Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia becomes the first Mena city to pilot 5G wireless

The kingdom’s ICT regulator plans to issue full operating licences by mid-2019

Signage for 5G is displayed at the KT Corp. booth at the World IT Show 2018 in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. The show runs through May 27. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
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Al Khobar, a city in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, became the first city in the Middle East and North Africa to test 5G wireless connectivity after it launched a pilot project last week, the kingdom's Ministry of Culture and Information said. 
"Because the capabilities of this technology are very high, it will pave the way for the development of other technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and robots," the ministry cited a United Nation's telecoms body report on the pilot as saying.

The 5G ultra-high speed mobile broadband is set to revolutionise the internet in the years ahead. Developing next-generation broadband and other communications technologies is one of the pillars of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan to reduce the country's dependence on hydrocarbons. A sophisticated digital infrastructure is seen as crucial to supporting the development of the private sector and creating jobs for Saudi nationals.

The kingdom set up the National 5G Taskforce last year with the aim of overseeing the administrative, regulatory and other changes required to introduce next-generation mobile broadband. Led by a steering committee, it oversees the progress and engages with stakeholders including the government, telecoms operators, equipment vendors and potential end-users.

Al Khobar's pilot was subsequently launched after Saudi Arabia's national telecoms regulator, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), issued licences for testing a 5G mobile network using 100 megahertz (MHz) channels with a bandwidth of 3.6-3.8 gigahertz (GHz) – the speeds required for 5G.

The pilot “surpassed the limits of previous wireless technologies with a data-transmission speed of more than 1Gbps,” the CITC said in a statement to media on Friday.

The commission plans to convert the test-and-trial licences to full and exclusive 5G operating licences in 3.4-3.8 GHz by the middle of next year. Awards for an even broader spectrum could follow by the beginning of 2020, it added. It has already awarded additional bandwidth scope to mobile operators Mobily, Saudi Telecommunications Company  and Zain.


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All necessary 5G policies are intended to be in place by the end of 2019, the CITC said this week. Full roll-out of the technology is likely to require substantial investment from the private sector.

“The government is taking an active role to help create the best conditions for the private sector to invest in developing and deploying 5G in Saudi Arabia in a timely and efficient manner,” said Majed Almazyed, the commission’s deputy governor for technology and infrastructure and chairman of the 5G Taskforce.

“Saudi Arabia is determined to be a world leader in 5G to take early advantage of its benefits,” added Abdullah Alsawaha, the kingdom's minister for communications and information technology.

Other GCC countries have joined the race to implement 5G, including the UAE, with Dubai-based telecom operator Du saying earlier this month it intends to roll out a limited 5G service later this year, ahead of a wider launch in 2019.