Mobile Dominates MENA Digital Trends - ArabNet Beirut 2016

Mohamad Salhab, Mar 06 2016

Technology has witnessed a massive shift in platforms over the last two decades. The years 2001-2006 saw the rise of search engines. These were followed by the emergence of social networks  from 2007-2012. Since 2013, we have been experiencing the growth of messaging platforms, carried by the rising tide of smartphone penetration.

Speakers at the opening panel discussion of ArabNet Beirut 2016 confirmed this, and shared their insights into the mobile industry.

Messaging Has Taken Over Traditional Publishers' Audience

The panelists predicted a further leap in smartphone usage across Africa, Asia, and the MENA, accompanied by an increase in messaging. Turi Menthe, Venture Partner at North Base Media, believes messaging has replaced the traditional content publishers.

Two decades ago, a newspaper knew its circulation and hence its audience. Publications were then taken over by the SEOs, after which the power moved to social networks. Today, content has to be tweaked to follow the emerging trends of messaging platforms, the likes of Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, which have captured audiences.

Menthe explained that a lot less money is allocated to traditional media outlets because of the shift that is driven by younger generations towards messaging. “In markets that are economically less well off, data is expensive, and that is why there is a focus on messaging as a cheap means of delivering services,” he said.

Diversity and Copying Show Great Potential

"The MENA region is exceptional, you cannot just bring hot trends and dump them here. There is potential for growing what is new, and this can be derived from the diverse cultural mix within the MENA,” explained Menthe.

Marvin Liao, Partner at 500Startups, said that lots of ideas already established in other places, particularly in China, are being adopted in MENA. “Technologies and business models such as payment services and basic infrastructure are being copied in Arab countries. Copying will open doors for testing and further learning along the way, for ultimately creating what the region wants and needs.”

The Shift in Favor of Customer Needs

Kimberly Samaha, Managing Partner at Synthesis Venture Fund Partners, said that mobile phones are game changing revenue drivers and this applies to all sectors, from energy to education and healthcare. “The fundamental change worldwide in the next 5 years, will be all about connecting with the customer needs,” she said.

Smaller companies of today are "born global" and, according to Samaha, there is a pattern that is replacing the traditional corporate model of profit and putting customer services and needs ahead.

New Regulations for a Promising Ecosystem

During his talk on the State of the Mobile Economy, Jawad Abbassi, Head of MENA - GSMA, said that a fresh legislative look ought to follow the emerging mobile and messaging trends.

"Telecom has evolved to digital and requires regulatory framework. Dominant, radical players of messaging are giving the sector a fresh look. Similarly, future regulations are to take the new perspectives of these services into consideration- not just taxing the mobile industry as a whole,” said  Abbassi. 

Watch the full panel below:

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