The Business Year

Dr. Mohammed Altamimi

SAUDI ARABIA - Telecoms & IT

Dr. Mohammed Altamimi

Governor, Governor Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC)

Bio

Dr. Mohammed Altamimi, Governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has extensive experience in organizational governance, politics, and competitive economics, and is recognized as a global expert in wireless networks and cloud computing. He graduated from Harvard University’s Leadership Development program and holds a Ph.D. in telecommunications and networking from the University of Pittsburgh in the USA, a master’s degree in communications technology and policy from the University of Strathclyde in the UK, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Saudi Arabia.

CITC is vigorously investing in networks across the country to facilitate and encourage the digitalization agenda.

The past year and a half witnessed a historic jump in digitalization across every sector of the Saudi economy. How has CITC responded to this unprecedented change and what role did it have in spurring in on in the first place?

Under the auspices of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, every sec-tor of the Saudi economy has been on a national digitalization journey. This restructuring of the economy was accelerated due to the spread of COVID-19 and resulted in the kingdom being one of the most successful countries in the world at innovating technologies to confront the pandemic. This change was driven by empowering digital education, providing digital health services, and adding new smart government services. These technologies were possible due to the robustness of digital infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and CITC’s world-leading spectrum allocation policies, resulting in the country ranking among the top 10 in global mobile internet speeds. Indeed, to meet the increasing demand for data during the pandemic, CITC also provided additional frequencies for operators in the 700 and 800 MHz bands, increasing their frequency by over 50%. This additional spectrum has considerably eased the burden on mobile networks and fast tracked the expansion of 5G. Numerous other measures were taken, such as waiving data costs for users of health apps, e-learning platforms, and social distancing apps. Taken together, these measures have greatly expedited the kingdom’s transformation into a truly digital society. Given the unprecedented increase in demand for logistics and delivery services during the pandemic, Saudi Arabia quickly rose to the occasion by fast-tracking licensing and enhancing communications between ICT and e-commerce service providers, working to expedite deliveries across the country. In response to this dramatic surge in demand—a phenomenon we expect to continue well after the pandemic—CITC also developed a regulatory sandbox for delivery apps that provides companies with a safe space to test iterate products as they come to market. It is worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia recorded a significant growth of average daily orders by 350% between 4Q2019 and 4Q2021 to reach 525,000 orders per day. In the same period, there was a substantial growth in monthly average order value by 455% (reaching SAR1.7 billion). The regulatory sandbox enables CITC to smartly control and regulate Saudi Arabia’s delivery applications ecosystem while nurturing and supporting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, in line with Vision 2030. In addition to advising firms according to their service provision, business model, legality, and customer service, we also highlight financing options available for innovators in the scale-up stage. Finally, CITC has also been focusing on cementing our strong digital foundations and increasing the provision of innovative technologies by ensuring there is adequate spectrum allocation for International mobile technologies (IMT). Crucially, this includes the kingdom’s recent move to license the entire Wi-Fi 6E frequency spectrum, an innovation deployed in partnership with industry giants Intel and Broadcom. This development gives users vastly increased internet speeds while opening the door to a wide array of other emerging low-latency technologies and services such as the metaverse and loT. This, along-side a range of connectivity advances such as low-Earth-orbit satellite internet, positions the Kingdom as a regional leader in emerging technology and digitalization.

While the pandemic was full of challenges, the solutions that were developed here have the potential to power growth for years to come. How does CITC approach the post-pandemic era?

The complexity of the ecosystem requires cross-regulation and the implementation of a comprehensive and collaborative mandate to regulate. As the pandemic continues to spread, the ICT sector must continue to innovate in order to remain connected. In many ways, it is as important to public health as the vaccination campaigns. Imagine a world in which you couldn’t video call your grandmother, or call your children from quarantine? ICT is also what helps us under-stand the virus and prevent its spread, while also maintaining our social fabric. While the current crisis has created new challenges for the ICT sector, such as dramatically increased demand, our regulatory framework has proven flexible and able to incentivize innovation and investment while maintaining effective levels of competition. Still, a key challenge will be keeping digital networks running at optimal standards while working to extend connectivity to as many as possible, especially in remote areas. The impact of the pandemic on the ICT and postal ecosystems can also be seen in our increased data consumption and cloud usage, not to mention the ex-plosive growth of the digital economy and an ever-widening digital gap within society. Whatever the challenges, CITC will continue to vigorously invest in networks across the country, particularly by localizing cloud services. In rolling out its local roaming initiative, CITC is enhancing rural connectivity by allowing free network switching, giving users connectivity to any available Mobile Network Operator. To ensure greater inclusivity, we are working to digitally connect the nation by building an ICT infrastructure that is fast, reliable, and, most importantly, affordable. This is how you develop a truly national digital infrastructure. Indeed. the ever-growing importance of ICT in our everyday lives has opened many doors for investing in digital and emerging technologies. Resilience of broadband infrastructure has enabled the scaling up of the capacity for e-government services. In the era of COVID-19, this is no longer a luxury but a necessity, especially in health and education. Given its role in enabling ICT technologies in line with Vision 2030’s goals, CITC is also working to make the kingdom a leading developer of IoT services. Even in a post-pandemic era, online education and e-health are here to stay. With CITC’s help, the country can harness the power of loT and other smart solutions to pave the way for greater us-er-integration across the entire kingdom.

E-sports and digital content have seen massive growth in the kingdom in recent times. How is CITC encouraging this area?

The digital content and e-sports segments are of strategic importance to Vision 2030; having a clear and transparent regulatory framework is critical to attracting investment in these segments. CITC recently launched a public consultation on this topic to provide an attractive and transparent regulatory environment that is fair to entrants of every kind. In the e-sports and digital content segments, we are working closely with other government entities, notably through the Digital Content Council, to create an integrated governance structure that encourages the sectors’ innovative capacity through world-leading IP rules and investment attraction. As CITC, we also launched an initiative called “Game Mode” to enhance the user experience with reduced latency by 82%, promote competition between service providers, and more fully involve the gaming community in setting priorities for how to grow the gaming segment. We are proud to see that the community through this initiative grew by 1.2 million subscribers with improved packages in 2021 only. Our digital segments, on the other hand, are continuously evolving, and are always at the top of CITC’s agenda as it works to ensure that Saudi Arabia is ready for the future. As the kingdom’s digital regulator, we remain as committed to innovation, healthy investment, and fair competition in every segment of the market that we encounter.

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