Saudi Arabia has about 1,000 telecoms towers already supporting 5G and the super-fast mobile services will be available within months, a senior government official said.
The next-generation networks will allow smartphone users to download a movie in seconds.
But the technology is more geared toward industry, said Haytham Al-Ohali, vice minister at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology.
“We currently have around 1,000 towers up and running 5G,” Al-Ohali told Arab News at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.
“Our operators need to put the financial packages together — and having the handsets available, that would help.”
Al-Ohali said he hoped 5G will be launched in Saudi Arabia “either toward the end of Q2, or early Q3 this year.”
The uptake of the technology is expected to add $19 billion to Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product, and 20,000 jobs, by 2030.
While 5G will be available to consumers, its real use is for technologies like driverless cars and in machine-to-machine communication, Al-Ohali said.
“Downloading a movie in four seconds is not the promise of 5G … 5G is the first network that’s not built for the consumer. It’s built for machines, it’s built for industry,” he said.
“I think (consumers) will love the extra speeds that 5G brings, but in a country where 4G is very robust like Saudi Arabia, and provides good speeds — currently Saudi Arabia is ranked ahead of the UK and Japan in terms of 4G speeds — I don’t think that increment is really worth the investment from the operators. What I think the promise is, is industry, machine-to-machine.”
The vice-minister said Saudi Arabia is in talks with industry groups over the prospect of 5G use for digitization within factories, and is also studying its use in health and education.
Nations globally are racing to develop 5G networks, an issue complicated by US concerns over the security of equipment produced by Chinese telecoms manufacturer Huawei.
Al-Ohali said that any company meeting security requirements was welcome to do business in the Kingdom.
“Like any other technology … in Saudi Arabia, there are certain security requirements. We welcome any vendor who complies to come and operate in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Al-Ohali earlier addressed the World Economic Forum during a panel discussion with Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson in the Middle East and Africa.
“It is the fastest-growing region when it comes to Internet use,” Ibrahim said.