The UAE, a leading hub for international trade and business in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is a competitive market for the Information Communication Technology (ICT) industry. In a bid to reduce dependence on oil revenue and grow the private sector, UAE government initiatives set out to build a competitive knowledge economy and establish an open, efficient, effective, and globally integrated business environment. The UAE government is taking several steps to prompt the development of the knowledge-based economy.
The UAE government has established a number of free trade zones such as Dubai Internet City (in 1999) and Dubai Silicon Oasis (in 2005) that specialize in the ICT industry and act as industry clusters for high technology and innovation. These free zones are areas within the UAE that permit foreign ownership and are dedicated to a specific industry, making them business hubs. Within these zones, firms are allowed:
- 100% import and export tax exemptions
- 100% repatriation of capital and profits
- Corporate tax exemptions for 50 years, on a renewable basis
UAE public sector investment helps drive demand for ICT products and services in sectors such as healthcare, space, aviation, aerospace, defense, transportation, retail, financial services, hospitality, and those sectors linked to the UAE’s economic diversification plans. To attract foreign companies and develop human capital resources:
The UAE government launched policies to promote the use of open data. In September 2021, the UAE published their federal decree law regarding Personal Data Protection. This law applies to any data subject who resides in or has a business in the UAE. It is an integrated framework to ensure the confidentiality of information and protect the privacy of individuals in the UAE. This federal law only applies if a free zone has not legislated any data protection. Three free zones, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), and Dubai Healthcare City (DHC) have their own data protection authority and legislation. The UAE will continue to develop new laws setting the use of data in various critical industries.
Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) established the UAE ICT Fund to enhance innovative research & development projects within the UAE ICT sector, as well as to educate hundreds of Emirati students overseas in the ICT field.
UAE’s SmartPass system created a digital framework for the operations of all government services and ministries. The UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI) 2031 will be incorporated into these services.
These government projects will require the expertise and services of foreign firms – offering opportunities for American companies that have a comparative advantage with advanced technologies and innovations.
The UAE is one of the largest data center hubs in the Middle East and more are planned. Up to $1 billion in additional investments are projected by 2026. The UAE data center market is expected to grow at an average rate of 3.43% between 2022 and 2027. In 2019, Microsoft chose the UAE as its first destination to create hyper scale datacenters in the region and Microsoft Azure launched two cloud regions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In November 2021, Oracle announced the opening of its second cloud region in Abu Dhabi, in addition to Oracle Cloud Dubai Region. In 2022, Amazon Web Services launched and opened the new AWS Middle East (UAE) Region that consists of three availability zones. e& (formerly known as Etisalat Group), Equinix, Khazna Data Centers, Gulf Data Hub and G42 Cloud also have major data centers.
With aggressive investments by the UAE government in cloud computing, and the UAE’s competitive business laws and strong technological infrastructure, the sector is forecasted to continue expanding in the years ahead. The deployment of 5G services and development of smart cities will increase data traffic and further grow the demand for more data centers in the country. Public cloud hosting in the UAE has addressed variations in resources and expertise efficiently through highly specialized solutions. Despite these significant expansions, there is still sizeable room for development that will require the expertise and know-how of American firms. UAE data localization requirements, however, may require American to increasingly seek local partners to navigate the market.
The UAE’s geopolitical position, importance to the world economy, and critical infrastructure in the energy (oil & gas and nuclear power), transportation, and aviation sectors make the UAE vulnerable as a target of cyber-attacks, driving rapid growth in the cybersecurity market. The cybersecurity market in the UAE is expected to grow to a value of $4.51 billion by 2025. Experts expect the UAE cybersecurity market to grow by 11.1% a year between 2020 and 2026. The growth can be attributed to the global cyber threats, increased exposure to cyber-attacks, corporate policies, and increased regulation of cyber risk and data management. Substantial growth is expected from the digitization of various sectors including financial services and utilities, as well as the need to secure the country’s critical infrastructure.
