Kuwait, lying within the North-Western corner of the Arabian Gulf, is home to over 4 million people and an emerging financial, commercial and cultural hub, both regionally and globally. It is among the richest countries in the world by gross national income per capita, with the Kuwaiti dinar rated as the world’s strongest currency.
Ranking second within the ICT use index for Gulf countries in 2021, the New Kuwait 2035 vision goes beyond the realm of infrastructure mega-projects to challenge Kuwaitis, especially the youth, to boost their role in the economy and in society. Laying out new long-term development plans for the country, ICT rightfully sits at the heart of the government’s strategy for the New Kuwait plan.
Pushing ahead with modernization policies and institutional reforms, Kuwait is a catalyst for economic diversification, sustainable growth and social progress. It is one of the top ten most improved economies in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, rising from 97th in 2019 to 83rd in 2020, as well as the most improved in the MENA region based on the UN Global Competitiveness Report 2019.
Kuwait enjoys high living standards in a 100% urbanized environment. In fact, the WIPO Global Innovation Index found that Kuwait ranks relatively high for its innovation efficiency ratio – the amount of innovation output a country receives for its inputs.
The Kuwaiti government has made the digital transformation of both public and private sectors a priority. Because of this, Kuwait’s expenditure on ICT is expected to grow to almost $11 billion by 2024, based on the adoption of various technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). The expected growth drivers for the country’s digital transformation are mobility, cloud computing and data analytics.
According to the UN Kuwait Technology & Innovation Index 2021, Kuwait ranks high in the ICT dimension. ICT projects in Kuwait are mostly concentrated in the service applications and platforms categories, the Arab Digital Development Report 2019 stated. Entrepreneurs are now embracing the advanced resources required for cutting-edge technological projects.
With no gender exclusion, Kuwait has provided access to public information via the different channels afforded by the Internet, with online services provided by ISPs and telecommunication companies and regulated by the Communications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA). This covers the digital needs of society, along with those establishments where Wi-Fi and open networks are available.
As a developing nation, Kuwait has progressed extensively in the ICT field to remain competitive and advanced. In line with this, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, former State Minister of Cabinet Affairs said, “As we live today in the age of information and communication technology (ICT), information and the internet play a major role in our daily lives not only at the level of individuals and society but also at the level of businesses and government institutions…”
The telecom landscape in Kuwait is widespread and robust, with 4G covering the entire population and 99.4% of citizens connecting to the internet at home. 5G is reaching about 97% of the people in Kuwait due to the pioneering move of the MNOs – Zain, stc, and Ooredoo – together with the government to introduce 5G as part of their digital strategies.
Since mid-2019, these three MNOs have been offering commercial 5G services. They score highly on multi-gigabit speeds and claim near-universal population coverage. As of May 2022, Kuwait ranked fifth globally in Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index for mobile performance, with a 104.47 Mbps median speed.
stc was the first operator in Kuwait to launch an end-to-end 5G SA network based on a cloud-native core, while Ooredoo is hailed as the fastest operator in 2021. Additionally, Zain successfully completed the first live trial in the region of open and virtual radio access networks (ORAN/VRAN) in Kuwait. In June 2022, Virgin Mobile Kuwait became the first MVNO to enter the market and the fourth service provider in the country.
In terms of affordability of internet access, including price and competitive environment, Kuwait ranks first at the regional level. This means that the cost of access is the lowest and the competitiveness is the highest among Arab countries. The UN Broadband Commission’s target of entry-level broadband access at less than 2% of GNI by 2025 has already been achieved in Kuwait, with the advertised download speeds below 2 Mbit/s.
Analysys Mason estimates that 5G will drive a cumulative increase of more than $1 billion in Kuwait’s GDP between 2018–2025, and will create almost 25,000 new jobs cumulatively by the end of the period. Rapid 5G investments are also increasing the total investments in data centers in Kuwait.
Moreover, data from Future Market Insights indicates that the global B2B telecom market is set to reach $107 billion by 2026, driven by the high demand for cloud, IoT, video and enterprise applications. Initially, 5G services in Kuwait were mainly targeted at residential users and mobile broadband consumers, but operators expanded their offerings to develop more business-focused services.
- Emerging Tech
CITRA confirmed the importance of adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing techniques in contributing to the achievement of New Kuwait 2035 objectives. In fact, the increase in the adoption of cloud-based technologies is correlated to the surge in the adoption of AI in the country.
