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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Steven Yi, president of Huawei Middle East & Central Asia, discusses the importance of collaboration among national regulators, operators and vendors in accelerating the growth and innovation of the digital economy in the 5G era and beyond.

As a leading ICT technology provider, Huawei must work very closely with many national regulators. How do you perceive the role of the regulator in supporting the growth of the country's digital economy?

The rapid development of the digital economy is pivotal in driving economic growth and fostering innovation within a country. Among the various key stakeholders involved, regulators hold significant importance in establishing a supportive environment for the growth of the digital economy.

Regulators are crucial in creating a favorable regulatory environment that encourages investment, competition and innovation. Developing transparent and predictable rules and regulations instills confidence in businesses and creates an attractive environment for domestic and foreign investments. This supportive regulatory framework promotes trust and stability, which are essential for the growth of the digital economy.

Fair competition and market efficiency are vital for driving innovation and delivering better services in the digital economy. Regulators are responsible for ensuring a level playing field by monitoring mergers and acquisitions, preventing monopolistic behavior and promoting healthy competition. By actively promoting fair competition, regulators enable vendors to innovate, reduce costs and enhance market efficiency. Ultimately, this benefits consumers by providing them with more choices and fuels the overall growth of the digital economy.

Regulators also play a critical role in safeguarding consumer rights and data privacy. By establishing data protection regulations and frameworks, they ensure that individuals maintain control over their personal information and that businesses handle data responsibly.

Additionally, regulators facilitate the development of digital infrastructure, such as broadband networks and communication technologies. By implementing policies that encourage investments in infrastructure, they enable widespread access to high-speed internet and reliable digital services.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the core of the telecom industry's growth in the digital economy. Regulators must adopt an agile and forward-thinking approach to enable innovation while ensuring compliance with existing regulations. Initiatives such as establishing sandboxes and innovation hubs foster collaboration and experimentation, contributing to the overall growth of the digital economy.

As technology rapidly advances, regulators need to adapt and implement policies that facilitate the growth of emerging technologies. It includes developing key policies surrounding the spectrum allocation in the 6GHz band, advancing 5.5G, laying the groundwork for 6G development, prioritizing network quality, adopting internal standards such as GSMA NESAS to ensure cyber security and incorporating low-carbon solutions to achieve the country’s Net Zero vision to ensure sustainable digital transformation.

As you mentioned, national regulators play critical roles in creating the right environment to encourage digital economic growth. Can you give some examples where national regulators foster a favorable environment for operators and vendors in the digital economy?

In pursuing digital transformation, a country's vision for development serves as the primary driving force. Regulators collaborate with various stakeholders to define clear goals, devise comprehensive action plans and establish policies that guide the development of the national ICT industry. These concerted efforts stimulate investment in infrastructure, create an environment conducive to innovation and foster seamless connectivity that empowers individuals, businesses and communities alike.

Countries such as KSA and the UAE have demonstrated the significance of a visionary approach to ICT development.

KSA has embarked on an ambitious journey with its transformative "Saudi Vision 2030" plan, aimed at diversifying its economy and building a robust digital ecosystem. By prioritizing ICT development, the country has implemented policies that support the deployment of cutting-edge technologies, including 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

The progress achieved in KSA has resulted in demands for enhancing connectivity and improving network quality, empowering sectors such as healthcare, transportation and education. As such, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and Huawei have signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance cooperation in the field of communications and information technology, aiming to realize a “10 Gbps Society” [while] seeking to build a superfast broadband infrastructure to support the digital transformation goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

The UAE, renowned for its forward-looking approach, launched the "UAE Digital Economy Strategy" in April 2022 to double the contribution of the digital economy to the UAE's non-oil GDP from 11.7% to over 20% within the next decade. The UAE has successfully improved network quality and connectivity coverage by leveraging advanced technologies and investing in critical infrastructure. These efforts have significantly contributed to the growth of the digital economy by attracting global investments and fostering innovation across various sectors.

To continue the development, the national regulator, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), assigned the world’s leading bandwidth spectrum in the early 5G era, with 694 MHz in total on C-band and 2.6 GHz. In 2021, the UAE allocated 5G mmWave, which offers higher data transmission rates and a larger communication capacity per square kilometer while ensuring service quality and enhancing performance.

As we all know, spectrum allocation is one of the national regulators’ key responsibilities, and you mentioned 6 GHz. Why is 6 GHz so important for 5G and future 5.5G networks, and how do you see the national regulator's involvement in allocating and managing spectrum bands such as 6 GHz?

In today's increasingly connected world, investing in network connectivity is not just important but crucial. These networks serve as the vital infrastructure that connects people, devices and data, enabling the rapid and accurate transmission of information.

5G technology has had a profound impact on network connectivity globally. It has revolutionized various aspects of our society, industry, economy and sustainability. In the Middle East, for instance, 17 commercial 5G networks already cover an impressive 45 million people. Countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been early adopters of this technology, reaping the benefits of high-speed internet accessibility. Moreover, Kuwait has demonstrated that an intelligent 5G network can lead to significant energy savings of up to 20%. Recognizing the vast potential, the Saudi government has set ambitious goals to improve internet connectivity in urban and rural areas, aiming to contribute 19% of the GDP through digitization.

The widespread adoption of 5G technology is desirable and essential for driving digital transformation and fueling global GDP growth. Therefore, the government should prioritize the development of 5G networks and seize the economic opportunities they present. However, the expansion of 5G faces challenges in areas with limited access to the mid-band spectrum, which ranges from 1-2 GHz. Building dense 5G networks without this spectrum necessitates using expensive and inefficient equipment, resulting in higher overall costs.

Thankfully, the 6 GHz spectrum emerges as a solution by providing coverage and capacity for seamless wide-area connections. With its balanced mid-band spectrum, the 6 GHz range facilitates the implementation of next-generation connectivity more cost-effectively and efficiently, reducing the need for extensive network densification.

Spectrum allocation is a critical area where national regulators play a decisive role. The 6 GHz band, with its abundant spectrum resources, enables high-speed wireless communication. To maximize the benefits of the 6 GHz band, regulators can formulate policies that balance licensed and unlicensed usage. By designating specific portions of the band for licensed use, regulators ensure the reliable operation of critical services and foster innovation, spurring the development of new applications and services.

As 5G networks continue to evolve, operators in the Middle East are actively involved in driving the development of 5.5G, the next-generation wireless technology. To facilitate the successful expansion of 5G networks, operators are strategically focusing on the possible allocation of the 6 GHz spectrum bands. The harmonization of this spectrum is of utmost importance, as it holds significant potential to become a valuable resource akin to the widely utilized C-band.

Leveraging the 6 GHz band allows for the attainment of desired data rates crucial for the commercial viability of 5G, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Moreover, it establishes a robust foundation for future implementations of advanced 5G technologies like 5.5G, further enriching connectivity capabilities and driving innovation.

It is worth noting that the maturity of network infrastructure and the existing installed base can vary among countries. Nations with the least developed fiber connections are in a favorable position to harness the 6 GHz band for deploying 5G networks that adhere to the IMT-2020 standards. This strategic approach enables them to effectively meet the data and spectrum requirements for the mid-band spectrum, catering to the connectivity needs of highly populated cities and remote rural areas. By offering cost-effective solutions that promote widespread adoption, this approach ensures that the benefits of 5G are accessible to all.

Global harmonization of the 6 GHz spectrum will amplify demand and foster consensus regarding its use, empowering nations to fully leverage its potential for driving economic development and technological advancement. By embracing this harmonization, countries can position themselves at the forefront of the digital revolution, seizing the benefits of a connected future.

How important is the collaboration between the telecom regulator, operators and vendors in ensuring the successful rollout and adoption of 5.5G and future wireless technologies for the digital economy?

As the telecom industry rapidly evolves, the deployment and widespread adoption of advanced technologies like 5.5G are crucial for driving the growth of the digital economy. The advancements of the 5.5G era will provide impressive speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second and support a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) scenarios by integrating sensing communication capabilities. Adapting our infrastructure to meet the requirements of the 5.5G age is necessary and essential to meeting user expectations for a more immersive and connected experience.

