More than a year after first launching 5G services in October 2019, Zain Saudi Arabia is now attempting to grab a share of the domestic and corporate broadband access market with the rollout of 5G-based fixed wireless access (FWA) services.
The Saudi operator has again turned to Nokia for support and will deploy 60,000 of the Finnish vendor's Fastmile 5G FWA gateways over the next 12 months. The gateways also incorporate embedded SIM (eSIM) cards and support Wi-Fi 6.
Zain Saudi Arabia has been collaborating with Nokia on 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) since at least 2017, and in June 2019 the two partners agreed a three-year contract for the supply of 5G radio access network (RAN), backhaul, security and other services.
Abdul Rahman bin Hamad Al Mufaddal, chief technology officer at Zain Saudi Arabia, said the operator is following a two-pronged strategy in the rollout of 5G: "Horizontally, concerned with spreading the 5G network across the largest possible geographical scale. Vertically, through 5G fixed wireless access to enable home and offices with the best and most reliable broadband experience available."
FWA is regarded as one of the leading initial 5G "use cases", whereby a 5G connection would replace a customer's wired home Internet service.
Research firm Dell'Oro Group recently reiterated that it expects the global mobile network equipment market to "grow at a healthy pace over the next three years" in part due to a "favorable outlook for FWA."
Counterpoint Research has also predicted that cumulative 5G CPE shipments for FWA will cross the 1 billion mark by 2030 at a 47% compound annual growth rate over the next ten years.
Network investment drive
Zain has now launched 5G in three of its markets: Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In its results presentation for the first nine months of 2020, the group indicated that its investments in both 4G and 5G networks formed part of efforts not only to drive growth but also to "minimize" the impact of COVID-19.
Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi, Zain Group CEO, said the group invested $923 million in capex in the first nine months of 2020, including in spectrum fees, expanding 5G networks and upgrading and expanding 4G networks and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services across its footprint.
In the first three quarters of last year, Zain Group generated consolidated revenue of $3.9 billion, down 2% year on year, while consolidated EBITDA for the period reached $1.6 billion, down 7%. Consolidated net income fell 14% to $429 million.
In the third quarter of 2020, revenue fell 1% year-on-year to $1.3 billion and EBITDA was down 9% at $542 million. Net income fell 14% to $157 million.
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading