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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Riyadh is set to become the Arab world’s first digital capital city.
The announcement was made on Wednesday at the 23rd session of the Council of Arab Ministers of Communications and Information Technology, held at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital.
The ministers’ decision to bestow the title on Riyadh came as a result of the city’s prominent role in adopting and promoting the use of digital technologies to enhance socio-economic development, advance health care, improve education, and ultimately increase community welfare.
The Kingdom’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector now makes up 4 percent of the Saudi GDP, and has helped the country not only to climb 16 places in the World Economic Forum’s global competitive index 2019 in terms of ICT adoption, but also to gain a top ease-of-doing-business ranking in the World Bank’s 2020 report.
The Arab Digital Capital initiative aims to encourage the creation of a stimulating ecosystem for investment in ICT, activate initiatives to develop knowledge within the ICT industry across Arab countries, and adopt new projects to help grow tech entrepreneurship in the region.
The Kingdom’s ICT sector is the largest in the Arab world and has experienced significant regulatory change, expressed across several public- and private-sector investment drives since the launch of Vision 2030.
Saudi Arabia is also the region’s largest ICT market, ranking 13th globally, with a value of $28.7 billion (SR107 billion) in 2019 and strong growth in both the consumer and enterprise segments.
Supported by a young and tech-savvy population, the Kingdom is a market of early technology adopters, with one of the highest social media usages in the world. Mobile subscribers stood at 43.8 million in 2019, representing a 129 percent penetration of the total population.
“I am not exaggerating when I say you can do anything with a mobile app in Saudi Arabia,” Saud Al-Sabhan, the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s (MCIT) director general of corporate communications told Arab News.
“We are reshaping our digital economy and the way we live to create new value and lead the Arab world to play a more active role in the global digital economy.
“Based on Ookla’s global internet speed benchmarking, the Kingdom ranks 14 with average speeds of 51.8 mbps (megabits per second).
“Augmenting a mature mobile adoption rate of penetration of 129 percent, the Kingdom witnessed the first commercial 5G rollout in MENA (Middle East and North Africa region), which puts it in third place globally when it comes to 5G deployment, and of course Riyadh is leading Arab cities when it comes to the deployment of 5G networks,” said Al-Sabhan. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said: “Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the ITU and a very important country in ICT development generally, playing an active role not just locally but internationally.
“It’s fantastic to have the Saudi government and Saudi ICT experts engaged at this level, as they have achieved a lot in this space. They have the knowledge and experience to help show how ICT can transform society and develop a digital economy.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Tamimi, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), said: “Saudi Arabia is one the world’s true pioneers in ICT innovation, with an Internet penetration rate of 93 percent and sector regulations among the most mature globally.
“With so many milestones already reached over the last five years, digital transformation has the potential to change the structure of Saudi Arabia’s ICT sector for the better, paving the way for further growth, productivity, and development.”
Earlier this year, the MCIT launched a five-year strategy aimed at accelerating the sector’s growth by 50 percent and elevating its contribution to GDP by $13.3 billion.
Despite the global trend toward job disruption as a consequence of digitalization, the MCIT’s technology localization initiatives significantly increased the ICT sector’s employment capacity in 2019.
The naming of Riyadh as the Arab world’s digital capital is recognition of the Kingdom’s achievements in the ICT sector and will provide an even greater impetus to the country’s already busy regional and international agenda for 2020.
As the only Arab nation represented in the G20, Saudi Arabia will be hosting G20 meetings throughout 2020 under the theme, “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.” The G20 summit of world leaders will take place next year on Nov. 20 and 21 in Riyadh.
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