Ever since the internet revolutionised our world, ICT has been reshaping our daily lives, professional environments and leisure activities. With the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the rapid pace of digitalisation, ICT’s role has become increasingly crucial. As of 2021, the worldwide ICT market was estimated at $323bn. According to projections by GlobalData, this sector is on a growth trajectory, expected to surge at an annual rate of 7.6% to reach a valuation of $466bn by 2026.

Some of the world’s most promising ICT innovation is happening in Abu Dhabi, and global giants and ambitious entrepreneurs alike are beginning to take notice. The emirate is located in the heart of the Middle East, which Research and Markets calls one of the most dynamic ICT markets in the world. Its research institutions are developing ground-breaking technologies including quantum computing, and its powerful infrastructure and incentives for business are enabling innovation with a global impact.

At the heart of a global ecosystem

According to the Telecom Review, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the most attractive ICT markets in the Middle East for both the private and public sectors, and a Middle East Institute report estimates that ICT spending in the UAE will reach $6.27bn by 2024. The UAE’s National Innovation Strategy is designed to foster a culture of innovation. It focuses on creating a supportive environment through a robust regulatory framework, enhanced service provision, infrastructure improvements, and a mix of investments and incentives. This approach aligns with the UAE’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Strategy, which is geared towards transforming the nation into a leading centre for 4IR technologies and innovations globally. At the same time, the National Police for Quality of Digital Life is working to create a safe digital community and promote appropriate digital interactions, which is good news for entrepreneurs looking to establish and grow their business in a regulated environment.

Abu Dhabi has established itself as a frontrunner in the global ICT arena. Leading the Arab world, the UAE was the first to introduce 5G technology. In 2021, Abu Dhabi achieved top rankings in mobile speed and partnered with G42, a sovereign investment company focusing on diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economic development. Concurrently, Khazna is expanding its data centre in Abu Dhabi, aiming to provide top-tier IT infrastructure that caters to the increasing need for digital services in the region.

Meanwhile, engineers at the Quantum Research Centre (QRC) are assembling the Arab world’s first quantum computer. At present, three qubits are up and running at the Masdar City premises in Abu Dhabi. QRC’s quantum research will shape the future of computing in the UAE and the world.

The site of growth

Abu Dhabi’s fast-growing ICT ecosystem is attracting attention from around the world. The emirate is already home to global tech giants, but now an increasing number of global ICT companies are also establishing headquarters in Abu Dhabi, including, in recent years, the region’s leading audio streaming platform Anghami, cloud management company Bespin Global and streaming service STARZPLAY Arabia. These companies have received support from Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) to supercharge their operations. As well as offering a range of growth-enabling support, ADIO can also help companies understand the opportunities available in Abu Dhabi and then facilitate connections to quickly start and scale in the UAE capital.

In 2021, ADIO partnered with seven ICT companies including Insilico, Ubisoft and Tamatem to provide more than $235m in incentives for their growth, innovation and expansion. ADIO also announced new partnerships under its Innovation Programme, which provides entrepreneurs with competitive financial incentives including rebates on highly skilled payroll and high-tech capex, as well as non-financial services, support with establishment processes and ecosystem engagement.

In August 2022, a new batch of start-ups across sectors received equity-free incentives worth up to $136,000 (Dh500,000) at Abu Dhabi’s Hub71. Hub71’s Incentive Programme targets high-growth tech start-ups in disruptive sectors. The ecosystem connects entrepreneurs with investors, corporates, government entities and academic partners to foster knowledge sharing and empower growth.

Knowledge is power

The Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) is Abu Dhabi’s advanced technology research body, established to shape the research and development (R&D) of transformative technology. The council is positioning Abu Dhabi as a world-leading R&D hub by attracting and retaining global talent in priority research areas.

Part of the ATRC, the Technology Innovation Institute (TII) is a leading global research centre dedicated to pushing the frontiers of knowledge. It oversees technology research in Abu Dhabi, with the goal to forge breakthroughs in areas with a global impact, including AI and digital science, quantum, biotechnology and cryptography. The TII is an industry disrupter setting new standards in ICT and providing leadership, scientific expertise and research capabilities. One of its recent breakthroughs involved pioneering an exploit detection framework that draws on public computer databases and uses a combination of pattern-based techniques to detect security problems. Innovations out of Abu Dhabi’s TII have a national, regional and global impact.

VentureOne is the commercialisation arm of ARTC, an entity established to shape Abu Dhabi’s advanced R&D ecosystem. It offers a bridge between research and commercial engagements and serves as an incubator to help nurture promising start-ups to reach the early or growth-stage level. For innovators with commercial ambitions, VentureOne offers expert support.

Since the internet transformed life as we knew it in the last century, the pace of ICT innovation has continued to accelerate exponentially. Today’s technological advancements promise to take us leaps and bounds into the future, impacting business, lifestyle and entertainment. Innovators in Abu Dhabi are making inroads in some of the most advanced fields, making the emirate a hub of breakthrough technology.

To find out how ADIO can help you realise your business ambitions in Abu Dhabi, download the whitepaper below.