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Telecom Review organized the first webinar in the 2024 series, under the theme ‘The Future of Connectivity: Enabling the Internet of Things’. The topic was discussed in depth by Mohammad AlObaid, Product VP, Salam; Georges Jaber, VP Wholesales and BD, Salam; and Dr. Saad Alhuwaimel, Technology and Regulation Sr. Manager, ATSS. The session was moderated by Firas Mhedhebi, Managing Director Middle East, Private Equity, PMP Strategy.

IoT Solutions as Catalysts for Achieving Key Vision 2030 Goals

Recognizing IoT’s potential in meeting the objectives outlined in Saudi Vision 2030, Mohammad AlObaid opined that the technology held “great promise” in areas such as sustainability, smart cities, and economic diversification through efficient data management, analytics and monitoring capabilities.

For sustainability, he highlighted IoT’s contribution in energy and cost saving through Smart Energy Management, Water Management and Environmental Monitoring. In terms of smart cities, he cited applications such as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Smart Infrastructure, Public Safety and Security. With regards to Economic Diversification, he noted IoT’s transformative application in Industrial Automation, Agriculture Technology (AgriTech) and Digital Transformation and Innovation.

Prioritization of IoT Projects in Alignment with Vision 2030

Saad Alhuwaimel outlined important criteria for decision-makers to prioritize IoT projects effectively, ensuring they align with Vision 2030 and contribute significantly to Saudi Arabia's socio-economic development.

He stressed the importance of assessing how closely the IoT project aligns with the specific goals and objectives outlined in Vision 2030. Furthermore, he highlighted key considerations such as the economic and social impact of the IoT projects, Technological Readiness, Stakeholder Engagement, Regulatory and Policy Environment, Scalability and Replicability, Risk Assessment and Evaluation on Potential Return on Investment (ROI) and Timeliness and Urgency of the of the IoT projects.

Encouraging the Development and Adoption of Homegrown IoT Solutions

Georges Jaber emphasized the significance of backing research and development through investments in initiatives specifically targeting IoT technologies within Saudi Arabia. He laid out other key considerations such as fostering collaboration and partnerships, enabling knowledge exchanges, creating regulatory frameworks, providing funding and incentives, developing local talent, encouraging success stories, addressing cultural and social factors, supporting testbeds and pilots and promoting government-led Initiatives to encourage the development and adoption of homegrown IoT solutions in Saudi.

Role of 5G in Enabling IoT Innovation

Regarding the topic of 5G and IoT innovation, the speakers shared their insights in detail.

Dr. Saad clarified that while increased bandwidth is one of the key benefits of 5G for IoT, there are several other critical capabilities that 5G brings to the table, enabling specific applications and use cases.

Some of these capabilities include increased capacity, ultra-low latency, faster data transfer, massive device connectivity speed, network slicing, improved reliability, enhanced computing, edge computing, mobility support, and edge computing.

“As ITU allows for higher frequency for 5G, the capacity of 5G increases, which can occupy many IoT sensors and networks around,” explained Dr. Saad. “Scalability is based on the ability of handling data, and the deployment of more 5G will handle that.” 5G is designed to handle a massive number of connected devices, which increases the possibility of more massive-scale IoT deployments.

Moreover, 5G networks offer significantly reduced latency compared to previous generations, enabling real-time applications and/or ecosystems like virtual reality, remote surgery, industrial automation, and augmented reality. “IoT devices can communicate with each other in the cloud… This is important for time-sensitive communications,” he added.

5G’s enhanced reliability is also crucial for critical IoT applications, such as smart grids, healthcare monitoring, and industrial control systems, where any disruption or delay can have severe consequences.

In terms of speed, 5G enables faster data transfer from IoT devices to the cloud, and vice versa.

Another important feature for IoT scalability is network slicing, which allows the physical 5G infrastructure to be divided into multiple virtual networks. This helps to expand the coverage of IoT systems. “This enables efficient resource allocation and tailored connectivity for diverse IoT applications,” pointed out Dr. Saad.

5G also incorporates improved security features, that adds more privacy and immunization to IoT networks’ signals and data. Moreover, the capability of leveraging 5G empowers the use of edge computing nodes, enabling swift decision-making for urgent scenarios.

Furthermore, 5G networks offer seamless mobility support, enabling uninterrupted connectivity for IoT devices like connected vehicles, drones, asset tracking, and logistics, where continuous and reliable connectivity is essential.

