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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Saudi Arabia on the cusp of pushing out 5G across the kingdom

Adoption of the technology is projected to pump $19 billion into the Arab world's largest economy

An attendee wears a virtual reality (VR) headset at the Saudi Telecom stand on the opening day of the MWC Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, where the kingdom announced its 5G ambitions. Bloomberg
An attendee wears a virtual reality (VR) headset at the Saudi Telecom stand on the opening day of the MWC Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, where the kingdom announced its 5G ambitions. Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of implementing a 5G network across the kingdom, the largest roll out across the Middle East and North Africa that will pump billions of dollars into the country's economy.

The adoption of the technology – 10 times faster than broadband and 100 times faster than 4G – is expected to contribute $19 billion (Dh69.79bn) into the Arab world's largest economy and create about 20,000 jobs by 2030, according to a statement from the kingdom's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

The roll out “represents rapid, milestone delivery on the Vision 2030 transformation agenda for KSA’s ICT sector,” Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Mobile penetration and internet use are on an upswing in the kingdom, with three-quarters of Saudi citizens using a mobile phone in 2018 and nine out of 10 reported to have an internet connection at home, according to data released in January by the kingdom's General Authority for Statistics. Six years ago, only one in two Saudis were online or owned a mobile phone.

Countries across the region are racing to provide the infrastructure necessary to connect residents and businesses with the fastest network ever built.

Saudi Arabia has constructed 1,000 5G base stations, creating the biggest swath of 5G coverage in Mena – awaiting to connect to the first 5G-enabled devices. The fifth-generation network is expected to support 45 million Internet of Things devices in the country once manufacturers begin introducing products.

Saudi Telecom Company, the country’s biggest telcom company, and Ericsson of Sweden said on Monday they will launch a mid-band 5G network in the kingdom, but did not disclose the time frame.

The application of 5G follows "more than 30 structural reforms to the telecom sector implemented by the MCIT in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission over the past 18 months", according to a ministry statement.

The reforms have so far tripled mobile internet speed and provided 100 per cent internet access to rural areas in Saudi Arabia. This ground work lays the foundation for a transition to the new network, under which some mobile spectrum will be re-purposed to provide 5G service.

Meanwhile, in the UAE, the two main operators have also said they will roll out 5G. This week, du said it would build 700 5G base stations across all seven emirates by the end of the year and Etisalat plans to construct 1,000 stations as well for its customers.

On Monday, Etisalat, the UAE’s biggest telecom operator, signed a deal with Chinese tech giant Huawei to roll out 5G services across the country this year. Etisalat will launch 5G sites in the first half of the year, with speeds of up to 4.5Gbps, compared with 600Mbps for 4G.

Manufacturers of mobile phones, tablets and IoT-connected devices are a critical component to 5G implementation as it is these products that will be able to connect to the network.

Samsung and Huawei are both in the race to take lead in the 5G smartphones market with new devices that are network enabled being released this year. Apple is not expected to introduce 5G-enabled devices until at least 2020.

Updated: February 26, 2019 07:40 PM

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