Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of online users, leading to a huge demand for connectivity.
As of January 2021, there were over 33m internet users in Saudi Arabia, an increase of over 1 million users since the previous year. With internet penetration at 95.7%, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of online users, leading to a huge demand for connectivity and capacity from wireless services. The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is continually taking action to ensure rising traffic demands continue to be met.
A spectrum strategy that works for all
CITC’s National Spectrum Strategy for Saudi Arabia aims to efficiently and effectively optimise spectrum usage by different industry sectors and use cases in the country. Its multiyear strategic strategy and outlook will govern spectrum policy until 2025 and is a comprehensive plan to unlock the potential of spectrum for both established and emerging technologies. It will do this by implementing proposals for spectrum sharing and licence-exempt use as well as lightly and fully licensed spectrum. CITC hopes that this will enable innovative and more commercially established spectrum uses to coexist and drive economic growth. The consultative process took feedback and advice from academia, the national government, mobile operators, wireless technology providers and esteemed international organisations like the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance to consider a range of perspectives and forward-looking analyses of evolving spectrum needs and trends.
Developing a plan for spectrum sharing
The spectrum outlook is a core part of Saudi Arabia’s roadmap to become a world leader in radiocommunications by releasing spectrum to support soaring data consumption while supporting emerging and future wireless technologies. It has three core principles: transparency, predictability and the adoption of an evidence-based data-driven spectrum policy. CITC has allocated and improved access to more than 23GHz of newly available spectrum for a wide range of uses in the Kingdom.
This will be allocated as follows:
- Licensed spectrum 4GHz
- Licence-exempt spectrum 6.2GHz
- Lightly licensed spectrum 13GHz
Licence-exempt usage enables and drives the sharing of spectrum among different users and technology. In 2021, CITC made the entire 6GHz band available for unlicensed use, as well as spectrum across the 66-71GHz bands. In addition, consultations are currently in place regarding the 5.9GHz band, as CITC recognises the value and urgent need for more unlicensed spectrum that can enable even more innovative use cases and meet surging demand from existing use cases. CITC is of the firm belief that smart technologies which can coexist in the band will enable sustainable growth for different wireless technologies. This belief is reflected within the Spectrum Outlook by making more than 900MHz of mid-band spectrum available for IMT and 5G technology.
Lightly and fully licensed spectrum
Lightly and fully licensed spectrum complements the allocation of licence-exempt spectrum, as it helps incumbent users cater to increased demand by providing services at a given quality of service without the risk of interference.
CITC will continue to auction licensed (exclusive) spectrum for industries such as mobile services, to ensure providers can access sufficient spectrum and accelerate Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation. By allowing the efficient use of spectrum and enabling different wireless technologies, this will drive growth and accelerate the digitisation of important vertical sectors while benefiting the wider economy.
The future of connectivity in Saudi Arabia
The scale and speed of technological change in the wireless sector requires an equally dynamic and forward-looking response from national spectrum managers and policy makers. CITC is acutely aware of its responsibility in this regard and has put in place a vision and a set of processes to efficiently manage spectrum as a scarce resource, to effectively enable innovation and growth now and into the future.
Majed Alkahtani is Senior Spectrum Expert and General Manager for Radio Spectrum Services, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Saudi Arabia.