Al Khobar becomes first MENA city to pilot 5G

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Al Khobar city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has become the first city in the MENA region to benefit from a pilot project on the fifth-generation wireless network, or 5G network. The project was implemented on the first week of Ramadan, a move welcomed by a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for addressing issues concerning information and communications technology worldwide.

A report released on Thursday by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) praised the Kingdom for adopting the latest technology, saying that the project was launched soon after Saudi Arabia’s national ICT regulator, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), issued licences for testing the 5G mobile network using 100 MHz channels in the bandwidth of 3.6Ghz – 3.8GHz.

The CITC plans to convert the test-and-trial licences to full and exclusive 5G spectrum awards in 3.4-3.8 GHz by mid-2019. The awards of mm-wave spectrum could follow by the beginning of 2020.

The Saudi government has long recognised the importance of broadband communications, and the potential benefits of 5G technologies now fit well into the country’s plans to build a leading modern economy as outlined in its Vision 2030, the report noted.

Abdullah Alsawaha, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said:“Saudi Arabia is determined to be a world leader in 5G to take early advantage of its benefits.”

Dr Abdulaziz bin Salem Al Ruwais, the Governor of CITC, said that the Kingdom had been working tirelessly to bring the fifth-generation mobile network to the Kingdom. “Now Saudi Arabia has become one of the first countries to provide and activate it so it can take early advantage of the gains from it,” he said.

Dr Al Ruwais, however, emphasised that to achieve a connected society, 5G services require access to spectrum in a variety of bands to support the multitude of use cases, including the need to improve the quality of the services offered, and to accommodate much wider channels than those in use today.

To aid the development of 5G and prepare the necessary administrative foundations, the National 5G Task Force was established earlier this year.

The task force is led by a steering committee that sets the general strategy directions and oversees progress. It unites all stakeholders with an interest in 5G, such as government, operators, equipment vendors and potential user groups.

Specialised work is carried out in three subcommittees that deal respectively with “5G Spectrum”, “5G Development” and “5G verticals”.

All the necessary national 5G policies and supporting administrative provisions are planned to be in place before the end of 2019, along with the award of initial batches of spectrum to support the full commercial deployment of 5G technologies.

Majed Almazyed, the Deputy Governor of CITC for Technology and Infrastructure and the Chair of the 5G Task Force, indicated that the successful rollout of 5G would require significant levels of commercial investment.

“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,” Almazyed said.

Over the past 12 months, CITC, awarded 160 MHz of additional IMT spectrum in 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 1800 MHz bands to mobile operators Mobily, Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) and Zain.

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