DUBAI: Telecoms firms are planning to introduce next-generation networks in the Gulf area due to strong local demand for mobile services.

The National reports that UAE-based du, Omani firm Nawas and Wataniya Telecom from Kuwait are all considering launching 4G networks in the future.

There are plans for several new high-speed networks in the region. This week, Qatar Telecom (Qtel) also announced its intention to develop a 4G network in Qatar, with work to begin immediately.

Last month, Etisalat, another Gulf provider, launched the first 4G network in the UAE, and three separate projects have been announced in Saudi Arabia.

The new, fibre-optic based networks offer far higher connection and download speeds for mobile web users than existing 3G technology.

But 4G-enabled mobile devices have yet to come to market. Currently, users can only plug into the network via USB "dongles" and their laptops.

Etisalat cited very high growth rates in smartphone ownership in the region - running at around 90% a year - as a factor behind its decision to launch.

Speaking to The National, Anders Lindblad, CEO of Ericsson in the Middle East, said that it would be "at least two to three years" before 4G smartphones are widely available in the region.

But Waleed Al Sayed, COO of Qtel, suggested that a shorter timeframe was likely.

"We have received assurances that a full range of [4G] devices will be launched in Qatar over the next year, and have begun the launch process for this technology," he said.

Nielsen figures from earlier this year indicate that 43% of web users in the Middle East intend to go online via their smartphones at some point in 2011.

Meanwhile, a joint survey from Econsultancy and Real Opinions, taken across the entire MENA region, suggests that 77% of smartphone owners regularly log on to social media sites via the devices, while 70% use them to send and receive email.

Data sourced from The National/Khaleej Times/Qtel; additional content by Warc staff