Qatar, a high-income economy sitting at the heart of the Middle East, is home to almost three million people. Through Qatar’s National Vision 2030, the country aims to be a truly smart nation and strives to become an advanced society capable of sustaining its development while providing a high standard of living for everyone.
With one of the highest GDP per capita figures in the world – $93.5 billion in 2021 – Qatar ranks fourth in the world as per World Bank’s 2021 data of countries’ purchasing power parity (PPP). With excellent facilities, modern infrastructure and a mix of local and cosmopolitan cultures, Qatar is among the most dynamic countries in the region.
Laying the technology foundation needed to create high-paying jobs, diversify the economy and attract international companies, ICT modernization is a central focus of Vision 2030. Going digital like its neighboring countries, Qatar is seen as a potential technology hub which is why it is critically important that the country establishes its position in the ICT industry.
From the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup to the promising digital transformation initiatives in play such as the Qatar Smart Program (TASMU) and the e-government 2020 strategy, Qatar is an ideal location for integrating key ICT technologies for the 21st century. Its active research and development (R&D) efforts are also vital for providing solutions to society’s pressing problems.
Qatar’s ICT landscape
The government of Qatar endeavors to build a vibrant ICT sector that will spur the development of an advanced knowledge economy and a prosperous, sustainable future for its people. In the field of ICT development, the country has demonstrated solid progress, anticipating $9 billion in ICT spending alone by 2024.
ICT has played a fundamental role in advancing the technological agenda of Qatar. In Qatar’s ICT research study in 2018 conducted among business establishments by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC), data revealed that 67% of ICT enterprises feel that the FIFA World Cup will drive the adoption of ICT in Qatar, while 57% believe that Qatar’s National Vision 2030 will do the same.
In 2004, the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) was created as the nation’s ICT policy and regulatory body, responsible for serving as the government’s ICT champion. As the world moves more towards knowledge-based economies, Qatar aims to fully leverage ICT through huge strides in telecom connectivity, internet and emerging technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.
Ø Qatar National ICT Plan
The world is shifting to a new era of innovation and digital transformation, and Qatar is among the trailblazers. Although the speed of such digital transformation differs from country to country, each nation needs to adapt and implement policies to remain competitive.
To this end, ictQATAR established Qatar’s National ICT Plan 2015: Advancing the Digital Agenda, which will guide their efforts and is aligned with Qatar’s National Vision 2030 and National Development Strategy.
The entire plan is strategically organized into five objectives, which are critical components needed to create a sustainable digital future. These include improving connectivity, boosting capacity, fostering economic development, enhancing public service delivery and advancing societal benefits. We will discuss the first three in this part, and the latter two successively.
Improving connectivity. With the increase in mobile penetration and greater acceptance of mobile broadband as a medium for internet connection, the demand to be mobile is on the rise in Qatar. Indeed, Qatar is in line with the global trend of users requiring more mobility in their connectivity options, as the on-the-go usability of today’s devices rely on online services, anytime and anywhere. As of June 2022, Qatar ranked fifth in the world for mobile speeds and 39th for fixed broadband.
Aiming to meet this increasing growth and demand, Qatar telecom operators Ooredoo and Vodafone have launched 5G services to deliver unprecedented mobile internet speeds with stability. With mobile services based on universally available LTE, coupled with 5G and a strong fiber rollout, the country is aiming to provide gigabit services nationally.
In December 2021, in exploration of innovative 5G solutions to improve the mobile experience of their users, Vodafone initiated a trial of its mmWave spectrum-based 5G network services. Later, in March 2022, Ooredoo announced the successful implementation of a world-first 5G indoor shareable solution, achieving speeds of 1.5Gbps. In support of this, the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) will release an additional spectrum for expanding and upgrading 5G networks in the 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands to Ooredoo and Vodafone by 2023. For that reason, 5G networks must cover 99% of Qatar with minimum data speeds of 100Mbps by 2024.
Ooredoo Qatar, the official global connectivity services provider for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, works alongside Ericsson to deliver the best 5G connectivity experiences possible. A highly digital, immersive and intelligent Qatar 2022 tournament experience is to be welcomed at the most anticipated sporting event in the Middle East.
