Public and private investment drives strong ICT growth in Egypt

The steady advance of ICT over the past decade has left Egypt’s tech industry in a strong position, despite the nation’s ongoing economic and political challenges. The country has seen a significant rise in internet penetration in recent years, as a result of growing usage among middle class Egyptians and the business community, rapidly expanding international bandwidth, as well as the accompanying lower tariffs. From November 2014 through October 2015 the country reported a significant increase in international internet bandwidth of nearly 38%, according to data provided by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT).

Background

Much of the growth of the ICT industry in recent years can be attributed to programmes initiated and developed by state entities, including MCIT, the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) and the public sector internet service provider, TE Data, among others. “Developing new infrastructure and technology parks in an effort to develop the sector’s international reputation is at the centre of our current development programme,” Asmaa Hosny, the CEO of ITIDA, told OBG in mid-2016. “Egypt has long been an ICT hub for the entire MENA region, and we aim to ensure that this remains the case for the foreseeable future.”

Despite the country’s developed ICT sector, there is still substantial room for growth. Egypt’s domestic digital infrastructure – including the telecommunications, fibre-optic cable and wireless networks – is not fully developed, both in terms of geographic coverage and quality of operation and service. Local ICT players, meanwhile, are currently dealing with a number of hurdles, from issues related to importing high-quality ICT equipment from foreign markets, to underdeveloped or inadequate regulations related to intellectual property. Furthermore, in line with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the region, many local firms have struggled to secure bank financing for new research and development (R&D) projects. While an increasing number of young Egyptians are becoming involved in tech-focused start-ups of various kinds, the environment for ICT innovation and the support of SMEs in this area is still relatively in its beginning stages.

In Figures

The fundamentals of the sector are healthy. Mobile broadband, which accounts for the bulk of internet access among Egyptians, has seen rapid expansion in recent years. According to data from MCIT and the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), at of the end of September 2016 – the most recent period for which data was available at time of publication – the country was home to 96.26m mobile subscriptions, a penetration rate of 108.5%. These figures are up from 93.24m subscribers and 107%, respectively, a year earlier, at the end of September 2015. Much of the growth in mobile subscriptions has taken place over the past half decade. Indeed, at the end of 2010 Egypt was home to 70.66m mobile subscribers. This figure expanded to 83.43m by the end of 2011, 96.8m by the end of 2012 and 99.7m by the end of 2013, before tapering off, in large part due to macroeconomic pressures (see Economy chapter).

The majority of Egyptian mobile phone subscribers do not subscribe to mobile internet services. Indeed, according to data from the regulator, as of end-September 2016 just over 27% of all mobile subscribers had functioning, paid-up mobile internet plans in the country. Estimates from the MCIT put total mobile internet usage in Egypt at 29.84m subscribers at the end of 2015, which was equal to a total internet penetration of just under 38% of the population. These figures have jumped considerably over the past half decade, from 14.2m internet users (and penetration of 21.6%) in 2010, to 17.49m (25.6%) in 2011, 18.73m (26.4%) in 2012, 22.04m (29.4%) and 27.25m (31.7%) in 2014. At the end of September 2016, there were 4.41m fixed-line broadband users, which represented just 13% of total internet users. This figure, like mobile internet subscriptions, has increased considerably in recent years, posting growth of 21.14% between September 2015 and September 2016. According to estimates compiled from the MCIT, NTRA and Telecom Egypt (TE), around 43% of fixed-line broadband subscriptions are located in the Greater Cairo area. Another 29% are found in the Delta region, while Upper Egypt and the Alexandria region are both home to 11%. Another 6% is spread across Sinai, the Red Sea region, and along the Suez Canal.

According to a comprehensive ICT-focused survey carried out by the MCIT in cooperation with the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics in 2014, around 45.1% of Egyptian households contain a computer, while 54.8% use a computer regularly and 41.4% use internet services. These figures are up from the previous year. The survey also showed that under 30% of private sector enterprises operating in Egypt maintained a website, while 52% used the internet regularly and almost 74% used computers. The government, meanwhile, was well outfitted with ICT in 2014, with almost 63% of state entities operating a website, just under 90% connected to the internet and 99.8% using computers to carry out business.

Fixed-Line Infrastructure

Egypt has seen enormous growth in international internet connectivity in recent years. From November 2014 through October 2015 Egypt reported an increase in international internet bandwidth of nearly 38%, according to data from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). Egypt is connected to 10 of the 18 submarine fibre-optic cables that pass through the Mediterranean Sea off and via Suez into the Red Sea. As of the end of August 2016, according to MCIT data, Egypt boasted total international internet bandwidth in excess of 1032 Gbps. By the end of September 2016, meanwhile, this figure was equal to international internet bandwidth per 100 inhabitants of 11,646 Mbps, up by almost 50% from 7400 Mbps at the end of 2015 and 5297 Mbps at the end of 2014, for instance. The most recent figure is more than three times higher than the end-2013 bandwidth per person of 2975 Mbps. This jump reflects the government’s push in recent years to significantly boost Egypt’s basic internet infrastructure. A series of major initiatives developed and carried out by the MCIT and TE – the latter of which controls all fixed-line networks in the country – has resulted in a considerable boost in terms of speed and bandwidth since 2010, and a subsequent decline in cost for Egyptians.

