Saudi Arabia open to Huawei, says Communications Minister

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Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications, Abdullah al-Swaha, has said that Riyadh is open to anyone, including Chinese telecom giant Huawei, as long as regulatory and security requirements are complied with.

“The fact is that we are open, and Huawei today exists in a lot of countries as well as Nokia, Ericsson, in 4G deployments, even in the US. We are open as long as they comply with our sovereignty, regulatory, and security requirements,” al-Swaha told CNBC on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday.

His comments came just days after the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and Huawei announced the signing of a cooperation deal in the field of Information Technology and Communication. The deal was signed in Beijing last Friday during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to China.

“We work with everybody in the globe that can help us transfer knowledge and technology to accelerate our push into the new economy and to solving things in education and health care,” the minister said.

Last year, security concerns prompted Australia to ban Huawei equipment from its future 5G network. US prosecutors are also charging Huawei with stealing trade secrets, saying it offered rewards to employees for stealing technology from other rivals.

Future projections

According to the al-Swaha, the current contribution of digital to the Saudi economy stands at about 4 percent while it is estimated to reach 6.5 percent when looking at non-oil GDP.

“It’s one of the highest creators of knowledge-based worker jobs. You’re talking about high net income jobs for the innovation economy. If we fast forward to 5G, it’s projected in the next 12 years to generate another 20,000 jobs with a contribution to GDP of close to $19 bln dollars,” he said.

During the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Ericsson signed a deal to launch a mid-band 5G network in Saudi Arabia.

“We are excited to launch one of the fastest mid-band 5G field networks in the world. We have been working in close partnership with Ericsson on 5G for tests in the lab, field trials, and now initial deployment. Throughout this process, our customers and their service requirements are our top priority,” said STC CEO Nasser al-Nasser.

“Our aim is to build a network that caters for current and future services. 5G is considered as a very important step toward digitalization and connecting everything, which supports Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 toward economic diversification,” said al-Nasser.

The Kingdom is currently planning the largest 5G commercial rollout in the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Khobar was the first city in the region to test a 5G network last year.

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