In addition, the ICT infrastructure in Qatar is backed by the Qatar National Broadband Network (QNBN). It focuses on the deployment of a passive dark fiber network infrastructure to efficiently leverage high-speed fiber in Qatar. Hence, it can provide equal and open access to telecom service providers (wholesale) and private network owners (retail).
For Qatar and the wider region, the need for reliable internet connectivity and a rapidly growing infrastructure has also driven the regional deployment of submarine cable networks. In partnership with Gulf Bridge International (GBI), the provision of subsea connectivity and cable systems is the backbone of Vodafone Qatar’s internet network.
Developments like the Qatar Internet Exchange Point (QIXP) and IPv6 migration make Qatar a global connectivity hub. QIXP serves as a meeting point between ISPs and digital content service providers (CSPs) for the exchange of data and information, ensuring faster and more secure access to digital content. Relevantly, the timely migration to IPv6 will ensure adequate quantities of IP addresses are available in Qatar as IPv6 networks and websites become increasingly prevalent worldwide. Qatar’s success in charting a smooth transition from IPv4 to IPV6 is a result of a clear national implementation strategy coupled with the assigning of identified roles and responsibilities related to the project through the Qatar IPv6 National Taskforce.
Boosting capacity. For digital inclusion, the government is committed to developing a skilled ICT workforce in Qatar and helping people to stay current with the necessary ICT skills for success. The skills gap is being addressed through various programs coordinated between government organizations, academia, training agencies and private sector enterprises – and continuously promoting the ICT talent ecosystem’s innovation and growth – thus enabling the building blocks of ICT in realizing Qatar’s ambitions.
A prime example is the MoTC’s National Skilling Program, in collaboration with Microsoft. 50,000 people will be trained by 2025 on advanced digital skills to boost the country's regional and global competitiveness. In parallel, the first-of-its-kind Digital Center of Excellence was also inaugurated in Doha to create a highly-skilled workforce.
To train local talent for developing smart tech, Huawei has also opened its doors to an AI lab at Qatar University as a part of its ICT Academy. Here, students will be able to sharpen their skills by working with IoT and machine learning within a platform that encourages smart tech innovation. In 2021, Huawei announced plans to train 10,000 ICT professionals in Qatar over the next three years.
Fostering economic development. Entrepreneurship is also highly impacted by ICT. One of the major success leaders in this stewarding is the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). For over a decade, this premier hub has been driving the development of new high-tech products and services, supporting the commercialization of market-ready technologies and contributing to the economic diversification of Qatar.
In its commitment to supporting aspiring entrepreneurs every step of the way, QSTP has on offer: the Arab Innovation Academy, the first and largest tech-entrepreneurship program in the pan-Arab region; XLR8, a 10-week program providing intensive training and mentorship; and ELV8, a launchpad for the global growth of Qatar’s tech startups. To date, QAR 4.3 billion has been invested in research, development and innovation activities by international companies registered at QSTP, with over 5,000 people working at QSTP-based companies since 2008.
Research shows that in 2021, 24 startups in Qatar raised $10.2 million, of which 16 were funded by accelerator programs run by Qatar Fintech Hub (QFTH), a fintech incubator and accelerator, among others. The digital-focused businesses are still nascent, and the Qatari market is still in need of new verticals and new ideas where all sectors can flourish. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) has also established several initiatives to support startups like the Innovation Lab, which aims to create and enable an environment for collaborative R&D and adoption of innovative solutions, the Digital Incubation Center for those who want to kickstart their tech-related business and the TASMU Accelerator that provides a wide-range service allowing the startups to grow and assist in the realization of a diversified economy.
Studies continue to show that Qatar’s government is one of the most technologically advanced when compared to its global peers, making its citizens among the most digitally connected in the Arab world. Going back to the objectives of the Qatar National ICT Plan, we’ll now look at the e-government and societal integration within the country.
Without a doubt, digital technologies are playing a vital role in building the future economy of Qatar and accelerating its digital transformation. The US Chamber even commented, “the manner in which Qatar develops and implements policies that regulate the digital sector will be an important factor in attracting and retaining investment from global companies and facilitating an enabling environment for the growth of a knowledge-based economy.”
