In October 2012 the Kuwaiti Ministry of Communications (MoC) issued a decree authorising Kuwait’s three mobile providers to roll out their long-anticipated fourth-generation long-term evolution (4G LTE) high-speed data services. The nation’s increasingly data-hungry consumer base will have a much smoother experience streaming video on handsets and tablets, and data usage limits imposed by operators will be more generous and competitively priced.

A FEW TECHNICALITIES: The MoC’s announcement was well-received by the nation’s handset importers and retailers, who had been delivering the latest smartphone models operating on various frequency bands despite uncertainty regarding the frequency the MoC would designate for the new LTE licences. The October announcement revealed that the 1800-MHz frequency band will be used for the new system, which was an important clarification. In practical terms, this means that compatible mobile phones, modems, tablets, hotspots and dongles will be able to take advantage of the high speeds offered by LTE technology, which currently is the fastest version of 4G, a standard that is considered the next major evolutionary stage of the mobile internet. Telecoms operators in Saudi Arabia became the first in the region to adopt the technology when they unveiled their 4G networks in 2011, and since then a number of Gulf operators have followed suit. The data transfer speeds available to customers of Kuwait’s mobile operators will certainly witness a significant increase: Zain’s 4G LTE offering, for example, has an upper limit of 100 Mbps, compared to 21.6 Mbps on the older 3G service. Wataniya has stated that speeds up to 150 Mbps may be attainable as both software and infrastructure evolve.

REACTION: The MoC is requesting KD250,000 ($892,200) for a licence to operate on 4G LTE, and it came as little surprise to industry observers that all three players announced plans to obtain one and roll out their respective services. The pace at which their various offerings are being brought to market, however, varies considerably. Zain took the lead in terms of deployment, announcing the launch of its 4G LTE network in November 2012 and adding two new pricing bands to its established “Wiyana Connect” service.

Under the new terms, customers can choose from two new capacity limits for data transferred at 4G LTE speed: a 12 GB limit for KD16 ($57.15) per month and an 80 GB limit for KD24 ($85.72) per month.

VIVA’s 4G LTE service came much later than Zain’s, but was delivered in a more seamless manner. In March 2013 the company announced all of its current internet customers will be upgraded to the new 4G LTE network without any additional charge over their existing package rate; all other voice customers will be able to access the system by sending an SMS request. Wataniya, meanwhile, is taking a slightly more circumspect approach to its 4G LTE implementation. In December 2012 it began a testing phase of the service, inviting customers to participate. The firm now offers 4G in some areas with plans to expand the service to the rest of Kuwait by the end of 2013.

POTENTIAL: The apparently inexorable rise of the smartphone underpins the future take-up of the 4G LTE services currently being rolled out by all three of Kuwait’s mobile operators. The increasingly popular free video and audio communication applications, enhanced messaging services and video streaming all require the fast data transfer speeds which the technology offers. Business Monitor International anticipates handset sales to continue to grow in the short term, rising from the $196m sold in 2012 to reach $218m in 2013, an increase of 11.3%. Both the established and anticipated expansion have been greatly aided by the operators’ decision to promote smartphone purchases by bundling the devices with usage packages. The anticipated short-term expansion of smartphone sales augurs well for 4G LTE take-up. The longer-term prospects regarding 4G LTE adoption are positive too.

The cost barrier, frequently cited as a hindrance to growth in other markets, is less of an obstacle in Kuwait.