PARTNER CONTENT: Zain KSA has been at the forefront of 5G development globally and now has big plans to take a leading role in the rollout of 5G-Advanced technology. At MWC Barcelona 2023 Mobile World Live met with the Zain KSA’s CTO Abdulrahman Al-Mufadda and Huawei’s President of 5G Product Line Ritchie Peng to learn how both parties are partnering on a ‘5.5G City’ innovation project. Al-Mufadda is perfectly placed to offer insight into the social and economic advantages of digitalisation and how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is transforming into a hub for innovation and technology.

Zain KSA’s 5G journey started back in 2019 when they launched the world’s third-largest 5G network at that time. “Our strategy was to build a solid foundation, then compliment that with more advanced services, which will enable users from different segments to fully leverage the technology’s benefits,” explained Al-Mufadda.

Those benefits have been immense, according to Huawei’s Ritchie.

“Globally, the advent of 5G has brought about significant changes to business practices, for example 60 per cent high-definition video, 2.5 times longer duration of short video watching, and 8 times greater VSP proportion compared to 4G, as well as improvements to vertical industries.”

Ritchie also highlighted how fast the growth of 5G has been in the last few years; the market now has more than 1 billion global 5G users, with 20 million plus industry applications and 100 million Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) users. And operators are enjoying an almost 10 per cent increase in ARPU and 30 per cent increase in convergent package subscriptions.

Just the beginning
However, both men made it clear that success so far is only just the beginning.

“Our focus is to build a reliable digital infrastructure to enable hyper-connected communities and digital societies as well,” commented the Zain CTO. “With this commitment, we move on and we expand our 5G portfolio into more sectors by enabling different, new use cases as well. In addition to that, we have been investing in adjacent markets through services and new products that will bring value to individuals and enterprises as well. This is including fintech, cloud, gaming and drones as well. And we continue to optimise our services to ensure a great customer experience.”

He asserted: “Today, we believe we haven’t opened all the capabilities of 5G, so we are still exploring what can be done as well.”

Metaverse excitement
Al-Mufadda is excited by the potential of the metaverse, stating Zain KSA is investing in the concept to create new and exciting ways for people to interact with the world. The metaverse is also a driving force for the second phase of 5G, believes Huawei’s Ritchie.

Ritchie declared Huawei “fully committed” to supporting Zain KSA at every key milestone of the second phase of 5G, particularly as new innovative applications are launched.

“We anticipate that cellular IoT will be the next large-scale application over the next three years, similar to the development of FWA in the past four years,” predicted Ritchie. “These hot use-cases require better uplink ability, and with XR industries maturing, 5GtoC will take another stride. From a network perspective, more 5G networks will shift to SA mode, and more spectrum will be allocated to NR to support full wireless services.”

An essential element of the second phase of 5G will be the move to 5.5G – or ‘5G-Advanced’ – technology. Work on ratifying 5G Advanced, part of the 3GPP Release 18 specification, began last year and the standard is expected to be frozen later this year ahead of commercial rollout in 2024.

5.5G City
Against this backdrop, Zain KSA and Huawei signed a ‘5.5G City’ MOU during MWC Barcelona 2023, pledging to work together to promote technological innovation for 5.5G.

Zain KSA’s CTO told Mobile World Live the 5.5G City initiative ties perfectly into the country’s digital transformation goals outlined in Saudi Vision 2030. Indeed, the Saudi 2030 vision defines a 10 Gigabit society, and 10Gb/s downlink is one of the key features of 5.5G technology.

“We are committed to driving digital transformation to empower an inclusive digital society and to support the transition towards a sustainable digital economy,” stated Al-Mufadda. “We invest in innovative technology solutions to expand our network vertically and partner with global technology leaders to enable the achievement of our strategic goals, with a focus on delivering the best possible digital experience for our customers as well.”

He continued: “As part of this mission, we have partnered with global technology leaders like Huawei to enhance our end-to-end network through joint innovation on 5G-Advanced technology. Our collaboration will support the process of incubating a range of vertical services for industry digitalisation, also creating other use-case development initiatives.”

Zain KSA and Huawei will collaborate to enhance technological innovation, improve user experience, and develop new use cases. The 5.5G City partnership will involve providing a seamless gigabit experience in both indoor and outdoor scenarios through the large-scale deployment of MetaAAU and 5G carrier aggregation, as well as LampSite digital indoor solutions. Additionally, initiatives will be taken to enhance the performance of Massive MIMO networks and to develop end-to-end autonomous network operation and optimisation capabilities. Both parties will also work together to develop new use cases for the Internet of Things (IoT) and private network solutions. Finally, the partnership will explore innovative cooperation in areas such as ultra-compact site and green energy solutions, among others.

“We are excited to collaborate with Zain KSA on this critical initiative to provide the latest 5G-Advanced technology and solutions in the region,” added Huawei’s Ritchie. “Our technical innovations align with our long-term strategic partnership with Zain KSA. We are confident that this cooperation will lead to novel solutions for enhancing user experience and developing new use cases, partnering with Zain KSA to contribute significantly to enhance the digital infrastructure for industry digital transformation in Saudi Arabia.”

Zain KSA has been a leader in 5G for many years, and now, thanks to this enhanced 5.5G City partnership with Huawei, is well placed to be a leader going forward and a global showcase for rollout of more advanced 5G use cases.