Geo Focus: UAE

The United Arab Emirates is among the world’s hottest locations in more ways than one. Matt Fellows discovers how the vast amount of wealth flowing through the nation has affected its pro-audio industry.

A hub of tourism and business, the United Arab Emirates is famous for many things: its sweltering climate, its flourishing petroleum and natural gas industry, and its intensely cosmopolitan environment; of its estimated 9.4 million residents, almost 8 million are expatriates, leaving just 1.4m indigenous Emirati citizens.

However there is one thing the country is less known for, but is, albeit in smaller circles, no less committed to. The UAE’s pro-audio industry is well patronised by a wealth of distributors, rental firms and installation specialists, and these are further supplemented by a range of trade shows and expos held in the region, attracting and consolidating business from further afield.

But does such a commitment foster a strong regional industry? And is it supported by a healthy, encouraging economic climate?

It seems some professionals are remaining cautious: Malek Ghorayeb, general manager at Systech Middle East, attests that “the market in the UAE is still stable” when viewed in light of recent uncertainties in the region and beyond in the wake of the global economic crisis. However, Ryan Burr, technical sales manager at Sennheiser Middle East, argues that the climate is more than just cautiously ‘stable’ and that things have been looking up recently, despite unfavourable economic conditions.

“The UAE has seen a spurt in activity over the last 12-18 months,” he begins. “Gone are the remnants of any recession effects that were felt in the country and back are the announcements of mega-projects, most of which have extensive audiovisual requirements.”

The UAE was no exception to the downturn experienced by the rest of the economic world, but a combination of the region’s resilience and the grim state of the wider market has allowed it to regain a position of strength with a promising outlook, according to Burr: “The UAE did suffer from the effects of recession, although not as pronounced as in other parts of the world, but it has bounced back with gusto. This quick recovery has seen an influx of skilled workers, including in both the AV industry and the live events market, which has led to an improved standard of projects and events. The obvious key reason for this is the lack of work in other parts of the world; motivated and skilled people will go where the work is rather than wait for it to come back to them.”

Ghorayeb sheds more light on the story, adding that, while the climate is slowly improving, economic complications in the pro-audio industry and beyond have prevented the market from achieving its full potential: “After the 2008 crises, the UAE recovered gradually, but I think many factors related to the situation in the region, as well as the fuel market, adversely affected the resulting growth which was expected to be remarkable.”

2020 Vision

Ahmed Magd, Riedel’s general manager, ME and Turkey, agrees that the economy is on the up, and believes that the future of the UAE pro-audio market is going to enjoy a particularly lucrative period over the next five years as a result of several big upcoming events on the industry calendar.

“In the Middle East in general and the UAE especially the market is growing,” he tells us, “and a lot of projects are expected to come in as there will be a lot of big events in the UAE such as the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 and Expo 2020, which is going to drive the growth in spending.”

Seen as many to be a beacon on the horizon for the region’s many industries, the UAE fought out the competition to claim the Expo Dubai 2020 and become the first Middle Eastern destination to host the event. The show is predicted to galvanise the UAE’s market, generating a projected 277,000 new jobs and an injection of almost $40 billion, and thus represents a tremendous boon for the economy.

Ghorayeb acknowledges that for many in the business, expectations are high for the event, but notes that its execution may not be a simple affair due to the UAE’s complicated climate: “In the UAE, there are high hopes for the Expo in 2020 along with the development for the event, but it is a little bit unpredictable in the region because it is related to so many factors.”

While its importance is clear, predictions regarding its success remain uncertain; its effects on the industry, while potentially vast, could end up somewhat muted, with the country missing out on the lucrative platform it may need to truly pull itself into economic prosperity.

Broadcasting Doubt

As a result of advancing technologies outpacing the development of suitable infrastructure in the region, an issue is looming that has the potential to seriously disrupt the work of those who rely on wireless technology, which is particularly problematic in the broadcast sector: “One of the trends that is sure to have an impact on the Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) industry is related to spectrum allocation,” Burr explains. “Currently, in the UAE and most countries across the Middle East, wireless PMSE devices are operated in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band. This includes the range of frequencies from 470 to 862MHz and is used for digital and analogue television distribution in addition to PMSE. However, as new technologies emerge, this spectrum is continuing to shrink.

“More recently, the allocation of spectrum for 4G mobile broadband services has meant shrinking of the higher end of the UHF spectrum. As less and less bandwidth becomes available for PMSE, the production and coverage of events will become a major challenge.”

Looking forward, Burr identifies yet another trend which looks likely to affect the UAE’s pro-audio industry: “One of the key trends that we see emerging for the pro-AV industry is the convergence of audio and IT networks. This is something that is already coming to the forefront with many manufacturers choosing one format or another to transport audio directly out of their products using existing IT infrastructure.

“This is going to become a lot more prevalent in 2016 and we believe it will force the integrated systems market into deciding on a universal format to do it,” he continues. “Working with the IT system integrators will become increasingly important and the AV industry will need to adapt to that change – we’re already seeing examples of large IT SIs buying established AV SIs in order to bring that competence within their organisation and we see this as an important trend over the coming years.”

Best Behaviour

Despite some predicted shifts that look likely to create bumps in the road, that road is still looking optimistic according to Magd: “I think it will continue its growth, driven by the coming events and the ambitious plans for this sector as the region has more weight in the global market than before. I think this will continue to happen at least until 2022.”

Despite some disagreement among industry professionals, the outlook for the UAE pro-audio market seems a stable and promising one. And this is not surprising when the one thing the industry seems unanimous on is the region’s resilience and drive.

“The UAE strives to be the best at whatever it does and this generates an environment of innovation and a thirst to improve, whatever the industry,” believes Burr. “The pro-audio market in the country is a benefactor of this with new technologies and products more willingly accepted perhaps than in other parts of the world where there is sometimes a ‘better to stick with what you know’ attitude, particularly in times of austerity.”

“The UAE market is known for its desire for the best, latest and state-of-the-art products and solutions,” echoes Magd. “That’s why the UAE leads the charge, in many cases by far; this can be compared to the advanced markets in Europe and US, with the advantage of having allocated budgets to drive growth.”

One thing is for certain – the region is ready to fight for the honour of calling itself the best.