Lastly, 5G networks are designed with energy efficiency in mind, especially in the network, optimizing power consumption for both the infrastructure and IoT devices.

“The combination of these capabilities makes 5G a transformative technology for the IoT landscape,” concluded Dr. Saad.

Saudi Arabia’s Infrastructure Readiness

Jaber proudly stated that Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in preparing its infrastructure to leverage the potential of 5G for IoT innovation. The Kingdom has taken several steps to build a robust 5G ecosystem and ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place.

Major telecom operators, such as stc, Mobily, and Zain, have been actively rolling out 5G infrastructure in key cities. “As of 2021, 5G coverage is available in several cities and is expanding to cover more areas,” noted Jaber. Along with this, substantial investments have been assigned to build the necessary infrastructure to support 5G deployment such as deploying new base stations, upgrading existing infrastructure, and expanding fiber-optic networks.

Another important step has been implemented by the Communications and Space Technology Commission (CST) of Saudi Arabia in allocating suitable spectrum bands for 5G deployment. “The 3.5 GHz band and higher frequency bands, such as the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands, have been assigned to 5G services. This spectrum allocation enables the deployment of high-capacity and high-speed 5G networks to support IoT applications.”

The Saudi Arabian government has also provided regulatory support to facilitate 5G deployment, which includes streamlining the licensing process, ensuring efficient spectrum management, and establishing guidelines and frameworks for 5G network deployment and operations (private 5G). “At Salam, we have deployed the 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) network across the Kingdom,” cited Jaber.

The government has also encouraged collaboration between telecom operators and other stakeholders to drive 5G innovation. These partnerships promote knowledge sharing, investment, and the co-creation of innovative use cases.

Smart city initiatives, such as NEOM, Qiddiya, and the Riyadh Smart City, aim to leverage 5G and IoT technologies to create sustainable, connected, and technologically advanced urban environments.

Establishing innovation and research centers focused on 5G and IoT technologies, including the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), contributes to the development of local talent, encourages innovation, and supports the growth of the IoT ecosystem.

“While Saudi Arabia has made significant progress, there are still areas that require further development and improvement,” commented Jaber. “For example, ensuring seamless coverage in remote and rural areas, addressing challenges related to network interoperability and standardization, and fostering a vibrant startup ecosystem for IoT innovation.”

In summary, continued investments, regulatory support, and collaboration between stakeholders will further enhance Saudi Arabia's readiness to fully leverage the potential of 5G for IoT innovation.

Inclusive IoT Adoption

“Ensuring affordable and equitable access to 5G connectivity, especially in remote areas, is crucial for driving inclusive IoT adoption,” affirmed AlObaid.

This can be done by promoting infrastructure investment and encouraging telecom operators to expand 5G via a public-private partnership model. This will result in a customized, cost-effective 5G solution to industry-targeted customers (remote areas).

“Technology vendors need to be flexible to customize the solution based on the market demand,” remarked AlObaid.

Allocating suitable spectrum bands for 5G in a manner that ensures coverage in remote areas is also important. This may entail exploring satellite-based connectivity solutions, such as LEO satellites, to address the connectivity challenges in remote areas where deploying terrestrial infrastructure is difficult.

Satellite networks can provide wide-area coverage, enabling 5G connectivity in underserved regions and supporting IoT applications in industries like agriculture, environmental monitoring, and disaster management.

More importantly, governments play a vital role by implementing policies and initiatives that prioritize connectivity in remote areas. This can include targeted funding programs, regulatory interventions, and collaborations with stakeholders to ensure affordable and equitable access to 5G connectivity and drive inclusive IoT adoption.

Government Policies and Initiatives

As for the current policies and regulations centered around data privacy, security, and interoperability that either support or hinder IoT development, Georges Jaber, VP Wholesales and BD, Salam commented: “The policies and regulations surrounding data privacy, security, and interoperability have a significant impact on the development of the Internet of Things (IoT). For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented by the European Union (EU) establishes stringent rules for data collection, use, and storage, including data generated by IoT devices. While GDPR enhances data privacy, it also imposes compliance burdens and potential restrictions on data utilization for IoT applications.”

Furthermore, Dr. Saad Alhuwaimel, Technology and Regulation Sr. Manager, ATSS, provided insight on the specific government initiatives that are most effective in stimulating investment and collaboration in the Saudi IoT ecosystem. He highlighted that the specific government initiatives that have proven to be effective in stimulating investment and collaboration in the Saudi IoT system are numerous and impactful.

