Notes about mobile use in MENA

With no surprise, mobile phone usage has increased in these two countries (call it political revolution, social media fascination, and a high concentration of connectors/community-oriented folk). Attached are pictures of mobile phones and a few findings which hopefully informas and maybe piques more interest (like data gathering) on device-use in the Middle East and North Africa. To start... In Egypt, there are four main cellular communication services:

  • Mobinil
  • Vodafone Egypt
  • Etisalat Egypt
  • Orascom Telecom Holding
HTC Windows device and iPod.1owner
File:Hala Blackberry ad at Qatar Airport.jpg
Hala Blackberry ad at Qatar Airport
Transformer-like phone
Researcher- Sara Yap
October 2011
Mobile Use in MENA

In Qatar, the lone carrier is:

  • Qtel
Mobile Use and the Impact on Arabic
One Egyptian professor stated: "The uptick in phone use will cause Arabic readership to increase; writing in Modern Standard Arabic will be helpful or essential for people if they want to participate in the communication wave, whether through texting or emailing. People want to stay informed on the current events happening across the MENA region."
What Does This Mean?

Several thoughts:

  • Technology could play a role in resuscitating Arabic.
  • Between the varied opinions, and two different economies (Qatar and Egypt), undoubtedly reading and writing in Arabic and English will increase.
  • Arabic content on Wikipedia could boost readership on mobile [1] in this region if people have these types of devices.
  • On the flip-side, the professor and I discussed that English could also grow as the “lingua franca”, thus decreasing Arabic readership; however, I don't have the modeling tools to predict this. :(
In Cairo, many locals use cheaper, no-name brand phones that have great media functions. For many, capturing the local protests through videos and photos is still important for sharing content with a wider audience. Of course this is just a sample size of the community, but it reflects how people are using technology for another different set of purposes in Egypt. One person commented that some phones look like Transformers: one moment it can makes calls and within seconds, snap into a camera for pictures or videos. In general, Egyptians are heavy users of mobile phones (just sit in the back of a taxi and you’ll witness this).
iPhones would be more popular if priced lower and if data was cheaper. Cairenes use a mix of mobile brands from Korea, phones less commonly seen in the United States. Egyptians primarily send text messages, make calls and use the media function on a phone. Emailing is a lower priority (which explains the lag in response time!).
In Egypt, people tend to browse the Internet less because of the costs of sending data. Another sample size of users owned mostly Blackberries (primarily to send text messages and email). Transferring data also costs less on a Blackberry.

Use of Mobile Web -- Facebook, IM apps, etc. From a limited sample size in Cairo, I didn't see many people using apps or logging into Facebook (due to high data expenses) unless they were within reach of WiFi.

Challenges of Reading Arabic on Phones and Accessing Wikipedia

1. Many people don't know that they can access Wikipedia on their phones
2. Arabic script renders incorrectly on certain mobile platforms
3. There is a lack of Arabic content on Arabic Wikipedia so people will search less in this language
4. Data costs are high in Egypt
5. Low literacy rates, especially in the rural areas of Egypt

Samples of Phones Used in Egypt and Qatar

1. Person 1 (Egypt): uses two devices simultaneously

Phones: HTC Windows device and 1 iPod touch for the WiFi aspect
Findings: Arabic Wikipedia displays correctly on iPod touch (expected!)

2. Person 2 (Qatar): one device

Phone: Nokia E72 (Vodafone)
Findings: Arabic Wikipedia on the Nokia renders correctly on the Nokia E72

3. Person 3 (Egypt): one device

Phone: LG GS505
Findings: Arabic Wikipedia was garbled. Person uses phone only for texting and email, not necessarily for talking.
Added note: In Qatar, Blackberry phones and Nokia smartphones seem to be the preferred devices.

Additional Research: Interviewees from Jordan and Palestinian Territories

How do people top up their phones?
There are phone pre-paid plans where people pay a yearly fee or use a rebate card(?). Jawal is the most expensive. Orange, Zain and Omnia are also popular carriers. I spoke with one Jordanian woman and she uses three phone lines. She is committed to Orange (since '06) because the rates are good and the network is coverage is decent. Palestinians uses Jawal which is the most popular. Palestinians have more restricted coverage and 3G use in their area.
Would people be willing to do a quick surveys/answering a few questions? Why/why not?
It depends on the length of the survey and how will this benefit our country (she recommends communicating the incentives to respond in the survey). It also depends on the number on questions. 20 minutes is time consuming for doing a survey.
How do people get their news?
People hear about updates on technology, companies, ideas, etc. through Facebook and less through Twitter. Newspapers are also helpful sources of information. She also uses Wikipedia
This person who is in a technical field was not aware that Wikipedia could be edited.