Industry Thought Leadership

The RIPE NCC Throws Light on the Current State of Internet in the GCC Countries, Yemen and Iraq

February, 2021


The RIPE NCC previously published a series of Internet country reports. The latest report produced by the RIPE NCC in this series examines the Internet landscape in the following countries: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen, as part of an ongoing effort to support Internet development through our service region by making our data and insights available to leaders, decision and policy makers, industry players and Internet community.

The report gives a detailed outlook on the Internet infrastructure, connectivity and routing within the Gulf region aiming at helping mobile operators and Internet service providers to drive the development and future growth of their networks. The report reaches several conclusions to reach a healthy, competitive digital landscape that cannot be fully realised until a number of enhancements take place.

The analyses and results are based on data collected by the RIPE NCC measurements tools and a number of external data sources.

Growth in Local Internet Registries (LIRs): The report shows that Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and even Kuwait have shown significant growth over the past decade in establishing local networks. The report indicates that Iraq overtook the GCC countries with the most Local Internet Registries (LIRs). On the other hand, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen have experienced far less growth, with some even decreasing their number of LIRs.

The number of private networks (ASNs) in a given country is one indication of market maturity. These networks encourage interconnection, offer security and increase resiliency in the market. As more service providers enter the domestic market, this will drive down costs and increase innovation – all of which support the long-term health of the local Internet ecosystem.

Demand for connectivity and depletion of IPv4: Mobile Internet connectivity has had a faster growth and penetration rate than fixed broadband in the Gulf, given the region’s high reliance on mobile access. The region has some of the highest mobile subscriptions per capita in the world.

As more and more organisations scrambled to get access to Internet networks, demand for IPv4 in the region increased with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and other countries acquiring more IPv4 addresses from the secondary market. Saudi Arabia is the most dominant of the Gulf countries in the transfer market followed by the United Arab Emirates, the report indicates.

Need for IPv6 deployment: Despite IPv4’s dwindling availability and its increasing cost on the secondary market, many countries in the Gulf region continue to struggle with IPv6 deployment. Although Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have substantially increased their IPv6 holdings in recent years, there are vast differences when it comes to actual deployment rates. The UAE leads the region in IPv6 deployment followed by Saudi Arabia.

Dependency on International Internet exchange points (IXPs): Recent years have seen an increase in the number of Internet exchange points (IXPs) in the Gulf region with Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates each having at least one operational IXP.

While some Gulf countries lead the world in indicators such as mobile penetration and Internet speeds, the region lags far behind, with most traffic being sent far outside the region. Providers in the Gulf region prefer International IXPs such as in Amsterdam and Frankfurt, with traffic being sent across distant locations rather than making use of regional IXPs. These detours generally increase costs for the network operator and, more importantly, the additional distance travelled unnecessarily increases the risk of disruptions.

Protecting data and networks: Routing security could be greatly improved in the region by adopting the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI), a digital certificate that helps network operators make more secure routing decisions.

The report calls mobile operators and Internet service providers to certify their Internet number resources and share best current operational practices around routing security in general. This is in order to better safeguard the Internet and reduce the risk of a hack. There is a need for open diverse markets that allow for greater connectivity, multiple access points, and increased choice in service providers.

Some of the key findings include the following:
The report reaches a number of conclusions about what is needed in the region from a technical and regulatory standpoint in order to facilitate Internet development and future growth:

  • IPv4 scarcity may pose less of a challenge than in other parts of the world, given the region’s high mobile penetration, but further IPv6 deployment is still needed to support future growth
  • Domestic connectivity within the countries shows bottlenecks and potential single points of failure
  • International connectivity in many of the Gulf countries is not very diverse, with the majority dependent on a small number of providers
  • Regional connectivity is far from optimised in the region as a whole, with traffic being sent across distant locations rather than making use of local exchange points
  • Routing security could be greatly improved in the region
  • Governments need to adapt to the changing environment through open and flexible regulation that supports growth.

The report is published in English and Arabic, and can be downloaded at: