PARTNER INTERVIEW: The rapid pace at which advanced technologies such as digital twins, virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360-degree view video are developing is inspiring Zain Saudi Arabia to ensure its network can deliver these cutting edge experiences as soon as they become full commercial propositions.
In an interview with Mobile World Live, the operator’s technology access general manager Murad Sami Alhelou highlighted the rationale behind a recent memorandum of understanding signed with Huawei, which includes joint work to accelerate 5.5G technology, and outlined its achievements with its award-winning 5G network.
“We need to always be ahead of use cases to ensure the network is ready,” he said. Citing the future commercialisation of digital twins, 360 video and AR/VR, the executive noted “things are moving in a really quick pace so we need to always make sure that we are there.”
“That’s why at Zain we always look with our strategic technology partners [at] how we can develop our network to meet expectations that are expected in the future.”
As part of this preparation the company has built its GUIDE blueprint and signed the MoU agreement with Huawei to further develop its infrastructure.
Under the agreement Zain and Huawei will aim to enrich the customer experience the operator can offer in Saudi Arabia, along with Zain brands in other markets. As part of the pact, Huawei will help accelerate its migration from 4G to 5G, work on 5.5G innovation, and fast track the introduction of new digital services.
Among the specific areas of focus are network improvements to allow wider IoT deployments, ultra-reliable low latency communications, uplink centric broadband, real-time broadband communication, harmonised communication, and sensing.
The two will also work together to define autonomous driving network-level criteria and explore new use cases.
Alhelou stated 5G was not only about speed and gigabit access but also ensuring it has intelligent operations to ensure customer needs are being met and complaints are resolved in good time.
“Now we are not only providing the legacy connectivity,” he added. “We need to make sure that we have differentiated services across the network to address different needs … we are moving more to a tailored experience per customer.”
Another vital aspect of its latest partnership and strategy going forward is a drive to further extend its environmental and sustainability efforts, including energy saving measures and a reduction in carbon emissions.
Its work towards the next generation of 5G builds on the operator’s great success as one of the pioneers of previous iterations of the technology.
“We were early adopters for 5G technology in the region and even globally,” Alhelou said, adding the company’s management and leadership had a clear vision and mission to ensure that the motto “Zain is 5G and 5G is Zain” was met.
The operator launched its service in October 2019, but has not rested on its laurels. Following the initial switch-on the executive noted Zain pushed to ensure the network had “the right performance” to make an impact.
Its network now covers 63 per cent coverage of the Saudi Arabian population with 52 cities completely covered from more than 5,000 sites. In addition to being well received by its customers, Zain’s deployment has attracted international accolades.
Alhelou explained in 2021 it had been recognised as the fastest fixed network by speed test specialists Ookla, noting: “We are not only looking to provide 5G, we are providing 5G performance as well.”
It has previously also won two other awards from the speed test specialists for its network.
Zain has since been continuing to press ahead with pioneering network developments, even before its recent MoU with Huawei. In February 2022 it launched its standalone 5G core network to commercial traffic, a first for Saudi Arabia.
This new core, Alhelou highlighted, would “open more opportunities and capabilities from network side to serve specific enterprises and verticals,” adding it also delivered benefits to its consumers.
The interview, available to view here, took place at MWC Barcelona 2022, where Alhelou noted he had seen many future opportunities and use cases for the advanced network it is building.