The UAE reports the highest number of malware incidents among consumers in the GCC. To protect the UAE’s critical data information infrastructure and improve national cybersecurity, the government introduced the UAE Information Assurance Standards, which are a set of guidelines for government entities in critical sectors. Compliance with these standards is mandatory for all government organizations and businesses that are identified as critical infrastructure in the UAE. Several local players have been developing cybersecurity capabilities to capitalize on rising demand, while international IT security firms are expanding their presence in the country. With leading technology experts stating that the number one priority for UAE firms remains cybersecurity, the market is expected to continue expanding. All the UAE development initiatives also drive the demand for cybersecurity, which will provide many opportunities for American companies.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) opportunities include smart services, the industrial internet, and machine-to-machine communications. There are applications in the public sector for smart cities and telehealth, and enterprise applications include smart metering, asset tracking, and production optimization. The UAE has emerged as a leading global location for the deployment of IoT solutions to enhance public infrastructure, especially Dubai as it aims to become a leading smart city. There is a foundation of cooperation across multiple sectors including ICT, power, transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, and government.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a priority in the UAE. AI is forecast to play a role to contribute almost 14% of the national GDP by 2030 ($96 billion), and the annual growth in the AI contribution to the UAE economy is forecast to grow by 33.5% between 2018 and 2030. As part of the government’s UAE Centennial 2071 plans, the UAE AI Strategy 2031 was launched to improve efficiency in the transport, health, space, renewable energy, water, technology, education, environment, and traffic sectors. The UAE has already begun integrating AI with industries such as education, healthcare, space, transportation, and aviation. AI is a key part of the ambitious plans of the UAE government to diversify their economy and become a knowledge economy. This includes the establishment of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence in Abu Dhabi, part of an effort to develop more talent that can support the growth of the digital economy. The race between Gulf states to have the newest and most sophisticated technology, particularly in the field of AI, provides a large market in which U.S. firms have comparative advantages.
The UAE has made significant investments into projects for smart cities, with goals to build smart cities from scratch and improve the infrastructure in existing cities. Since October 2013, the Dubai authorities have undertaken a mission to transform Dubai into a smart city, with innovations centered on six key areas: transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity, economic services, and urban planning. The Digital Dubai Authority was established to support the city-wide initiative to transform Dubai into the world’s smartest and happiest city. In December 2021, the Dubai Paperless Strategy was fully implemented across all 45 government entities in the emirate, after being launched in 2018. These entities provide more than 1,800 digital services and over 10,500 key transactions.
Examples of initiatives include the provision of public Wi-Fi, electric car charging stations, and live traffic monitoring for the Roads and Transport Authority, highlighting how there are tech-related opportunities for American companies in all sectors of the Emirati economy. UAE authorities will want to maintain the reputation of the UAE as a leading smart country, and continuous public sector investments in large-scale infrastructure projects revolving around smart building will continue growing, providing opportunities for American companies.
5G Mobile Telecommunications
The UAE was the first country in the Arab region and fourth globally to launch its 5G network. Both du and e&, the nation’s leading telecom companies, launched limited 5G networks in 2019, along with the 5G-enabled ZTE Axon 10 Pro smartphone to both post-paid and pre-paid customers. By the end of 2023, it is estimated that 16 million 5G smartphones will be operational in the region. With the UAE being at the forefront of technological advances and given the strong GDP per capita, demand for 5G services is predicted to be strong over the coming years.
In June 2021, e& revealed a 6G project that is estimated to be around 100 times faster than 5G. They have invested in 6G realization by conducting research and developing international standards that are the main building blocks for the 6G ecosystem. The rollout and expansion of the telecom network and infrastructure in the UAE will offer many business opportunities for American companies.
As 5G network adoption continues, the UAE is considering Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) technologies to provide network flexibility, encourage supplier diversity, and drive higher efficiency. In October 2022, du and Intel collaborated to launch a standalone private 5G network solution for the digital transformation of enterprises and IoT services, based on Open RAN in conjunction with Dell Technologies, Radisys, and Foxconn that reforms cost-effective 5G private wireless deployments for operators.
The UAE continues to grow in the technology space. Private and public sector players are seeking to modernize by adopting state-of-the-art solutions and catch the broader global wave of innovation, data utilization, digital transformation, and technological advancement. The UAE’s desire to diversify and build a knowledge economy is creating new opportunities, and the government has set aside large parts of the budget to achieve its ambitious visions and plans. Technology players continue to see the potential to grow their business in the UAE.
According to Business Monitor International, the software and services segments have seen significant investment in areas such as cloud computing, smart services, and cybersecurity. Software and services demand will drive IT spending growth over the medium term, especially demand from large industries for solutions around cloud computing, data analytics, cybersecurity, and IoT. The hardware segment will also see healthy growth as the market tilts towards high-end power users and workstation purchases from the enterprise and commercial sectors.
There is also growth expected in the demand for business management software. Key verticals include process manufacturing, followed by the finance sector, where regulatory compliance and new services, including Islamic banking, will help to create opportunities. The increasing regional and global orientation of the UAE economy is a major driver for locally based small and medium-sized enterprises to enhance the efficiency of their operations.
Trade Shows and Exhibitions
Please contact us for additional information regarding trade shows, U.S. pavilions, and export promotion services that may be available for U.S. companies.
Date: October 16-20, 2023
Venue: Dubai World Trade Center, Dubai, UAE
Date: April 23-25, 2023
Venue: Dubai World Trade Center, Dubai, UAE