Saudi Arabians watch more videos on US-based video streaming website Youtube than any other nation in the world on mobile devices. “Youtube” was the most searched for term in Saudi Arabia last year, according to Google.

Video streaming and sharing on mobile phones makes up 64 per cent of mobile internet activity in the region. “The Middle East is focusing on the mobile platform. We have experienced huge regional growth particularly in mobile search,” says William Kanaan, Google’s business development manager for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), on the sidelines of the Arabnet Digital Media Summit in Beirut.

In 2010, mobile devices in the region accounted for 13 per cent of total searches on Google, representing a 200 per cent growth, led mostly by Saudi Arabia. This is in correlation with the rise in smartphone penetration in the region. Between July and October 2010, smartphone penetration increased by 16 per cent in the Middle East.

“The region needs better connectivity and accessibility,” says Kanaan. All the countries in the Middle East apart from Syria and Iraq have third-generation (3G) services with some ready to migrate to long-term evolution (LTE), but prices are still high. “Part of the challenge in all emerging markets is to create data plans similar to Europe. When data package prices are decreased, there is a spike in mobile search,” says Kanaan

Google is encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Middle East to go online and register websites to benefit from the rise in mobile search. “We want businesses in Mena to come online. If users search for a restaurant, or a pharmacy, they won’t be able to find them if the companies do not have a presence online. These are missed opportunities,” says Kanaan.  

Mobile internet penetration currently stands at 60 per cent across the Mena region.