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In an exclusive interview during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2021, Telecom Review spoke with stc senior vice president of technology and operations unit Haithem Mohammed Alfaraj. He highlighted the importance of delivering 5G in the Kingdom and how the company invests heavily to deal with any potential cybersecurity threats. 

What can you tell us about stc’s 5G technology rollout?

Our 5G ranks with the best in the KSA and it’s been a real turning point for stc to be recognized as a real force in digital technology. 2020 was an important year for us because we saw a huge increase in demand for our services largely due to people staying at home more during the pandemic, so we know how important delivering 5G technology is to the people of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is in a transitional phase where digital is the key and if the country is to achieve its goal Vision 2030 aspirations then we need to ensure 5G is properly rolled out and is available in KSA. Thankfully, so far, our 5G customers, of whom there are over 1 million, have been very satisfied with the performance of the network. We too are very confident that stc will be able to make KSA not just a regional digital hub but also a world-leading digital hub that has some of the most advanced technology on the planet.

We recently announced the opening of a number of new data centers throughout KSA as well as opening our new Digital Operations Control Center. These facilities not only show how stc is developing as a brand but will be vital in developing 5G technology even further. We have invested over SAR 1 billion into these facilities and Phase 1 of the project is complete with the new data centers in Jeddah and Madinah already online. Our current network transformation and new data center program will fundamentally change the mission-critical hosting space within the region, improving the agility and speed-to-market of the new services being rolled out in support of the Kingdom's National Transformation Program 2020.

Currently, we have over 6,000 5G sites in 75 cities in KSA which is roughly equal to 37% of the population and we have ambitious plans to expand our 5G network further by re-farming a vast amount of our LTE bands to accommodate increased demand.

Is stc announcing any important MOUs during MWC 2021? What is the purpose of these new partnerships?

We’ve had an incredibly busy period in which we’ve signed a number of partnership agreements with world-leading companies. MWC in Barcelona is a very important event for us this year. It’s great to get in front of people again and tell the ongoing story of stc as well as announcing our future intentions. We are always looking to establish further connections and keep our business ahead of the game. We’re delighted to be working with a number of technology vendor companies to help with the expansion of our 5G network. Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei are three of our biggest partners, who we are delighted to have signed deals with. We are also working with Rakuten Mobile to introduce advanced OpenRAN technologies and they will help in the development of the new advanced technology strategy we have plans for. Another key MoU announcement is with Intel, who we are proud to continue working with to deliver 5G services and who will help with the introduction of cloudification and further innovation.

The agreements mean that we will cover all aspects of our continued development whether that’s from an operational standpoint, sustainability, or network improvements. We see it as a new era for stc, to be working with such powerhouses in the technology industry. As ever, our commitment has always been to deliver a best-in-class 5G network to our deserving customers. This is an exciting milestone in stc’s digital transformation journey. stc will continue to endeavor to always lead the market towards digital transformation, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

As stc grows, are there more concerns about cybersecurity? What are you doing to control potential threats?

We take cybersecurity extremely seriously at stc, no matter whether we have a few thousand customers, or a few million, we have a duty to each and every one of them to make sure they are using our services securely. We have invested heavily in both technology and talent within our data privacy and cybersecurity departments to give our customers peace of mind and to deal with any potential threats appropriately. Our cybersecurity teams understand the threats and risks we face as a digital telecommunications company in terms of securing our network. We have practices in place to prevent any privacy or data attacks. Every customer and stakeholder, whether commercial based, individual customers, fixed home customers, large/SME enterprise customers and government partners or our internal sectors, group subsidiaries, and third parties, face a specific set of cybersecurity threats and risks and we do our utmost to protect them from it.

At stc, we use cutting-edge technology to identify threats and vulnerabilities 24/7. This includes penetration testing, threat hunting, governance, risk, and compliance practices involving specialist teams to support effective mitigation of identified risks with all stakeholders. We also work with our stakeholders to raise awareness of any potential threats to ensure they know as much as possible. This is because we believe in educating our investors and our employees so that we are doing as much as possible to keep stc services running smoothly.

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