Indeed, according to MCIT data, from the end of the second quarter of 2015 through the same period in 2016, the lowest-cost subscription package for access to broadband internet dropped in price from just under $10 to around $5.60. This reflects TE’s efforts to lower wholesale internet prices in recent years, in line with long-term plans to improve and expand its domestic fibre-optic cable network. The move has subsequently filtered through Egypt’s over 200 internet service providers to positively impact the nation’s consumers. In 2015 alone, for instance, TE allocated LE3bn (equivalent to $159m as of December 2016) for infrastructure investments, up from LE2.5bn ($132.5m) the previous year. The price drop has had the effect of positively impacting TE’s bottom line, with revenues rising 9.2% in 2015, following a tax-related revenue decline in 2014. As the sole holder of the NTRA’s new unified licence, TE is well situated to continue to consolidate its hold over the country’s telecoms and ICT market, SECTOR OVERSIGHT: A range of public entities are involved in regulating, planning and developing Egypt’s ICT capabilities and infrastructure. The MCIT plays a major role in this regard in a number of areas, including by facilitating ICT-focused investments and exports across the economy; working to significantly increase both the number of ICT professionals and the number of ICT jobs available in the country; improving the country’s competitiveness in terms of overall technology revenues and intellectual property oversight; and promoting ICT R&D and innovation, particularly among Egypt’s local entrepreneurs.

Most of the MCIT’s development programmes are run by ITIDA, which was established by the ministry in 2004 with a mandate to serve as the country’s executive ICT development and implementation arm. Since then ITIDA has taken an active approach to sector development, in line with its formal mission, which involves “identifying the needs of the local IT industry and addressing them with well-designed programmes, policy advice, promoting trade in local and international markets, and being a strategic advisor to local and international companies.”

As of 2016 ITIDA was involved in a number of ongoing development programmes, broadly organised into five key areas. First, the organisation oversees a range of initiatives aimed at supporting and developing ICT implementation and upgrades among Egyptian companies. Areas of focus in this segment include capacity building, training and education, market outreach, export development, access to finance, developing new products, quality certification and technical and research funding, among others. Second, ITIDA provides support, both financial and technical, for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship activities carried out by local firms and developers. The agency also operates various training and educational initiatives, is involved in efforts to attract new investors to Egypt’s ICT industry, and works to ensure that the nation’s business ecosystem for ICT activities and further development is on par with international best practices. “We are lucky to have a good base to start from and that education in IT is adequate for market demand, so it is not hard to develop the human capital necessary for a given position,” Khalid Hammouda, managing director of Teradata Egypt, told OBG.

Planning Efforts

In mid-February 2016 President Abdel Fattah El Sisi announced Egypt’s Vision 2030, a major new government development programme organised into four strategic dimensions, namely, those regarding economic, environmental and social development. The broad goals of the plan include boosting GDP growth from around 4% in early 2016 to 12% by 2030, and reducing the deficit from 11.5% to 2.2% (see Economy chapter).

In line with the state’s new overarching economic development programme, in mid-2016 the MCIT launched Egypt’s ICT 2030 Strategy. Building on a number of previous medium and long-term ICT development strategies, the new plan aims to “enable the development of a knowledge-based society as well as a strong digital economy relying on equitable and affordable access to knowledge, digital rights, and the development of a competitive, innovative national ICT strategy,” according to the MCIT. The plan is expected to include a series of targets for ICT, only a handful of which had been released at time of publication. For instance, under the Vision 2030, the MCIT plans to improve Egypt’s ranking on the ICT sub-category of the “Global Innovation Index” from 73rd in the world as of early 2016, to 50th by 2020 and to 30th by 2030. The index, which has been published since 2007, ranks countries by innovative regulations, output and environments. The ICT industry is expected to play a central role in the enactment of Vision 2030 as a whole. The plan acknowledges and is expected to seek to overcome many of Egypt’s fundamental ICT challenges, including infrastructure issues and the nation’s continued reliance on foreign ICT imports for hardware and software.

Tech Parks

A majority of ITIDA’s ongoing development programmes, including technology parks will likely eventually be folded into the new ICT Vision 2030. A key focus of the agency as of early 2016 was the development of a number of new technology park projects. This follows on from an announcement from the MCIT in September 2014 that it planned to tender construction contracts for five new technology parks across the country, estimated at a total value of LE20bn ($1.06bn). Since then, construction has moved quickly on two of the parks, at Borg El Arab and New Assiut, respectively.

