From telegrams to digital services: IT has traveled a long way in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia established a wireless network in 1925. (SPA)
Updated 23 September 2018
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From telegrams to digital services: IT has traveled a long way in Saudi Arabia

  • Telecommunication system has always been vital for the country, and will continue to play a key role in future

JEDDAH: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always paid great attention to the communications and information technology (IT) sector, which is one of the oldest governmental sectors. Since the era of founder King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the postal and telecommunication services have been an essential link between the Kingdom’s sprawling regions, separated by great distances. An order was issued in 1926 to establish the Directorate of Posts, Telegraph and Telephones (PTT), to take care of all the postal and telecommunication services. In 1934, 22 wireless stations were opened to link 22 cities and villages in the Kingdom through telegraph services.
King Salman also showed great interest in the sector and launched in 2016 the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which was adopted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The vision focuses on developing the sector in the Kingdom in accordance with international developments.
With the flourishing economy, Vision 2030 reflected the state’s concern to develop its digital infrastructure, as this is vital in building advanced industrial activities, attracting investors and improving the competitiveness of the national economy.
Therefore, communications and IT infrastructure will be developed through partnerships with the private sector, especially high-speed broadband technology, to increase coverage in cities and outskirts and optimize the quality of the calls. The Vision aims for a coverage of more than 90 percent of houses in densely populated cities and 66 percent in other areas.
The state will promote the governance of the digital transformation through a national council that supervises the process and will also support the transformation at the governmental level.
The communication and IT sector in the Kingdom has seen important changes, including the first negotiations with companies abroad to buy wireless devices and establishing a wireless network in 1925. The state then worked on expanding the international telegraph service through submarine cables across the Red Sea between Jeddah and Port Sudan, where the Port Sudan Conference was held in 1926 for this purpose.
Up until 1934, when the telephone service was first introduced to the country, the phone lines linked to the manual telephone exchanges in Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and Taif did not exceed 854 in number.
During this era, the magnetic phone was used, which was dry-cell powered. This phone operated within the same neighborhood or city, through operators working around the clock to connect calls through a manual switchboard.
In 1984, a royal decree was issued to build an international wireless station in Jeddah. The state’s great interest in the sector led to the creation of the Communications Ministry, led by Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz. The Directorate of Posts, Telegraph and Telephones (PTT) became part of the ministry in 1953. King Saud Al-Saud inaugurated the first phone calls between the Kingdom and Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain in 1955.
King Al-Saud also introduced the first “telex” teleprinters, the Loren 2133 and the Siemens T37h with Arabic alphabets.
Telegraph remained the main means of communication until phone services were developed.
The state established the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone (PTT) to handle the sectors of telegraph and communications in 1975, at a time when phone lines did not exceed 130,000, with revenues of SR250 million ($66.7 million).
In 1984, the first optical fiber cables were used, and call centers were established in all the regions of the Kingdom.
In 1987, King Fahd Satellite Telecommunications City was launched between Makkah and Jeddah. In 1995, mobile telephones were introduced in the Kingdom.
To provide trusted and developed services, the Communications Commission was established in 2001, to handle the organization of this sector and the issuance of licenses for companies. Information Technology was added to the commission’s missions and it became the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in 2003.
CITC has developed a strategic plan aiming to organize the sector to take it to high levels of competitiveness and ensure a suitable environment for investors. The Communications and IT Ministry is looking to extend the fiber optic system to 2.1 million houses in urban areas by 2020, to develop the infrastructure of communications, speed up the transfer toward the cognitive economy and match the goals of the National Transformation Program 2020.
The ministry has linked 400,000 houses with fiber-optic networks and 110 thousand houses with broadband wireless networks, and is also working on covering 70 percent of the remote houses with broadband wireless networks by 2020.

In 2016, more than SR130 billion ($34 billion) were spent on communications and IT services, where the sector’s contribution in the GDP reached 6 percent, and 10 percent in the non-oil domestic product.

The expenditure allocated for communications and IT is expected to increase due to big investments by the governmental and private sectors, and to become compatible with the National Transformation program 2020, as one of the main programs supporting the Vision 2030.


Innovation in manufacturing and communication the focus for Tanween's second weekend

Updated 18 October 2018
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Innovation in manufacturing and communication the focus for Tanween's second weekend

AL-DHAHRAN: Innovation in manufacturing and communication are the focus on Thursday and Friday at the second weekend of Tanween by Ithra, a 17-day gathering of the brightest and most creative minds in Saudi Arabia.
Following the overwhelming turnout of students and professionals from all over the Kingdom at the launch weekend, the Creativity Season’s second weeke program focuses on manufacturing and communication and is designed for Saudis to be inspired by influential speakers from around the world, engage in hands-on futuristic workshops, as well as be creative by transforming their ideas to reality.

The Tanween Talks will introduce bold, innovative concepts and trends from artificial intelligence, robotics and virtual media. Science and fiction come together in presentations from biodesign pioneer and STEM innovator Natsai Chieza; and Professor Manfred Hild, a global research leader in humanoid robotics. Workshops including “Future as Big as Your Imagination” and “Saudi After Oil” will further provoke, stimulate and prepare audiences for a rapidly evolving future, as the impact of technology takes effect. The weekend will also present visitors with the one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a creative entrepreneur and turn their ideas into reality with the “Design, Manufacture and Go to Market” workshop.
Family-friendly shows, exhibits and installations featuring future technologies will run the duration of the Creativity Season. Slava’s Snow Show, an award-winning Russian theatrical performance combining pathos and comedy for all ages will round off the weekend that will also feature performances such as Bamboo Nonsense Instrumental Show and Project 2, a live spontaneous science fiction theater.
Site-specific installations such as “Sketch Aquarium” at the Children’s Museum will pop up as part of the Creativity Season, presenting visitors of all age groups a unique opportunity to interact, observe and enjoy the works of art that have been curated to celebrate the first edition.
At Ithra’s Great Hall, 25 outstanding examples of work from the world of art, technology, science and fashion — including a Tilt Brush interactive experience by Google, Studio Drift’s free-floating concrete monolith Drifter and Studio Swine’s multi-sensory waterfall — will offer fresh insights into contemporary design, encouraging visitors to explore new possibilities and discover new perspectives.
The second week will also see a colorful celebration of daytime fireworks on Friday at 4.00pm. The event will be open for public free of charge and will take place at Ithra Lush Gardens.

Tickets & Pricing
Tanween Talks
Tickets to Tanween Talks are priced at SAR 35 for a day pass allowing ticket holders to attend an unlimited number of talks on the day. Tanween Talks attendees must be at least 14-years-old.

Tanween Exhibits
Day pass tickets to ‘Sense and Sensibility’ Exhibit in the Great Hall are priced at SAR 25 for adults and SAR 15 for children. Museum tickets are priced at SAR 35 for adults and SAR 10 for children. A Tanween Exhibits Ticket provides visitors access to both the Great Hall and the Museum at SAR 50 for adults and SAR 25 for children.

Workshops
Workshops are categorized as Inspire, Enthusiast and Premium.
Inspire workshops are free.
Enthusiast workshops are priced at SAR 100 per workshop.
Premium workshops are priced at SAR 200 per workshop.
Workshop attendees must be at least 16-years-old.
Special workshops for children between 6- and 10-years are available. Please refer to www.ithra.com for more information.

Children’s Museum
Tickets to the Children’s Museum are priced at SAR 55 for children and SAR 20 for adults.