Saudi Arabia is in the global race to launch one of the first 5G telecom networks in the world and the largest 5G in the Middle East and North Africa, according to reports.
The stakes are high for all countries in the 5G race; the new cellular system will potentially transform the world as we know it. Blazing-fast internet speeds through wireless networks will enable everyday devices and the so-called internet of things (IOT) to work seamlessly.
At a trade show in Barcelona on Tuesday, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) signed agreements with both Nokia and Ericsson to launch a mid-band 5G network in Saudi Arabia. The first networks will be installed in the western and southern part of Saudi Arabia, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
“Nokia’s full 5G portfolio will provide STC subscribers with ultra-high bandwidth and low latency services, as well as new applications in areas such as virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” the company said in a press release.
“We are excited to work with Nokia on the Aspiration project which will help us realize our dream to be the first one to launch 5G services in the region,” Nasser Al-Nasser, STC CEO said. “Once completed our subscribers will be able to enjoy innovative high bandwidth consuming use cases. The project underscores our support and commitment to the National Transformation Plan 2020 and the Government’s Vision 2030 to drive Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation into a knowledge economy. The leadership of our longstanding partner, Nokia, in the development of 5G is crucial for our launch of 5G services.”
As PC Magazine notes, the rollout, like in the United States late last year and starting now, will take some time. 5G is an “investment for the next decade, and in previous mobile transitions, we’ve seen most of the big changes happening years after the first announcement.”
But, like with many new potentially world-changing technologies, 5G is not without a political calculus.
The Trump Administration and Western officials are warning against what it sees as the potential pitfalls of partnering with China, and specifically Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., who just signed a deal to built the first 5G network in the United Arab Emirates. A recent report on the New York Times podcast The Daily highlighted how the United States believes that “whoever controls fifth-generation cellular networks….will have a global advantage for decades to come. The fear is that China is almost there.”