National regulators are pivotal in shaping the telecommunications landscape by establishing comprehensive standards and regulations. These regulations provide a foundation for the deployment of next-generation technologies. Close collaboration between regulators, operators and vendors enables the alignment of strategies, ensuring a harmonized approach to meet regulatory requirements. This streamlines the rollout process, enhances interoperability and accelerates the adoption of 5.5G and 6G technologies.

The successful implementation of advanced networks relies on the seamless integration of advanced ICT infrastructure components. In collaboration with vendors like Huawei, operators undertake the monumental task of building the necessary network infrastructure. They ensure the swift and efficient deployment of base stations, antennas and other critical network elements. This collaborative effort enables operators to establish robust, high-performing and secure networks that cater to the increasingly digital economy’s demands.

To realize the full potential of 5.5G technologies, operators and vendors are both responsible for funding research, development and large-scale deployments. Regulators can provide incentives, favorable regulatory frameworks and public-private partnerships to encourage operators and vendors to invest in these transformative technologies. Such collaborative initiatives pave the way for accelerated innovation and facilitate the seamless integration of 5.5G networks into the digital economy. A primary example of such collaboration is when UAE TDRA, etisalat by e&, du, infraX, Quanray, HTC, Lierda and Huawei jointly launched the 5.5G OpenLab. The lab is dedicated to building a 5.5G ecosystem alliance, testing ecosystem interoperability and developing advanced use cases for consumers, homes and industry sectors.

As a finite resource, spectrum plays a critical role in wireless communications. National regulators hold the key to unlocking this invaluable resource and allocate spectrum to operators for specific purposes. Collaborative engagement among regulators, operators and vendors ensures an efficient spectrum allocation strategy that aligns with the requirements of wireless technologies. By optimizing spectrum management, operators can enhance coverage, capacity and quality of service, enabling the digital economy to thrive on seamless connectivity.

Developing a vibrant and thriving ecosystem is pivotal to unlocking the true potential of 5.5G technologies. By aligning their efforts, sharing knowledge and coordinating strategies, regulators, operators and vendors can create innovative services and applications that leverage the immense capabilities of advanced networks. This collaboration stimulates the growth of the digital economy, enabling new business models and revenue streams.

How can the national regulator collaborate with operators and vendors like Huawei to address potential challenges related to network quality, cyber security and sustainability in deploying advanced networks to support the digital economy?

Collaboration between the national regulator, operators and vendors like Huawei is crucial to addressing potential challenges related to network quality, cybersecurity, and sustainability when deploying advanced networks to support the digital economy. Here are some ways I believe we can collaborate effectively:

Establish regular communication channels between the national regulator, operators and vendors. This can include meetings, workshops, forums or online platforms to exchange information, discuss challenges and share best practices.

To ensure that policies are both practical and in line with industry capabilities, it is essential to actively involve operators and vendors. Their valuable technical knowledge and expertise should be sought during the formulation of regulations and guidelines pertaining to network quality, cybersecurity and sustainability.

An excellent illustration of this collaborative effort is the utilization of the GSMA NESAS by regulators we have partnered with, encouraging these regulators to incorporate the GSMA NESAS into their national network cybersecurity policies, recognizing its efficacy in enhancing security practices.

Huawei openly collaborates with industry-recognized certification bodies, conducting comprehensive tests on the cybersecurity capabilities of our products. These tests are conducted according to international standards and best practices, enabling us to provide customers with globally recognized security assurance.

Underscoring the proven security of Huawei products, we proudly obtained more than 30 internationally recognized cybersecurity certificates in 2021, including the certification for the world's first GSMA Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS) 2.2 audit for 5G base stations. This particular certification serves as a concrete example that we share with regulators, demonstrating our commitment to upholding the highest cybersecurity standards in the industry.