As of mid-2016 the ITIDA was in the process of developing an incentive package to attract major technology firms and talent to the new parks. “We recently finished up an analysis of Egypt’s strategic advantages in terms of ICT development,” Hossam Osman, vice president of ITIDA, told OBG. “We are now using this data to develop incentives for the parks, and to ensure that the eventual tenant mix is both sustainable and generative of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout Egypt.”

The country already hosts two dedicated technology parks in Cairo, namely Smart Village in 6th of October City near Cairo’s western reaches, and Maadi Technology Park in the capital’s south. The latter ICT park, which is a relatively new addition to the recent spate of technology-focused developments, is only partially completed, and has reportedly attracted a considerable amount of interest from a wide range of domestic and international ICT firms.

In May 2016 the state announced that ITIDA had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria-based Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport to develop an unspecified number of new technology parks outside of Egypt’s major urban centres. Shortly thereafter the MCIT launched Silicon Waha, a new joint stock company with a mandate to create “a series of specialised business and technology parks across second tier cities in Egyptian governorates”, according to the firm’s mission statement. “The scale of our efforts to increase the reach of the technology industry across the country is enormous,” said Hosny, CEO of ITIDA. “The idea is to attract ICT companies away from Cairo and Alexandria and into the country’s smaller cities.” Silicon Waha has tech park projects either underway or planned in Borg Al Arab, Sadat City, 10 Ramadan City, Beni Suef, Assiut and Aswan.

Start-Up Scene

In line with the establishment of dedicated tech parks, both the Egyptian government and the private sector alike have expressed an interest in developing a start-up culture in the country. This effort is already underway in places like the GrEEK Campus, in downtown Cairo. From 1964 through 2013, the GrEEK Campus operated as part of the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) downtown facilities. In 2013, however, the AUC leased the property to the Tahrir Alley Technology Park, which set about installing office spaces and inviting technology entrepreneurs to set up shop for minimal cost. Since then the project has taken off, with the GrEEK Campus hosting a growing number of Egyptian start-ups, conferences and small companies from other sectors, some of which are only nominally tech-related. Egypt’s thriving start-up culture is in part due to community initiatives like the GrEEK Campus and in part as a result of government-led efforts to encourage an entrepreneurial outlook among the nation’s large youth population. Food delivery mobile applications like Otlob and HelloFood have reportedly attracted large numbers of regular users, particularly among the capital city’s growing middle class population. Other apps offer online real estate searches (Aqarmap), Arabic-language video and film streaming (Diwan Videos, MoviePigs) and a variety of online shopping (Jumia, souq.com, Yaoota).

The state is working to play a larger role in further facilitating technology innovation and start-ups. In 2010 ITIDA launched the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre (TIEC) at Smart Village, with a mandate to “stimulate an innovation-based economy through strategising, facilitating and promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, and the creation of intellectual property in ICT and its applications”. TIEC runs a range of incubation centres across the country, and is involved in assisting start-ups with various technical, financial and support issues. The centre operates egyptinnovate.com, an online repository of information for ICT-related firms, from individual start-up founders to relatively well-established SMEs. TIEC, in conjunction with its parent organisation ITIDA and the MCIT, also offers a wide range of training courses, covering topics like coding, design and business management. These courses are generally offered via local universities.

Outlook

While Egypt’s strong fundamentals, state-led support programmes and large tech-savvy workforce bode well for the future of the domestic ICT industry, numerous challenges lie ahead. The complete impact of the recent issuance of a new mobile telecoms license to TE, the monopoly fixed-line operator, has yet to be realised, for instance, although many market watchers expect TE to significantly increase its infrastructure investments in the coming years (see Telecoms chapter). Local ICT firms, including companies operating as part of the nation’s large outsourcing segment, continue to face a range of challenges related to securing bank financing, importing hardware and other equipment, and Egypt’s legal framework, among other issues. ITIDA and other state-run entities are working to ensure both that private firms are well supported during what is widely agreed to be a challenging economic period, and that the ICT sector continues its growth and expansion.

President El Sisi’s Vision 2030 programme has the potential to generate a considerable increase in government support for the ICT sector. Under the MCIT’s ICT 2030 Strategy, technology – and the technology sector – is poised to take up a position at the centre of Egypt’s economy for the foreseeable future. TIEC’s current push to support ICT training and education across the country should act as a support in this initiative. Similarly, ITIDA’s concerted recent efforts to develop technology parks across Egypt – with a particular focus on areas not normally associated with ICT development – bode well for the growth.

 

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The Report: Egypt 2017

Telecoms & IT chapter from The Report: Egypt 2017