Telecoms and technology specialists will congregate alongside policymakers and state representatives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia next week for the GSMA’s M360 Conference held between 5 December and 6 December. 

The two-day event is expected to fuel conversations around the innovations that are gaining momentum in the Gulf region, with AI, cybersecurity and advanced network tech set to take centre stage.  

While regional industry trends are clear to be a highlight, the upcoming Riyadh event will also showcase how the Middle East has secured a solid position in the global technology industry, and rightfully so. 

This year alone industry moves by telecoms giants in the region have made big headlines including: a pair of satellite connectivity deals involving STC and Omnispace and Zain with AST SpaceMobile; Zain’s project to switch on sustainable 5G in the Red Sea; OpenAI’s partnership with Abu Dhabi’s technology conglomerate G42 and most recently, STC’s move to acquire a $1.2 billion stake in Telefonica.  

The list goes on, and there’s much to unpack about the market’s strong digital ambitions. This is because the Middle East, and particularly host country Saudi Arabia, has seen “heavy investments in building robust telecoms infrastructure”, head of MENA at GSMA Jawad Abbassi told Mobile World Live (MWL).  

Abbassi also acknowledged governments in the region “recognise the importance of connectivity for economic development and have undertaken initiatives to expand and enhance telecom networks”. 

5G stands as an important technology in this economy, with the executive naming the network as a powerful driver of GDP growth in the region. By 2030, Abbassi estimates 5G’s contribution to GDP will exceed $60 billion, 13 per cent of the overall annual economic impact of mobile in the market.  

Today, the network technology covers 75 per cent of the Gulf’s population and Abbassi added some operators in the region have emerged as “global leaders in terms of 5G adoption”.  

He also named the host city of Riyadh as “one of the world’s fastest-developing digital capitals where the pace of technology adoption is paving the way for other economies”. The enterprises built around 5G and other emerging technologies will underline “the importance of stakeholders taking the right steps to sustain the impact of mobile services on the digital economy, with spectrum availability a key driver of affordable 5G for all”, added Abbassi.

What to expect? 
As government services in MENA are becoming increasingly digitalised, Abbassi noted the conference’s second keynote, “A Vision for Universal Connectivity” will be devoted to exploring the importance of public-private partnerships in enabling a secure, connected future, as well as risks linked to AI technologies. 

The keynote will see representatives from SAMENA Telecommunications Council, Saudi Arabia’s Communications, Space and Technology Commission, Ooredoo Group and Fiber Connect Council share the stage to address conversations around regulatory support. 

There will also be a specific session designed to examine industrial AI deployments, hosted by leading experts including Microsoft, Alibaba Cloud and professional consulting company McKinsey. Titled “Is Your Data AI Ready?”, the session will explore “how to ensure data safety while maximising utility” in the age of transformative AI, Abbassi said. 

Beyond new innovations, the executive told MWL the event will also make space for the theme of sustainability and how existing technologies can help power this agenda, as the region prepares to host the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, UAE. 

Spectrum talks 
M360 MENA will also be held around the same time as WRC23 in Dubai, which has been ongoing since 20 November and is focused on regulations for network spectrum.

“Spectrum harmonisation is crucial for the optimal functioning of mobile networks, and its effective management remains paramount”, Abbassi told MWL

“The scarcity of this resource underscores the importance of timely access to prime bands, and I foresee this being a priority discussion at the conference.” 

He also emphasised the increasing demand for spectrum as the region experiences a surge in 5G deployment, with “countries outlining plans to repurpose [legacy] spectrum for 4G and 5G networks” and pointed to North Africa as a market in which operators struggle to rollout 5G commercial services due to the absence of the resource. 

“Addressing this spectrum deficit is crucial for policymakers in the region to unlock the full potential of mobile technology”, the executive added.