Digital Landscape in Middle East and Africa

May 2020

Middle East and Africa ranks the lowest in terms of internet penetration. However, with the affordability of smartphones and increasing investment in ICT, the region is the fastest growing in terms of internet users. Gulf countries outstand with higher digital connectivity, while Africa faced challenges due to low digital literacy and lack of infrastructure. As digital access becomes pivotal to economic and social progress, mobile is expected to be the driving platform.

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Key findings

Internet access is mainly driven by mobile

With 1.3 billion mobile telephone subscribers and 92.5% of the population covered by a mobile cellular network, mobile internet penetration has grown rapidly due to ease of access and affordability, with the region being the second fastest growing region after Asia Pacific. Mobile is to lead internet access over the forecast period driven by African markets with just five African economies adding 191.5 million new mobile internet subscribers.

UAE leads digital connectivity globally

Ranking fifth on the Digital Consumer Index, United Arab Emirates stands out globally leading in terms of digital connectivity. Ranking top in terms of mobile connectivity, the country is expected to retain its leading place as smart living solutions will improve home connectivity as well.

The region has a strong presence of regional and global telecom operators

Middle East and Africa holds strong presence of regional and global service providers, with many having long-standing presence in the region. The region also holds a good mix of government-owned entities as well as private sector players, which has driven digital access and innovation in many countries. However, in many lagging economies, imbalance in the performance of these players poses challenges to faster digital access.

Improving digital access becomes pivotal to economic and social progress in Africa

With availability of affordable smartphones and growing younger populations in many African economies, the challenge of lower digital literacy is expected to subside over the forecast period. As mobile-everything ecosystems; m-education, m-payments, m-healthcare drive the service economy in these countries, digital access has become pivotal to economic and social progress.

Gulf states take the lead on 5G

Five gulf states have launched 5G commercial services and aim to lead the roll-out of 5G globally, which is expected to improve 4G access in many regional economies. With the deployment of 5G, governments in these countries aim to offer greater provision of smart services, Internet of Things and connected experiences in retail and urban living.


Key findings

Regional Overview

Putting Middle East and Africa in context
Mobile connectivity drives internet subscription in the region

Regional overview

Middle East and Africa trails on the Digital Connectivity (DC) Index
As mobile internet advances, fixed broadband growth varies
Mobile remains the front-running device for internet access
Internet needs to speed up across wider Middle East and Africa
While LTE coverage lags, region prepares to roll out 5G
Government’s role in enabling ICT development remains vital

Forecast Projections

Increasing internet penetration remains a long-standing challenge
Mobile internet subscription to grow fastest in Middle East and Africa
Region to represent both leaders and laggers on the DC Index
Mobile internet to retain precedence given faster penetration
Internet to speed up with improved access
Region expected to lead 5G globally
Balanced interplay of public and private sectors - the way forward

Country Snapshots

UAE: market context
UAE: digital landscape
Saudi Arabia: market context
Saudi Arabia: digital landscape
Morocco: market context
Morocco: digital landscape
South Africa: market context
South Africa: digital landscape
Egypt: market context
Egypt: digital landscape
Israel: market context
Israel: digital landscape


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