Saudi Arabia is expecting to have its first 5G commercial pilot by Q4 this year followed by full commercial launch in early 2020, according to Abdullah Al Kanhal, deputy minister, MCIT, Saudi Arabia.
The Ministry has put over $2 billion funds in place to roll out fibre networks across the kingdom. “We are very optimistic that by 2020, Saudi Arabia will be leading the region when it comes to digitisation,” said Al Kanhal.
He added that since 5G is the enabler for disruptive technologies like Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and smart city applications, the Government is keen to roll out fibre to enable 5G. “We are pushing to make sure the telecom operators in Saudi Arabia are among the first in the region to launch 5G. It is the new backbone for digitisation.”
Al Kanhal further observed that the Ministry is encouraging all vendors to have Saudi as the first destination when it comes to bringing in new technologies.
On the question of spectrum rights and availability for 5G, Al Kanhal commented: “We have announced that we will be offering spectrum free of charge for the next two years for any telco operator who is willing to go for 5G trials. This is a very aggressive move on our part to show how much commitment we have on this front. The other important thing is the band that we have allowed is wider than many other countries and we are also exploring to widen it even more.” As far as the initial roll out of 5G is concerned, it would be in be in very selective areas of the Kingdom, he clarified.
“Saudi Arabia has a very young population, and we are among the highest consumers of technology and internet content. We do have all it takes to be the builders and creators of new technologies. With a tech savvy young generation and all the infrastructure we have, we will hopefully be leading when it comes to technology development and creation,” remarked Al Kanhal.
Abdullah Al Kanhal participated in the Global Digital Transformation Forum held by Huawei leading up to Mobile World Congress 2018 (MWC 2018). The forum focused on five topics, namely 5G, new economic value, business-to-business (B2B) services, big video, and operation transformation. These discussions centered around accelerating operators' digital transformation in the age of all cloud, gathering more partners to forge a favorable digital ecosystem, and enhancing digital infrastructure. Speakers from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank, and communications departments of multiple countries all highlighted that emerging markets, as well as developed countries are set to benefit from the opportunities brought by the digital economy. Industry organisations, government authorities, operators, and vendors are now keenly endeavouring to create a new industry environment, seeking fresh cooperation models, and developing innovative business solutions.
MWC 2018 saw Saudi telcos signing several major deals in the 5G space. STC signed a MoU with its long-standing strategic ICT partner, Huawei to collaborate on the innovation of 5G network technologies and services. The two companies are committed to cooperate in the 5G network launch in 2018. Huawei and Zain signed a MoU to develop a new network strategy in Saudi Arabia.