UAE – the United Arab Emirates – has been a distinct icon for technology, innovation, research and economic development. Marking its 50-year journey, the celebration of the UAE's golden jubilee year was held in 2021. In keeping with this focus, Vision 2021 has turned key national priorities into reality.
The quality of processes and path to implementation undertaken by the UAE have driven the nation to not only survive during the pandemic, but to eventually thrive in the connected age. This is where digital technologies become a success factor, and the UAE has certainly excelled in them.
Creating the right environment for innovation is key to the success of innovative endeavors, which is why the UAE National Innovation Strategy seeks to develop an environment that promotes and enables innovation through the right regulatory framework, comprehensive service enablements, technology infrastructure enhancements and the availability of investments and incentives.
Moreover, the UAE’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Strategy aims to strengthen the UAE's position as a global hub for 4IR and to increase its contribution to the national economy by means of advancing innovation and future technologies.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai even approved the National Policy for Quality of Digital Life to create a safe digital community in the UAE and to promote appropriate digital interactions at all times.
These are just some of the numerous efforts of the UAE to keep pace with the latest local and international developments in the digital world and motivate the digital community comprising both the public and private sectors. Notably, the UAE has ranked phenomenally high globally in three key pillars: technology, readiness for the future and knowledge.
By and large, the UAE achieved great leaps towards a comprehensive digital transformation, counting on the great development in the ICT sector and leveraging the country’s technological infrastructure.
An ICT Leader
To attain UAE’s innovation pillars, among the focuses are to implement a first-class, competitive and cost-efficient technology infrastructure and to ensure the optimal use of ICT in acquiring and disseminating knowledge.
Accelerating in the technology space, UAE supports various ICT trends that are crucial for development – from broadband internet access to internet and multimedia tools, as well as cloud and other emerging technologies.
The nation continues to be among the most attractive ICT markets in the Middle East, with both the private and public sectors playing their roles. According to a recent report by the Middle East Institute, the UAE’s ICT spending will reach $23 billion by 2024.
The UAE was the first country in the Arab region and fourth globally to launch 5G. Both of its leading operators – Etisalat and du – have contributed greatly to the telecom service quality and access in the country. The UAE has ranked first in terms of mobile speed at 193.51 Mbps, and among the top 20 countries globally in the fixed broadband index. These are prerequisites to delivering the best and most advanced telecom services in the UAE. In 2021, Abu Dhabi was also ranked among the fastest capitals globally in the 5G network index, with the fastest median download speeds of 421.26 Mbps.
With all of these milestones, 5G has taken the country to the next level and put UAE ahead of the curve. Expo 2020 Dubai was hailed as the world’s fastest event, recording an impressive median download speed of 983.19 Mbps across its six-month duration. A testament to Etisalat’s network build, the venue’s 5G download speeds peaked at over 2 Gbps. In retrospect, du has enabled Global Village as the world’s first 5G-powered entertainment destination.
Telecom providers have also worked continuously in providing the highest penetration of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity by modernizing their networks and increasing local and international network and data capacity. As a result, the UAE has ranked third globally on the most connected countries’ index, measuring the level of communication on mobility infrastructure, information technology and global and social communication.
Between 2017 and 2022, the UAE cloud computing industry is forecasted to create over 32,000 jobs. Within the region, the UAE leads in terms of attracting data center investments, with Microsoft, IBM and Amazon Web Services (AWS) establishing facilities in the country from 2019 until the present. As one of the largest data center hubs in the Middle East, up to $1 billion in additional investments are projected by 2026.
In addition, the estimated spending on UAE’s cloud computing sector is projected to be worth almost $2 billion by year’s end 2022. A growing number of organizations in the UAE have migrated some or all of their on-premises IT infrastructure deployments to SaaS, IaaS and PaaS cloud environments. Relatively, a Cisco research revealed that IT decision-makers across the UAE are maximizing their investments in multi-cloud infrastructure, cloud and network security, and cloud applications between 2021-2022. Being a fundamental part of digital transformation as outlined in the UAE’s Vision 2021, cloud computing helps to drive resiliency and agility within enterprises.
- Artificial Intelligence
Over the past decade, UAE has been among the countries with the largest AI investments in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region. As part of the government’s UAE Centennial 2071 plans, the UAE AI Strategy 2031 was created to improve efficiency in various sectors. It marks the post-mobile government phase which will rely on future services and infrastructure projects. "We are looking at AI as a tool," said UAE minister of state for AI, Omar bin Sultan al-Olama. "It's a tool that we need to use to unleash the quality of life aspect."
Overall, AI is forecasted to contribute almost 14% of the national GDP by 2030, adding 33.5% growth to the UAE economy between 2018 and 2030. A Microsoft AI report conducted in 2019 also found that around 70% of double-digit growth companies in the UAE intend to use AI in the coming years to improve decision-making.
With cyber safety and digital security taken seriously, among the goals of the UAE’s national cybersecurity strategy is tapping into the country’s AED 1.8 billion cybersecurity market. In fact, the country was ranked fifth globally for a robust cybersecurity infrastructure as per ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Index 2020 report. Moreover, in order to tackle the rising levels of cybercrime, the UAE government is expected to increase its budget allocation for cybersecurity substantially over the next five years and beyond.
As one of the initiatives of protecting the UAE’s critical data information infrastructure, the government introduced the UAE Information Assurance Standards, mandating all government organizations and selected businesses to comply. The UAE’s Cybersecurity Council has also signed an MoU with Huawei to collaborate in the strengthening of local strategies and efforts related to cybersecurity, based on the public-private-partnership model.