Companies in Kuwait across verticals are expected to open vast new corridors for the growth and integration of AI and to ramp up market growth in the forthcoming years. By using the most advanced Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, unprecedented advantages that boost speed and operational efficiency will be attained.
At a time when cloud services are considered one of the modern and important technological revolutions to facilitate business procedures, the increasing adoption of cloud computing services is also leading to the growth of colocation services in the country.
Ooredoo is the first telecom in Kuwait to obtain a cloud service provider license from CITRA. This is a result of an extensive review of the company’s technical capabilities, cloud infrastructure robustness, security policies and safeguards, data handling and storage procedures, as well as its technical and security certifications. Prior to this more recent review, Kuwait’s Cloud Computing Regulatory Framework was published in September 2021.
Other ICT initiatives for emerging tech include an Amazon Web Services (AWS) office opening in the country. Sheikh Dr. Meshaal Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Director General for Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA), commented, “The adoption of technologies is an important factor in developing and supporting the country’s digital transformation initiatives in line with Kuwait’s Vision 2035.”
Also, the newly formed partnership between solutions by stc and LEAN provides local cloud infrastructure in Kuwait, the option to localize data, in-depth knowledge and technical know-how, and customer support services.
Kuwait is amongst the most targeted countries for cyber-attacks in the Gulf region. In 2017 alone, the country lost approximately $1 billion to cybercrime. Raising its bar for cybersecurity, Kuwait is moving towards a more structured approach to managing cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
Between 2017-2020, the National Cybersecurity Strategy of the State (NCSS) emerged as a response from the Kuwaiti government due to the extent of cyber threats and challenges. Following this, a new national cybersecurity framework was defined for Kuwait and a national cybersecurity operating model was developed in conjunction with CITRA.
Current legislation in Kuwait includes laws on IT crimes and e-transactions. In addition, the Department of Combating Electronic Crime within the Ministry of the Interior of Kuwait is in charge of combating cybercrime by enforcing the law and spreading awareness to the public via social media.
In early 2022, the Kuwaiti government established the national center for cybersecurity (NCSC), a platform that aims to exchange data and enhance cybersecurity between government agencies in order to take precautionary measures before any cyber-attack occurs.
Connecting the future to a new Kuwait, the National Knowledge Economy Center is one of the key cornerstones for digital and knowledge economy transformation plans in Kuwait. The Central Agency for Information Technology (CAIT) is also participating in the GCC Executive E-Government Committee to help in developing e-government projects to achieve mutual goals.
By utilizing smart technologies in different economic sectors, the country is fulfilling the need for an innovation ecosystem. With an emphasis on digitalization, digital economy services have been on the rise, as governments and enterprises across the Arab States region have adopted new digital strategies, policies and plans. According to the UN E-Government Survey 2020, Kuwait is among the highest-ranking across the GCC.
Launched 10 years ago, the Kuwait Government Online portal has seen monthly visits grow to over one million by January 2021. The portal lists both information and e-services for all Kuwaiti government agencies, with the most frequently used e-services involving civil ID, utility payments and appointments for foreign workers.
In January 2019, Kuwait announced a government fund worth $200 million, one of the largest in the region, specifically for investment in technology companies. This is a strategic move in paving the way towards a more digital economy. Some of the digitalization initiatives include the installment of fiber-optic networks and the adoption of the cloud ecosystem to gather and analyze airport data; the digital transformation of one of Kuwait’s largest manufacturers to boost growth, efficiency and connectivity; and the implementation of a fully-automated workflow system by the Kuwait Finance House (KFH), the region’s first company in the financial services industry.
Interestingly, the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) has launched its blockchain-based product NBK Direct Remit while KFH has also successfully launched an instant cross-border payments service to KFH-Turkey using Ripple's blockchain technology.
Almost half a decade ago, the Kuwaiti government announced the implementation of smart city strategies covering intelligent infrastructure networks, security and virtual systems. As part of Vision 2035, the Kuwaiti government is building a ‘smart city’ from scratch, transforming what was once a tire graveyard into the South Saad Al Abdullah city. Labeled as the Middle East’s first development focusing on green, smart technology, this billion-dollar project will eventually be home to 400,000 people.
By and large, the Kuwait Vision 2035 promises to strengthen the digital ecosystem and transform the country’s digital infrastructure, all while diversifying the economy and transforming it from an oil-based economy to one that is knowledge-based. Kuwait is well-positioned to embrace the 4IR, as more look to invest in disruptive technology and as the ICT market booms.