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Over the years, we’ve gained a perspective on just how intensive and complex it is to achieve a complete digital transformation. What it takes to succeed requires a lot of time, money, and effort and not everyone can deal with that.

Digital transformation involves various players within society. May it be service providers, telcos, enterprises, and governments — success requires bringing together technology, data, process, and organizational change capability altogether. Being part of a larger whole, technology is the engine, data is the fuel, the process is the navigation, and the organization serves as the landing gear.

With these four functioning well together, creating and bringing to life a compelling vision for a digital future become feasible. The main key is to have a clear strategy and people working hand-in-hand to attain it.

GCC nations aim for ICT and digital innovation

Digital has made a fundamental impact on the world’s economies and societies. The new era of hyper-connectivity is driven by broadband, mobile, and digital technologies such as smartphone devices, big data, cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Governments across the Middle East have launched ambitious national transformation plans that focus on enabling information communication technology (ICT) and digital transformation technologies. On a ten-year scale, they aim to address their own economic, social, and environmental challenges.

  • Digital Oman 2030

The eOman 2030 strategy aims at building a strong foundation to prepare the community, manpower, businesses, and the government for the impacts of technology and digitalization. Shaping Oman’s future, the country is a high-income society with a geographically strategic position in the Gulf region.

In fact, Oman has developed a robust ICT infrastructure supporting connectivity across regions and globally. According to Arthur D Little, Oman’s digital development is evident as it has a high smartphone penetration of 92%, 4G coverage of 99%, and widespread high-speed Internet.

Cited as an example, regulatory liberalization would allow innovative business models and emerging technologies to compete fairly, generating an additional US$50 million from additional telco investment alone. Operators in Oman’s IT sector have made big strides as they move beyond infrastructure to new business solutions. This is in line with the government’s vision of putting ICT as a key priority in improving the standing of Omani businesses in the international arena.

The drive to improve network connectivity across the sultanate is supporting the expansion of fixed broadband infrastructure under the National Broadband Strategy (NBS). A recent initiative on this involves the state-owned telecom infrastructure services provider Oman Broadband Company. Its ‘Fibre Over Electricity Poles’ project aims to utilize the existing electricity poles to lay fiber optic cable in providing broadband services by backhauling mobile sites.

Thus, the expansions laid out in this strategy are already showing results such as boosting the quality and speed of broadband connections and facilitating a pivot among the country’s telecom operators, with Omantel and Ooredoo leading the charge. The country’s ICT sector is indeed rapidly moving beyond advisory services and email hosting into cloud applications, security, and the IoT.

  • New Kuwait 2035

Kuwait's 2035 vision aims to transform Kuwait into an international financial and trade hub. This is where the private sector, including telcos, can contribute to the economy, create competition, and promote efficiency.

stc has been progressing with major 5G standalone (SA) developments to advance its 5G network architecture. This enables the radical transformation of the telecom industry into an as-a-service model. In line with Kuwait’s 2035 vision, 5G SA technology caters to specialized use scenarios such as enterprise applications where uplink throughput is important.

5G SA will also feature higher levels of security that provide robustness to telecom networks. On the other hand, Ooredoo Kuwait and the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) collaborated on the implementation of the Kuwait Mobile ID.

This will reshape the way of delivering services through fostering digital transformation. Through this constructive cooperation, innovation and collaboration between the government and private sectors are observed. Zain Kuwait has also collaborated closely with government entities such as the Ministry of Electricity and Water for a smart meters project and the Ministry of Health for the “Shlonik” app that enforces home quarantine measures.

Fiber optic networks, a key technology in the telecommunications sector, are also an essential part of the smart cities strategy being developed as part of the New Kuwait 2035 economic diversification vision. Kuwait's Ministry of Communications has been laying out the fiber infrastructure across various governorates in a move to expedite the possibilities of IoT, with 5G being the enabler of smart interconnectedness.

  • Qatar National Vision 2030

Qatar’s National Vision aims to make the country an advanced society by 2030; capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living to its citizens. In line with this long-term vision, the Qatar National Broadband Network (Qnbn) is committed to being the major conduit for Qatar’s progress.
By providing the very latest technology platforms to help achieve a knowledge-based ICT economy, Qnbn’s state-of-the-art fiber-optic network will enable the country to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the region.

By providing high-speed communications infrastructure and increased fiber capacity, the fiber optic network will improve the quality of life for Qatar’s citizens and reduce Qatar’s carbon footprint. Moreover, Qatar recorded one of the highest fixed and mobile penetrations in the Middle East region as well as one of the most progressive countries globally in terms of 5G. This is the reason behind its reputation as one of the regional leaders in terms of telecoms maturity.