Digital Transformation Journey
It is worth noting that the UAE is among the top 25% of countries in the most important global digital indicators. Among all GCC countries, the UAE has exhibited some of the most advanced and unique innovations, benefiting its citizens at large. “We are building a new reality for our people, a new future for our children and a new model of development,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said.
The UAE has seven emirates – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. For a holistic digital transformation journey, several local governments’ strategies and plans have been put into place.
- As part of the Digital Dubai plan, the Smart Dubai Digital Strategy 2021 is focused on delivering seamless, efficient, safe and personalized services, resources and experiences. Notably, Dubai has successfully become the world’s first paperless government.
- Abu Dhabi’s Digital Transformation Strategy also aims to make the emirate a leading proponent and key driver of its digital future, with its Digital Authority prioritizing government services and solutions, data and applied technologies, as well as ecosystem enablement.
- Ajman 2021 focuses on building a happy society that will contribute to building a green economy, supported by modern, comprehensive government policies and incentives. As part of its digital master plan, 80% of digital services should be adopted by its government in 2021.
- Umm Al Quwain Vision 2021 focuses on providing high-quality living standards for a cohesive society with the government offering excellent comprehensive services and accelerating the transformation towards becoming an eGovernment.
- Ras Al Khaimah’s Electronic Government Authority (EGA) was founded to transform its society into an online community through the application of the latest technologies that can digitalize and automate processes, making RAK an attractive place to live, work and invest.
- Since the founding of Fujairah’s E-Government Department in 2003, the organization has achieved great strides in advancing the digital transformation of its services. The Fujairah 2040 framework is also working towards sustainable economic growth and urban development.
- The Sharjah Digital platform has been a milestone in the emirate’s digital transformation, enabling it to forge Sharjah’s digital identity and cater to both individuals and the private sector. It offers services on business, transportation, utilities, social services, real estate and security.
UAE’s digital transformation has added value to everyone within its territory by promoting efficiency in the way they do business, ensuring faster time-to-market by using numerous digital platforms available and enabling innovation to drive new services.
The UAE has emerged as one of the world’s leading healthcare hubs, receiving its latest recognition for digital transformation in the healthcare category at WSIS 2022. Here, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) showcased the Riayati platform, the national unified medical record system. A tech-enabled ecosystem has led to advancements in both patient care delivery and digital healthcare.
Big data, cloud computing and AI platforms in the UAE offer medical solutions that are personalized, preventive and predictive. These include MoHAP’s Medopad smart app that continuously monitors and analyzes patient data to predict life-threatening medical conditions and to allow for proactive healthcare services as well as ALHOSN, the official UAE app for COVID-19-related information, including a color-coded tracker, vaccination certificate and travel pass.
The UAE is also an advocate of smart learning. As per Jameela Al Muheiri, Minister of State for Public Education, smart education was implemented on a large scale in 2017 and 2018 and was fully adopted in 2019. Moreover, the UAE’s AI ministry has proposed the adoption of an AI curriculum and the launch of six smart platforms to integrate technology within the education system.
During the pandemic, the Ministry of Education (MoE) started collaborating with Yahsat to provide high-speed satellite broadband services to students and teachers at various locations, extending the reach of MoE’s Remote Schooling initiative and encouraging students to access e-learning platforms.
The UAE has made significant investments to build smart cities across all emirates. Examples of initiatives include the provision of public Wi-Fi, electric car charging stations and live traffic monitoring. In 2022, Dubai has been rated first in the Middle East and 18th globally among the most digitalized cities in the world.
Other remarkable initiatives include the Emirates Blockchain Strategy 2021 which aims to capitalize on blockchain in transforming 50% of government transactions; the UAE Pass app, the first national digital identity and signature solution, utilized for government service access across the country; the Mohammed bin Rashid Library, first in the region to have a comprehensive AI system in streamlining the processes of borrowing and returning books; and the collaboration between the UAE Cybersecurity Council (CSC) and AWS to accelerate innovation and digital transformation services in the public sector and regulated industries, in line with the UAE’s economic and national agendas.
The UAE’s success in the field of space is promising as well, as it has the largest space sector in the region, both in diversity and the size of investments. As per the UAE Space Agency, the country has more than AED 20 billion of national investments in space technologies. Examples of this utilization include the Mars Hope probe project and the Emirates Lunar Mission 2024.
In February 2021, the UAE became the first Arab nation and fifth country to reach Mars, intending to collect and transmit data about the planet, helping create the first complete depiction of the Martian atmosphere. By 2028, another Emirati interplanetary mission will take place to explore the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Such an endeavor is designed to further accelerate UAE’s space engineering, scientific research and exploration capabilities and to drive opportunity in the country’s private sector.
Autonomous vehicles are becoming a reality in the UAE, establishing the Emirates as the first country in the Middle East and the second globally to test self-driving cars outdoors. The region’s first 5G autonomous vehicle shuttle bus hit the public roads of Ajman in 2021, an initiative led by the government accelerator AjmanX and Etisalat.
Dubai will also be one of the first cities to issue rules for the commercial use of autonomous vehicles in 2022, with RTA planning to roll out driverless taxis in the emirate in 2023. In Abu Dhabi, the first public trials of the TXAI autonomous taxi service took place in 2021, with the second phase of the program scheduled for mid-2022.