the Sub-Saharan African countries (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) than in the Middle East and North African countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE).
People in MEA are new to the mobile Internet, but they are demanding
Like in other regions of the world, mobile Internet users in MEA have high expectations despite their relative newness to Internet services. Nearly all our survey respondents (both feature phone and smartphone users) selected 3G/4G support as the most important criteria when selecting a handset – indicating their awareness and understanding of the improved Internet experience afforded by 3G/4G networks. Affordability was the second-most important criteria – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Handset design and features were ranked relatively high when cited, which was less frequently than 3G/4G support and affordability.
Price is the main deterrent to consumers’ aspirations to acquire smart devices
More than 20% of respondents indicated that they have a tablet. The UAE and Saudi Arabia had the highest penetration levels – nearly 40% of respondents have a tablet. This contrasts with only 7% and 8% in Kenya and Nigeria respectively. Smartphone users are more likely to own a tablet. These country differences are mostly due to disparity in purchasing power, access to Wi-Fi and prior experience accessing the Internet on more-capable devices. Overall, two-thirds of respondents in MEA indicated that the high price of tablets is the main reason for not owning one.
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