A central hub in the Middle East that supports universal connectivity

A central hub in the Middle East that supports universal connectivity

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stc group is driving digital transformation in the region where it operates across multiple fronts.

In the Middle East, conditions appear ripe for the region to act as a hub for significant digital advances. This is not least in Saudi Arabia, where the economy achieved 8.7 per cent growth in GDP in 2022, the highest rate among the G20 countries, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Saudi Arabia has invested significantly in innovation to develop its technology and knowledge-based economy. As the population has a strong appetite for digital services, internet penetration has reached almost 99%, with half of users spending seven hours or more online daily. The average mobile data download speed has increased, reaching 180Mbps last year, almost double the figure in 2020. These trends helped Saudi Arabia boost its ranking in the Global Innovation Index by 15 places in 2022 and have created significant opportunities for the country to become a hub for various cutting-edge digital services in the Middle East in line with its Vision 2030 programme.

The plan for 2030 includes a strong emphasis on innovation and technology, with the aim of transforming the economy into a modern and diversified one.

With the deadline approaching, it is essential to implement changes that will help achieve this goal. The region's location between Europe, Africa and Asia presents a unique opportunity for Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to progress significantly towards the world's digital future.

Unlocking opportunities

At the heart of this fast-path transformative journey lies a big group strategy poised to embrace that change and establish the Kingdom as a global leader in technology. stc group's visionary plans pave the way for a sustainable, more connected future as we live in a digital era driven by content, and the company wants to support in unlocking all the possibilities it has to offer, providing a superior content-delivery experience.

To take advantage of the opportunity, upgrading the underlying infrastructure is crucial. In August last year, the company launched its first wholly owned subsea cable, the Saudi Vision Cable. It spans 1,160 kilometres and is the first high-capacity submarine cable in the Red Sea. The cable offers seamless connectivity of up to 18Tbps per fibre pair, with a total of 16 fibre pairs through four landings in Jeddah, Yanbu, Duba and Haql.

The group has also inaugurated one of the largest and most significant infrastructure projects to date: center3, one of stc group’s subsidiaries, is a new digital regional centre for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which includes stc’s digital assets from data centres to subsea cables, international points of presence and internet exchange points.

Moreover, as part of its efforts to map out the new definition of digital leadership, stc has announced a partnership with Alcatel Submarine Networks to establish subsea and terrestrial data cables that will connect Saudi Arabia to Europe and Asia. This project includes the 2Africa subsea cable and its 2Africa Pearls cable extensions that will land in the Arabian Gulf region, connecting the country to more nations.

Additionally, through its subsidiary center3, stc has unveiled an expansion of its data centre in Riyadh, following its plans to construct new data centres in strategic locations such as Jeddah, Dammam and across Riyadh.

All these moves build on solid foundations established through stc’s carrier and wholesale unit. This unit comprises a national, diversified fibre network that covers all areas of Saudi Arabia and connects to all neighbouring countries.

Reaching the skies

But connectivity is about much more than basic terrestrial and subsea cable infrastructure. The modern industry requires advancements that expand network access to new frontiers, provide always-on connectivity at the edge, improve access to content delivery, and bring additional value through various innovations.

Non-terrestrial networks, such as those that facilitate communication services in aircraft and mobile services via satellite, present significant opportunities for digital growth. Late last year, stc group achieved a breakthrough in this area by acquiring spectrum in an auction for the 2100MHz band. This acquisition enables it to develop networks based on A2G technology, further enhancing communications services in aircraft and mobile services via satellite.

Through these dual possibilities in the skies, stc has opened new frontiers for the long-term deployment of next-generation technologies. At the same time, the company has backed up the spectrum win with additional moves to help capitalise on both fronts.

On the aviation side, stc group has been collaborating with in-flight connectivity provider SkyFive Arabia to explore new technology in aviation. This partnership will introduce on-board services for airlines in Saudi Arabia and expand them throughout the MENA region soon.

The satellite arena has seen stc’s involvement in a number of moves this year that will expand opportunities in space. It struck deals with several partners that aim to develop space-based 5G mobile communications services, and innovative telecoms and satellite-based digital services. Such moves will help bring much-needed communications to underserved regions. They will also provide advanced services in industry verticals including automotive, agricultural, industrial, finance, government, oil and gas, and IoT, along with consumer devices and applications, which will benefit from voice and data mobile connectivity across the region.

These moves open doors to a promising future at a range of altitudes, utilising new and upcoming technology in the sky while complementing those already present on the ground. These agreements form part of the group’s efforts to enable innovative non-terrestrial-network technologies as the Kingdom’s digital transformation accelerates, with stc paving the way for customers and business partners to connect in more ways than ever.

At the edge

Another significant global demand is bringing content closer to users to give them a much better experience locally by slashing latency and offering high-bandwidth capacity at the edge.

To maintain its position as a primary connectivity provider, stc group recently teamed up with content-delivery company Qwilt to offer its subscribers an all-edge content-delivery-network footprint.

Aside from improving network capacity and consistency of performance for users, the move will help businesses expand their reach and drive growth. It will attract more content providers and support stc's objective of developing local caching across its data centres.

Furthermore, stc group has joined the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative to help the development of APIs.

Meanwhile, center3 has signed several partnerships to enhance its position and expand opportunities within the rapidly growing field of cloud services. Among these partnerships is an agreement to build a cloud region for Huawei in the MENA region.

Additional agreements have also been made to support Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation efforts. These include a deal with Kaopu Cloud to keep expanding the cloud provider’s services in Saudi Arabia. Another agreement by center3 was made with Neutrality.One, a cloud networking company, to establish a point of presence in Jeddah. This will offer direct low-latency connectivity between Jeddah and Marseille in France.

Optical advances

Separately, stc's use of OTN-enabled technology provides several benefits to the company. It offers increased resiliency and simplified operations, as well as ultra-high capacity. It also efficiently extends the reach to new locations, maximises wavelength fill and guarantees end-to-end service delivery. These services help to enable scalability from 1G to 100G, meeting growing business capacity needs while being transport-protocol-agnostic and offering full mesh-protection options.

stc is making efforts to make connectivity seamless and borderless too. It is seeking to connect regional countries via high-standard cross-border fibre cables, adding new sites and increasing capacities to link up with neighbouring countries. The company offers various capacity options between its locations, ranging from 100G to 1.2T.

Alongside these various innovations, stc has recently shown promising results, indicating that it is moving steadily towards its digital goals. The wholesale side of the business is also contributing significantly to stc's growth, with stc's carrier and wholesale unit recording a 4% revenue growth in the second quarter of this year. This has helped stc group achieve its highest half-year revenue of SAR36.5 billion (US$9.7 billion).

On all levels, nothing can stop the stc group from growing. The future will be defined by leaders who act now to harness technology and seize untapped growth. By staying ahead of the fast-changing and fast-growing demand for technology, the group continues to be a vital enabler of the Kingdom’s digital transformation. It remains at the forefront of the industry, confidently embracing new opportunities for growth and development.

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