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.


Rights and benefits of the Saudi ‘Green Card’

The Kingdom is continuing its development and reform plans within Vision 2030 to develop its economy and enhance the attractiveness of its investment environment. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2019
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Rights and benefits of the Saudi ‘Green Card’

  • New visa move will allow residents and expatriates to play a more active role in Saudi economy
  • Media reports suggest the "Privileged Iqama" could cost as much as SR800,000 for a long-term version or SR100,000 for the one-year version

JEDDAH: The Um Al-Qura newspaper, the official gazette of the Saudi government, has published new information concerning the laws and regulations of the Privileged Iqama, widely known as the Saudi “Green Card.” It also carried the conditions under which the Iqama can be canceled.
Following the announcement of the Saudi Cabinet’s approval of the Privileged Iqama residency permit, as previously reported by Arab News, the new information offers a further look at the Privileged Resident Permit (iqama) scheme.
The iqama was first proposed in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and was approved by the Cabinet last week. It will for the first time allow foreign nationals to work and live in Saudi Arabia without a sponsor.
The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the Kingdom. An authorized draft of the new Privileged Iqama system offers a number of benefits to highly skilled expatriates and owners of capital funds that will not require a Saudi sponsor.
A special committee has been given 90 days to determine regulations governing the mechanisms of the scheme, such as fees for applicants, which have not been yet determined by the authorities.
Fahad bin Juma, vice chairman of the Shoura Council Financial Committee said that eligibility for the Saudi Green Card will be determined by a number of bodies headed by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, as reported by Al-Watan newspaper.
He also added that in order to be eligible, applicants must possess scientific or professional skills that are not abundantly available in the Kingdom, or they should be company owners who can invest in the country.
The holder of the Privileged Iqama will be deemed resident for the purpose of applying other statutory provisions, especially tax provisions, regardless of how much time he spends outside the Kingdom in the course of the year.
The applicant must be over 21 years of age, must have a valid passport, must not have a criminal record, and must provide a health report dated within 6 months of the application presenting proof that the applicant is free of infectious diseases. In the case of applications from within the Kingdom, the applicant must obtain a legal resident permit before applying.
The Privilege Iqama rights include possession of private means of transport and any other movable properties that an expat is allowed to acquire as per the Saudi law, employment in private sector establishments and transfer between them (this includes the beneficiary’s family members) except for occupations and jobs from which non-Saudi nationals are banned. The rights also include freedom to leave the Kingdom and return to it independently, use of the queues designated for Saudi nationals when entering and exiting the Kingdom through its ports, and doing business under the foreign investment system.
Under the system, two categories are provided to applicants, an extended iqama and temporary iqama subject to renewal.
Upon approval of the application, according to Article 5, the applicant must pay the fees specified by the designated authorities; the holder will be deemed resident for the purpose of applying other statutory requirements, especially the tax provisions, regardless of how much time he spends outside the Kingdom in the course of the year.
The Privileged Iqama does not entitle the holder to Saudi citizenship.
The holder of the Privileged Iqama, will enjoy several rights, including residence in Saudi Arabia with his family, the right to issue visitor’s visas for relatives as defined by the MOI regulations, the recruitment of domestic workers, the possession of property for residential, commercial and industrial purposes with the exclusion of Makkah, Madinah and border areas as per the regulations. The holder will also be able to utilize property in Makkah and Madinah for a period not exceeding 99 years.
The Ministries of Justice and Commerce and Investment shall establish the necessary mechanisms to ensure the beneficiary’s access to an instrument of utilization issued by the Notary Public. This right will be enforceable by transfer to others according to the rules set by the committee.
Saudi Arabia’s minister of Economy and Planning, Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, said that the Privilege Iqama law approved by the Saudi Cabinet confirms that the Kingdom is continuing its development and reform plans in accordance with Vision 2030 to develop its economy and enhance the attractiveness of its investment environment.
The Privilege Iqama aims to make residents and expatriates an active part of the Saudi economy, promote consumption growth by increasing quality purchasing power and economic activity in various sectors, establish more small and medium enterprises, and generate jobs for Saudi citizens.
The Privileged Iqama can be canceled if the holder did not comply with the obligations stipulated in Article 7 of the law, waivered his residency, and/or passed away or was no longer eligible.
Several matters could lead to the cancelation of the Iqama, such as providing false information in the application, a conviction for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding 60 days and/or a fine exceeding SR100,000, or a judicial decision to deport the holder from the Kingdom.
The cancelation or termination of the Privilege Iqama does not entail the transfer of the rights and benefits, obtained in accordance with Article 2 of the law, to the holder’s family. However, if a family member met the conditions of this law and its regulations, he may apply for the Privileged Iqama.
In the event of the cancelation or termination of the holder’s Iqama or any of his family members, the Privilege Iqama Center will, in coordination with the designated authorities, consider and remedy any consequences that may result therefrom in accordance with the law and its regulations.