The ICT sector in Qatar received a boost last March with the launch of the Smart Qatar Programme, or Tasmu, which aims to generate significant revenue for the economy and stimulate job growth.
The QR6bn ($1.6bn) programme is expected to generate QR40bn ($11bn) over the next five years and includes 100 projects for local and foreign companies, which will be supported financially by Qatar Development Bank. The projects touch on all aspects of the country’s development and daily lives of its citizens, including health care, sports, transport, energy consumption and food security.
A key aim is to promote the nation’s start-up ecosystem, fostering the development of small and medium-sized ICT firms and providing financial support to 50 new Qatari enterprises. As a result, the number of jobs in ICT is expected to increase by 10% per year.
Digital partnership opportunities increasing
In addition to benefitting local enterprises, the programme is set to provide fresh opportunities for international players.
At the launch in March the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) signed a series of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with local and international players, including the Qatar Stock Exchange, Beijing’s International Smart City Research Centre, Huawei, Estonia’s e-Government Academy and US-based UI Labs. The agreements cover a range of projects to develop start-ups, and call for research projects around the themes of open data, big data analytics and the internet of things for smart cities.
Working to increase ICT awareness, lower costs
Qatar is encouraging a range of initiatives to increase ICT awareness among the population. Recent initiatives by the government – such as the training of web developers and designers, or the development of IT talent programmes by the MTC – aim to ensure the country strengthens its ICT and innovation fundamentals.
Globally speaking, Qatar is already well placed in terms of digital technology readiness and innovation. In the “Global Information Technology Report 2016” by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Qatar ranked 27th out of 139 markets on the networked readiness index, which aggregates data from 53 indicators. The country performed strongly in several segments, including government use of ICT and national ICT skills, placing fifth for both worldwide. The regulatory landscape, as well as business and innovation environment also ranked high, coming in at 18th and 15th, respectively.
However, with the country ranking 120th on the WEF’s affordability sub-index, there is scope to bring down the cost of ICT in some areas.
Some services, such as leased lines, are comparatively expensive, leading the sector regulator, the Communications Regulatory Authority, to announce in December that it was seeking to boost the availability of competitively priced services for business to support the country’s economic diversification.
By contrast, in 2015 the cost of an entry-level purchase of at least 500 MB of pre-paid data for a mobile handset – which in Qatar actually buys customers 3 GB of data – was equivalent to 0.29% of GNI per capita in 2015, the 18th cheapest in the world, according to the International Telecommunication Union. This improved to sixth cheapest for the post-paid purchase of 1 GB of computer-based mobile broadband (at 0.21% of GNI per capita).