The mobile sector is led by Ooredoo Qatar, which deployed the first commercial 5G network in the world in 2018, and Vodafone Qatar, which has also deployed 5G networks based on New Radio (NR) in the 3.5GHz frequency.

With this regard, increasing international capacity will assist in Qatar's long-term development goals and
Qatar’s telecom market has already witnessed strong growth in recent years. This is driven by the increasing population and demand for premium connectivity and content services in the country.

  • UAE Vision 2021

Realizing UAE’s Vision 2021, the UAE ICT 2021 Strategy and the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) prioritize digital technology including the application and rapid adoption of new disruptive technologies across sectors.

According to the data from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the country maintained first place in the Arab region and came second globally for the second consecutive year in the “use of telecommunications/ICTs.”

The achievement also reflects the efforts of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) in implementing the directives allowing the telecommunications sector to leverage modern technology in the country, especially 5G.

The continued work and collaboration of leading telcos in the country, particularly Etisalat and du, to develop the telecommunications infrastructure in keeping pace with future requirements contribute to the ongoing global leadership of the UAE in this sector.

A testament to UAE’s vision, UAE’s access infrastructure to carry data traffic is among the world’s best, targeting the planned rollout of 5G by 2025. Similar to other GCC countries, the UAE has made substantial efforts as well to move government services online, with many countries now moving towards the cloud.

In parallel to this, the UAE seems to be the most advanced GCC country in its adoption of smart classrooms. A good example of this is the partnership between the UAE Ministry of Education, Etisalat, and Microsoft. By establishing the Etisalat Education Technology Center, they focus on doing continuous efforts in research and development (R&D) in line with the country’s goal of implementing digital schools and smart learning.

  • Saudi Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 upholds that a sophisticated digital infrastructure is integral to today’s advanced era. Aiming for a digital infrastructure that would attract investors and enhance the competitiveness of the economy, the government will partner with the private sectors, including telcos, in order to help develop the telecommunications and information technology sectors.

This will result in providing high-speed broadband, expanding its coverage and capacity within and around cities and improving its quality. With a specific goal of exceeding 90% housing coverage in densely populated cities and 66% in other urban zones, they also want to facilitate the extension of broadband networks.

Hence, the development of a robust national communication infrastructure is critical to the success of the Vision 2030 initiative. It must be equipped to handle zettabytes of data, high-definition video, and millions of connected devices and things. Next-generation networks and high-speed fiber must be deployed to carry massive amounts of data transmission involved as the nation moves forward.

Ultimately, 5G is a technology that will cater to the demand of netizens in Saudi Arabia. Thus, continuous investments in the rollout, upgrade, and optimization of 5G will be crucial. Accordingly, the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) aims to empower the telecom sector, especially through building and strengthening infrastructure.

The billion-dollar Saudi ICT market pushes CITC to responsibly act upon ensuring adequate spectrum allocation for international mobile technologies (IMT) usage, fair competition, affordable prices, and connectivity, as well as removing barriers and promoting localization within the sector.

As technologies evolve to touch many more sectors of the economy, CITC is also exploring new and emerging technologies and their related markets, including quantum computing, IoT, automated vehicles, blockchain, AI, media convergence, and fintech for total digital transformation.

  • Bahrain 2030

The ongoing national digital transformation, in harmony with Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030 strategies, is on track. By prioritizing strong ICT infrastructure to support the growth of the digital economy, it intends to strengthen Bahrain’s readiness in harnessing innovation.

In line with the kingdom’s economic diversification efforts, Bahrain’s ICT sector now accounts for nearly 3% of the national GDP. The Kingdom has actively pursued a strategy of flexible regulation to encourage investment in the telecoms sector. In fact, Bahrain was the first GCC member to open and liberalize its telecoms market and remains one of the region’s only telecoms markets with no restrictions on VoIP services.

Bahrain has become the first country in the Middle East and in the world to secure 5G coverage for its entire population. It is forecasted that there will be more than 1 billion 5G connections in Bahrain by 2023. This brings the nation to the forefront of B2B and B2C technological advancement.

Bahrain's newfound 5G connectivity is expected to encourage the deployment of emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, IoT, and edge computing. With enhanced reliability, significantly reduced latency, and bandwidth capacities in the gigabits, 5G networks will bring efficiency to edge devices and cloud-based servers.

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