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Zain KSA has been leading the way in 5G deployment in Saudi Arabia and the region. Telecom Review spoke to Abdulrahman AlMufadda, CTO, Zain KSA about the operator’s achievements in terms of 5G, especially that it has won several awards this year including 3 Telecom Review Excellence Awards for “Best 5G User Growth,” “Best Infrastructure/5G Deployment” and “Best Cloud Provider” and Ookla’s SpeedTest award for Kingdom’s “fastest fixed internet.”

Zain Saudi Arabia started to build 5G networks in 2019. How is the progress?

Zain KSA aims to become a key enabler of digital transformation across the Kingdom, in line with Saudi Vision 2030, and avidly pursues this goal through a proactive expansion strategy. The first step we took towards 5G was groundwork upgrades. The infrastructure deployment progressed quite rapidly and in October 2019, Zain KSA rolled out the largest 5G network in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and 4th largest globally.

Within one year, we extended the 5G map to cover 50 cities across the Kingdom, powered by +4,700 sites. Our 5G covers all 13 Saudi administrative regions in the Kingdom, and the company had regional and international recognition on this achievement. Zain KSA ranked first in 4 indicators measured by CITC’s Q3 2020 “Meqyas” report which includes: “Fixed internet download speed”, “5G deployments across governorates”, “5G deployment across regions” and “lowest latency for most played video games in the Kingdom.”

Alongside geographic expansion, Zain KSA sought higher service quality and was the world’s first operator to offer carrier aggregation feature which pushes network speeds to incomparable levels, revolutionizing user experience. Enabling superfast speeds of 2.4 Gbps, thus warranting for a better and faster experience in using IoT, e-games and business functionalities like never before.

Zain KSA’s state-of-the-art 5G deployment has reinforced the Saudi ICT sector’s position regionally and globally. In OpenSignal’s rating, Saudi Arabia ranked first in the 5G download speed, with 144.5 Mbps, and it was named as one of the world’s three digital risers worldwide by Digital Riser Report 2020. The Kingdom enjoys the 8th fastest mobile internet globally. The advanced Saudi ICT sector, powered by the novel 5G network, also supported the Kingdom’s commendable headship of the G20 meetings which were held virtually this year for the first time ever. In addition to that, Riyadh was named the first digital Arab capital during the 23rd session of the Arab Council of Ministers for Communications and Information.

As a leading 5G operator in the Middle East, what do you think of 5G development (inducing social and business values)?

The pervasive deployment of 5G with its high capacity enables striking upload and download speeds that will unlock vast opportunities in numerous fields. As 5G-powered use cases are anticipated to generate major economic and social value, 5G providers have a great responsibility in underpinning a global ICT ecosystem that would contribute to achieving global development goals.
The full-scale deployment of 5G networks is expected to bring $13.2 trillion in global economic value by 2035, and generate 22.3 million jobs in the 5G global value chain. At the same time, hi-tech functionalities powered by 5G, namely AI and IoT, will transform businesses across many sectors.

On the Kingdom-level, Zain KSA capitalizes on its 5G network to meet the requirements of the national digitalization plan, especially as the Kingdom hopes 5G would contribute over $19 billion to its GDP by 2030 and to support 45 million new IoT devices over the next few years.

Alongside this immense macro-economic impact, high-speed connectivity has been a crucial support for economic and social sustainability during the lockdown months. When direct physical interaction was not an option, the world turned to 4G and 5G networks which became a vital lifeline efficiently supporting much of our transactions and activities from simple daily errands like grocery shopping, to education, as well as healthcare and business appointments.

Through fostering a new ecosystem based on utilizing the ultramodern technology, Zain KSA is contributing to a knowledge-based community and supporting Saudi Vision 2030’s ambitious goals of improving the quality of life for citizens and creating a smart society. At the same time, it has enhanced Saudi Arabia’s position among the world’s top investors in digital services and supported its quest to become a global hi-tech hub.

5G FWA is the first mature 5G use case. How did Zain KSA develop this use case?

Zain KSA capitalizes on its well-invested infrastructure to provide the full range of 5G services across mobile and fixed wireless connections. We have crafted a range of solutions that enable users to fully experience the innovative technology.

The 5G fixed wireless access scheme has been hailed as a flagship proposition that delivers hi-speed FWA in regions that are not covered by fiber networks, and enables the company to accommodate further growth in traffic levels while maintaining the same high-quality service.

Zain KSA’s FWA model is based on the use of high-quality, home/office devices (CPEs).

Zain KSA appropriately utilized its 5G roll-out to become a converged provider delivering 5G mobile and fixed-wireless access over the same network and in the same areas, thus achieving higher operational efficiency. This powerful implementation was recognized by global observers, including Global ICT research firm Analysys Mason, and was also recognized by Ookla’s SpeedTest which granted Zain KSA the Kingdom’s “fastest fixed internet” award, and it was also granted Telecom Review’s awards for “Best 5G User Growth,” “Best Infrastructure/5G Deployment,” and “Best Cloud Provider.”

How is Zain KSA capitalizing on the 5G network to grow its subscriber base? And now that iPhone 12 has been launched, what is Zain's plan to quickly develop users?

With its iconic 5G rollout, Zain KSA quickly built its subscriber base and began to monetize the 5G deployment.

Zain KSA’s 5G FWA users were increasing gradually with a rising trend which continued to present day. Concurrently, Zain KSA has partnered with flagship OTT entertainment providers, namely OSN, to provide entertainment packages, which is set to drive user growth further.

The rapid and efficient 5G rollout prompted remarkable feedback as Zain outshined several operators in CITC’s Q3 2020 “Meqyas” report which ranked Zain KSA as first in the following categories: “fixed internet download speed”, “5G deployments across governorates”, “5G deployment across regions” and “lowest latency for most played video games in the Kingdom.” These pioneering quality services will undoubtedly impact our subscriber base in the short and long run.

Additionally, Zain KSA partnered with global smartphone manufacturers to provide customers with value propositions and encourage the community’s adoption of the next generation network. In this sense, the release of the 5G-powered iPhone 12 ultimately means more people buying into 5G-enabled smartphones here in Saudi Arabia.

B2B is the most important scenario for 5G. What is Zain KSA's key developments and expectations for B2B services?

B2B is a lucrative growth area that Zain is focusing on, offering solutions to, and attracting enterprises of all sizes as well as various government departments across the Kingdom. Consequently, Zain KSA mobilized its innovative capacities to offer B2B bundles, featuring mobile and FWA 5G packages, Zain Cloud, and Zain Drone solutions, in addition to bespoke applications catering to the modern-day office requirements.

In the field of cloud-computing, Zain caters to numerous public and private enterprises through a partnership with global cloud computing giant, Alibaba. The Saudi-based Zain Cloud features steadfast infrastructure and is secured, thus combining high-security computing and storage with the convenience of a closely-managed cloud. During the pandemic, the solution proved to be instrumental for sustaining operations and maintaining service quality.

Additionally, Zain offers tailored drone solutions that promise to transform operations across multiple industries from logistics to filmmaking.

Zain KSA also offers the streamlined Geidea e-payment solution for mobile points of sale, M2M (machine to machine) SIM connectivity, remote work solutions, fleet management, and mobile management solutions.

The vast range of 5G-powered business solutions has unlocked a plenty of unlimited facilities that would eventually transform operations across all sectors. We are currently exploring further expansion of our B2B models, to support higher business digitalization and integrated smart city solutions that would future-proof businesses across the Kingdom and support an ICT-powered economy in alignment with Saudi Vision 2030.

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