UAE-based Etisalat will be investing $15bn in its network infrastructure over the next five years to keep up with growing demand for data. The investment will be directed to the UAE as well as its operations abroad.

“We are investing very heavily in broadband infrastructure. We are extending fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) to every house in Abu Dhabi, where we currently have a 90 per cent penetration and hope to cover the entire UAE,” says Ahmed Julfar, Etisalat’s group chief operating officer, while speaking at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

The mobile company hopes to become the world’s first country to have 100 per cent fibre-optic penetration in 2012. AED5bn ($1.4bn) of the investment will be for fibre-optic capabilities.

“People want high-speed data on the move. In order to maintain a sustainable competitive edge in the markets and explore new possibilities, convergence is inevitable,” says Etisalat’s chairman Mohammed Omran.

Smartphone penetration is set to grow by 11 per cent over the next three years in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia, according to US-based management consultants Booz & Company, which will drive the demand for high speed access.

In March, Etisalat awarded French vendor Alcatel-Lucent the contract to deploy long-term evolution (LTE) capabilities in the UAE, which should be ready by the end of 2011. “LTE is a way for operators to expand into applications, reduce latency times, leverage machine-to-machine applications and offer partnerships to vertical markets,” says Valerie Layan, vice-president of wireless solutions at Alcatel-Lucent.