MWC: Saudi Arabia announces largest 5G roll-out in Middle East

10,000 5G base stations.
Saudi Arabia, MWC, Mobile World Congress, 5G, Tech, Society, Future, Development

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo credit: Amr Nabil/APREX/Shutterstock

Saudi Arabia has announced the largest 5G commercial roll-out in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with an additional 400 MHz in mid-band (3.5Ghz) spectrum being released to commercial operators in March 2019, according to Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Alswaha said the roll-out will make over 1,000 Mhz total spectrum available for cellular services, while around 10,000 5G base stations will provide Saudi consumers with MENA’s fastest and most extensive 5G coverage.

In 2018, Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia was the first city in the region to test a 5G network. The technology is expected to contribute over $19 billion to the country’s GDP and create almost 20,000 new ICT jobs by 2030. It is also projected to support 45 million new Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the kingdom, creating a market worth more than $12bn by 2030.

The roll-out will take place thanks to the introduction of over 30 structural reforms to the telco sector implemented by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) over the past 18 months, which have delivered a market capitalisation increase of over $18bn over the past 13 months (to January 2019) – according to independent figures.

The reforms have also allowed Saudi Arabia to triple mobile internet speed across the kingdom, increase fibre optic internet coverage by 50% and ensure 100% Internet access for rural areas.

The reforms which took place in less than two years have helped create the largest and fastest growing tech market in MENA, with a growth rate of 7% CAGR and a projected value of $35bn by 2030.

Alswaha said the announcement is proof that Saudi Arabia is becoming “MENA’s tech hub.”

The kingdom’s current telcom market is the 12th largest in the world, with revenue valued at $24bn. In 2017, it saw $8bn in broadband investments, with $5bn from the private sector.

The recently announced $450bn National Industrial Development & Logistics investment programme is also expected to boost the kingdom’s tech sector.

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