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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) is one of the world's most vibrant and fast-growing mobile markets—and one of the largest. Only Asia-Pacific can boast more mobile phone users. eMarketer estimates that just over 606 million people in the Middle East and Africa will have at least one mobile phone this year, and the total will pass 789 million in 2019.
The fifth annual edition of eMarketer's Global Media Intelligence Report, produced in conjunction with Starcom Mediavest Group, analyzes recent developments in MEA, which has suffered setbacks in the past year, as civil unrest, escalating violence, political instability and medical crises afflicted the region. It includes demographic and media usage information on audiences in Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
Smartphone usage in many Middle Eastern markets jumped again in 2014. According to Ipsos MediaCT, 79% of Saudi Arabia's entire population used an advanced handset last year; in UAE the corresponding figure was 91%, a gain of nearly 20 percentage points in a single year. In Kuwait, penetration rose from 49% to 86% in just two years, Ipsos reported.
Smartphone usage in the Middle East and Africa is climbing more rapidly than eMarketer projected a year ago, and we have revised our forecasts upward. We now estimate that the smartphone population in MEA will pass 106 million this year. On the other hand, fewer than 18% of mobile phone users in the region will have such a device. In 2019, that share is expected to reach 22.0%, as the number of residents with a smartphone approaches 174 million.
Two segments of the population are driving smartphone usage: consumers trading up from more basic feature phones, and new subscribers—particularly younger, affluent individuals—entering the market at a time when smartphones are affordable for them. Tablets are also proliferating, though cost is still a barrier for many consumers.
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