Ø Digital Government
The Qatar Digital Government initiatives aim to support government agencies in enacting digital transformations in line with the Qatar Digital Government 2020 Strategy. Envisioned in 2013, an e-government blueprint was put in place to ensure that all individuals and businesses will benefit from connecting online with Qatar’s more open and efficient government.
This will make Qatar’s government more effective, accessible and customer-centric. In this context, Hukoomi, Qatar’s official online information and e-services government portal, has grown exponentially in years and is now offering over 1,400 services, more than 650 of which can be completed online by businesses, residents, visitors and civil servants.
Furthermore, common application and infrastructure projects have been digitally achieved, including the government correspondence project (Tarasul), the human resources management project (Mawarid), and the electronic registration and documentation service (Tawtheeq).
According to PWC, a new strategy titled Qatar Digital Government 2026 is underway to focus on proactive service delivery to individuals based on data and AI systems that predict the actual needs of citizens. The strategy will also focus on transferring the infrastructure to local cloud computing to achieve scalability, cost-effectiveness and harmonious governance.
All ministries in Qatar are joining forces to to accelerate Qatar Digital Government initiatives, achieving high digital correspondence for faster, secured and efficient delivery of services by government departments and institutions.
Ø Smart Qatar (TASMU)
One of the most innovative cloud-based smart city solutions with excellent artificial intelligence, big data and cybersecurity capabilities, the Smart Qatar (TASMU) platform aims to contribute to the growth of Qatar’s digital economy and strengthen the country’s competitiveness through ICT.
It targets five priority sectors, namely transportation, healthcare, logistics, environment and sports, where advanced technology and innovation can be harnessed to provide smart solutions and applications – from providing convenience and entertainment to addressing critical needs such as national safety and security.
In parallel, MCIT launched TASMU Digital Valley (TDV), one of TASMU’s flagship initiatives, to help achieve the vision of Smart Qatar by linking digital solution providers with available opportunities in the market and facilitating the establishment of digital startups from ideation to commercialization.
Transportation. With the aim of creating a world-class smart city, the TASMU program selected transportation as a priority sector, enabling the development of a searchable city that offers its residents universal access to safe and seamless transportation. To further improve and integrate the entire mass transit system, the Ministry of Transport recently launched the Transportation Master Plan for Qatar 2050 (TMPQ) to increase public transport accessibility by 50%, reduce annual fuel consumption and harmful emissions by 43% and up to 73% respectively, and transition 25% of its fleets to electric by 2022.
Healthcare. Already operational on the TASMU platform is the Virtual Consultation, a healthcare smart solution developed in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring members of the local community could access medical advice, diagnoses and prescriptions from the comfort and safety of their homes. Embedding digital technologies into healthcare solutions can shorten emergency response time, give doctors more data and tools to make more informed decisions, and empower patients with different options including remote patient monitoring, digital support groups and smart medication.
Logistics. While infrastructure and architecture have already enhanced the lives of people in Qatar, the logistics industry has also adopted many modern and well-designed aspects of technology to reduce cost, time and dependency. Among TASMU’s key focuses are a virtual convenience store, a drive through mall, a digital auction marketplace, smart lockers and container e-booking. Such will positively promote Qatar into becoming a global trading hub, one that can attract the type of foreign direct investment that will take its logistical capabilities to the next level.
Environment. In the environment sector, TASMU’s Digital Farmer Community solution has been successfully piloted in collaboration with the Agricultural Affairs Department of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME). This initiative grants all farms in Qatar full access to the smart solution that integrates real-time weather data from the Qatar Meteorology Department and high-resolution satellite images from the Center for Geographic Information System. Precision agriculture, vertical farming and expert network-as-a-service are some of the digital use cases to solve environmental problems.
Sports. To establish Qatar as a world-class destination for the sports fan experience, athletic training and innovative sports equipment implementation, TASMU offers augmented home viewing, event companion applications and stadium fast track. Qatar is definitely primed to develop a gaming and eSports cluster with its advanced ICT infrastructure and its youthful population. Deploying 5G and having a world record 99.7% internet penetration, opportunities exist for gaming companies to develop interactive experiences linked to major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup 2022 and Asian Games 2030.