From an intimate cluster of coral-clay villas nestled along Dubai Creek to the skyscraping business towers along Shaikh Zayed Road and the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates has come a long way since its trading days on the Gulf.
And since its formation in December 1971 as a united federation, technological advances in all their forms — street lighting to telephony and magazines to high speed broadband — have helped to catapult the young nation on to the world stage.
Graham Owen, technology businessman and longtime Dubai resident, said the pace at which Dubai has accelerated change since he first moved to the UAE in the 1980s has been rapid.
Owen used to live in the 100 villas area which was eventually razed to make way for the JBR towers in Dubai Marina.
"It was all landlines then. My old phone had four digits, now there are seven. It shows the population explosion," said Owen who still remembers the first appearance of large mobile phones with large cases.
Connecting with others via roads has also changed in the last 30 years, Owen said, with the massive transformation of Shaikh Zayed Road. Where once there was only the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Lootah tower at the Defence Roundabout and the Metropolitan Hotel, the area is now punctuated with skyscrapers. As Dubai advanced rapidly, Owen said it was "a bit like Star Wars meets Lawrence of Arabia — something in the middle."
Bridget Hyde, marketing director GTQ magazine in the Middle East, first moved from the UK to Dubai in 1993 never suspecting she would spend nearly the next two decades in the UAE.
The country, she said, has witnessed an explosion in media from a handful of print media offerings to a sweeping stable today of newspapers and TV channels to magazines and online content.
"Certainly it's been a very fast-growing market. Media in the UAE did advance a lot in a very short time. Dubai Media City has opened a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. They definitely had the right vision," said Hyde who has worked with luxury brands since her arrival long ago.
Through media awareness, advertising and brand recognition, Emiratis and residents in the UAE understand the world and their unique place in it as a unique society that has a lot to offer. The challenge ahead is maintaining sustainability for the media industry and "to continue the vision," she said.
One of the biggest contributors to solidifying a national identity and supporting businesses and residents as they worked to modernise UAE society has been the presence of the UAE's first major telecom, etisalat.
Hasan Sandila, analyst telecommunications IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa, said without basic phone and landline networks, the technological foray into today's wired world would never have been possible.
"Telecom operators have played an integral role in the technological growth of the UAE. It all began in 1976, when etisalat was founded initially with a mandate to offer fixed voice services," said Sandila. "The technological landscape in the Middle East region has witnessed remarkable changes since its inception."
Thanks to a stable and solid economy over the decades, the UAE's etisalat forged a new network by laying the foundation for an entire country. "Telecom operators have leveraged on the oil liquidity in the region and incurred significant capital expenditure to obtain world class infrastructure which has the capability of offering sophisticated services for both consumers and enterprises," Sandila said.
Upgrades and the introduction over the years of second generation (2G) and 3G broadband for mobile has now led to the rollout of 4G broadband which is set to create an entirely new era for UAE society, he said.
"UAE is about to witness the commercial launch of LTE by both etisalat and du. Furthermore, etisalat has also announced a nationwide fibre rollout which is expected to be complete by the first quarter of 2012," Sandila said.
Igor Leprince, head of Middle East Region, Nokia Siemens Networks, told Gulf News that the telecom industry was key to growth in the UAE. "The impact of telecommunications on the UAE and its growth cannot be underestimated. Undoubtedly, information and communication technologies (ICT) are one of the key economic platforms for the UAE's economic growth, and numerous developments have taken place over the last 40 years to achieve these advancements. UAE was the first country in the Middle East to establish a mobile network in 1982," Leprince said.