Interview: Majd Shweikeh

What are the broad economic implications of the introduction of 4G services in the kingdom?

MAJD SHWEIKEH: 4G technology has the potential to strengthen Jordan’s economic performance, but the extent to which it will promote GDP growth and create new jobs depends on the rate of diffusion of 4G networks and services. We view 4G services in the kingdom not as a luxury, but as a necessity. It sends a signal to foreign investors that Jordan is eager to remain at the cutting edge of technology infrastructure and is keen to create an ecosystem in which ICT firms can thrive. Two of the three operators in Jordan, Zain and Orange, have been granted 4G licenses, while the third, Umniah, is to be granted the license soon. Jordan is proud of its engagement with technology statistics; in 2014 the penetration rate of mobile subscriptions reached 147%, while smartphone penetration exceeded 60% of the population.

The introduction of 4G services in Jordan is expected to present a number of opportunities for sector operators (increasing spectrum efficiency), as well as for individuals and businesses (cost savings, use of cloud applications and increasing use of e-commerce services). Moreover, 4G investment is expected to boost employment, income, productivity and government tax revenues by expanding the workforce and income base. Studies have shown that an increase of $1m in wireless broadband investment results in roughly 10-15 new jobs.

How does Jordan maintain the momentum it has built in becoming a regional ICT hub?

SHWEIKEH: The kingdom’s location enables it to act as a regional ICT hub, in line with the vision of King Abdullah II. Positioned at the heart of the Arab world, Jordan is connected to a potential market of nearly 300m Arabic-speaking individuals. Jordan’s telecommunications infrastructure and technologically savvy population make it an attractive location for multinational corporations involved in ICT. The government is also working towards the completion of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which aims to connect all public schools and universities, government agencies and hospitals to a nationwide fibre-optic network. Once completed, it is expected to bolster e-services such as e-health and e-education. Furthermore, the ministry is offering incentives to ICT entrepreneurs and has several development zones suited to the establishment of ICT operations.

Perhaps Jordan’s most valuable asset in regard to becoming a regional hub is its high level of ICT-related human capital. Our well-established education system graduates over 5700 students with ICT- and IT-related disciplines each year. Companies operating in the Gulf often offer significant financial incentives to attract Jordanians. There are drawbacks and benefits to this pattern: while we are eager to retain our top talent, working abroad is a great opportunity for professional development and knowledge transfer. Moreover, Jordanians working in the Gulf are the source of significant remittances for the kingdom.

Which areas within the ICT sector present opportunities for foreign investors?

SHWEIKEH: As 4G services become more widespread and as the NBN nears completion, there will be opportunities to take part in the “e-transformation” of the economy. Sectors ranging from health to tourism to education will be able to capitalise on new technologies that boost society’s level of connectivity. Jordan’s advanced ICT human capital also presents a comparative advantage for services such as business process outsourcing for multinational companies. Jordan 2025, the kingdom’s development roadmap, has identified ICT as a strategic driver of economic growth and will continue to build an environment conducive to foreign investment in the sector.