To foster the secure and sustainable development of digital services, it is crucial to establish training programs and capability-building initiatives for regulators. Collaborating with industry experts, the national regulator can design and deliver customized training programs covering diverse areas such as technology, regulatory frameworks, ICT policies and digital transformation.

Huawei has a longstanding dedication to knowledge sharing and actively engages with regulators to define training topics and schedules. By offering comprehensive training opportunities, we aim to equip operators and vendors with the necessary expertise to implement and maintain advanced networks securely and sustainably. This collaborative approach fosters a strong foundation for the development of cutting-edge telecommunications infrastructure and ensures the successful deployment of advanced networks.

Establish a regulatory sandbox environment where operators and vendors can test and deploy innovative technologies and solutions. It fosters collaboration, allows for experimentation and enables the identification of potential challenges and their mitigation strategies in a controlled environment.

Encourage operators and vendors to conduct pilot projects and demonstrations to showcase the benefits of advanced networks. The national regulator can support these initiatives by providing the necessary regulatory flexibility and promoting the adoption of successful practices.

Conduct periodic reviews and audits of deployed networks to assess their quality, cybersecurity posture and sustainability. The national regulator can work closely with operators and vendors to identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Promote research and development collaboration between operators, vendors and academic institutions. Encourage joint projects focusing on network quality, cybersecurity and sustainability enhancements. This collaboration can drive innovation and provide solutions to complex challenges.

Considering the significance of digital economic growth in each country, could you provide a summary of Huawei's contributions to ensuring sustainable digital economic growth in the region?

Huawei has made significant contributions to fostering sustainable digital economic growth across multiple countries. One of our primary contributions is building and developing communication infrastructure, particularly in areas with limited connectivity. By providing advanced telecommunications equipment, such as network infrastructure and mobile devices, Huawei has successfully bridged the digital divide and expanded internet access to remote regions. This has enabled a wider range of individuals and businesses to participate in the digital economy.

Huawei also plays a leading role in the advancement of 5G technology. As a provider of 5G infrastructure and solutions, Huawei's innovations in this area have supported the expansion of the digital economy by enabling faster and more reliable wireless connectivity. The transformative potential of 5G spans across various industries, including healthcare, transportation and manufacturing, driving economic growth and efficiency.

In addition to advanced communication technology, Huawei Cloud has made significant progress in the region. Huawei Cloud offers Everything-as-a-Service, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Technology-as-a-Service and Expertise-as-a-Service, to help customers unlock the potential of digital transformation quickly. Recognized in Gartner's 2022 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure & Platform Services (CIPS), Huawei Cloud boasts a global developer base of over 4 million.

Sustainability and low-carbon development have become integral to the development visions of many countries. Huawei Digital Power, a leading provider of digital energy solutions, is committed to advancing sustainable practices and enabling the digitization of the energy sector while aligning with the Paris Agreement's carbon emission reduction goals. They offer low-carbon, safe and clean solutions that enhance energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Huawei focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy utilization and user experience, employing technologies such as "Zero Bit, Zero Watt" and multi-dimensional shutdown technology to minimize power consumption. They prioritize the efficient deployment of renewable energy and collaborate with operators and standard organizations to promote green indicators and establish energy efficiency benchmarks. By joining forces, Huawei aims to construct networks that prioritize user experience and energy efficiency, driving industry-wide adoption of sustainable practices for a greener future.

As part of its commitment to sustainable development, Huawei has taken a multifaceted approach that extends beyond low-carbon technology. We have actively participated in human capacity-building and knowledge transfer programs, working in collaboration with local governments and educational institutions. By providing training and skill development opportunities in digital technologies, Huawei aims to equip individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive in the digital era. This focus on empowering local talent has not only fostered digital entrepreneurship but also contributed to job creation.

As a result of these initiatives, we have seen an increasing number of digital talents, start-ups and technology-driven businesses flourish, leading to overall economic and technological advancements in the region. Huawei's dedication to capacity building and knowledge transfer has had a profound impact on supporting the growth of the digital economy and empowering local communities. By investing in human capital and fostering innovation, Huawei has played a vital role in shaping the future of the region and promoting sustainable development.

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