The National IoT Strategy stands out as a key initiative, outlining objectives and targets crucial for the development and adoption of IoT technologies; focusing on infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, talent development, and industry collaboration. Additionally, the establishment of innovation hubs and incubators supported mainly by the government (with some private sector involvement), has played a pivotal role in nurturing IoT startups and entrepreneurs.

Notable examples include initiatives by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, offering financial incentives and support for startups, as well as infrastructure and laboratories for IoT development.

Challenges and Opportunities

The moderator kickstarted the discussion on challenges and opportunities by asking about proactively addressing the evolving cybersecurity threats associated with large-scale IoT deployment. Jaber promptly responded with a set of high-level steps for proactive cybersecurity in large-scale IoT deployment, which included conducting a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats, designing a secure architecture for the IoT ecosystem, and deploying continuous monitoring tools and techniques to detect anomalies, suspicious activities, and potential cyber threats. 

The second question delved into the realm of responsible data governance and individual privacy protection in an interconnected IoT world. AlObeid presented a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders, highlighting key considerations and measures. These principles included data minimization and purpose limitation, urging for the gathering and retention of only essential data for the intended purpose. This involves minimizing the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) and ensuring that the usage of data aligns with its original intended purposes. The approach also emphasized privacy by design and default principles, urging the incorporation of privacy safeguards into the early stages of IoT system development.

The moderator then tackled the challenge of scalability and integration by posing the question, "How can we overcome technical challenges like fragmentation and lack of interoperability to achieve seamless and scalable IoT ecosystems?" Dr. Alhuwaimel presented a comprehensive set of strategies to address these technical challenges. The suggested measures encompassed promoting standardization to encourage the growth and acceptance of open industry standards for IoT devices, protocols, and data formats. This involves establishing testing programs and certification processes for interoperability to ensure adherence to these standards. Additionally, implementing middleware solutions and integration platforms was recommended to serve as intermediaries between various IoT devices, networks, and applications.

Best Practices

When it comes to securing communication protocols and data encryption in IoT deployments, Jaber recommended the following 10 best practices:

  1. Employ Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) to establish secure channels.
  2. Ensure that both the IoT devices and the backend systems authenticate each other before establishing a connection.
  3. Apply end-to-end encryption to protect data as it travels.
  4. Encrypt sensitive data when it is stored on IoT devices, gateways, or backend servers.
  5. Enforce strict access controls to limit who can interact with IoT devices and access the data they generate.
  6. Keep the firmware and software of IoT devices updated.
  7. Implement secure protocols for device management.
  8. Conduct regular security audits.
  9. Establish robust key management practices.
  10. Deploy intrusion detection systems (IDS) and security monitoring solutions to detect and respond to security incidents in real-time.

Emphasizing the crucial aspect of addressing security incidents in real-time, AlObaid highlighted the significance of open standards and platforms in fostering interoperability and collaboration for the progression of the IoT landscape. He noted that these standards and platforms play a pivotal role in facilitating seamless communication and cooperation among various IoT devices, systems, and applications, irrespective of their manufacturers or specific implementations. He cited focus areas such as compatibility and integration, plug-and-play capabilities, ecosystem expansion, market competition and innovation, data sharing and collaboration, scalability and future-proofing, community collaboration and regulatory compliance, underscoring them as instrumental in advancing innovation in the IoT landscape.

He opined that open standards and platforms enable seamless integration, foster innovation and empower stakeholders to work together toward a connected and interoperable IoT ecosystem.

Regarding the steps that can be taken to build public trust and encourage the acceptance of IoT technology in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Saad Alhuwaimel stated that ensuring trust is crucial in effectively implementing IoT systems, particularly within society. This process begins with raising public awareness and educating individuals about the benefits of these technologies, while addressing concerns regarding privacy and data collection from unknown sources.

It is also important to consider ethical considerations and prioritize data protection, including breach notifications, and collaborate with governmental and social stakeholders to establish a multi-task framework that aims to build trust among the involved parties.

Showcasing success stories and demonstrations to educate people about the security of IoT systems and data, alongside implementing best practices, will promote a culture of trust, transparency, and responsible technology use, leading to wider acceptance and adoption of IoT among the public.

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