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Saudi Arabia needs to make use of its young digitally-ready population so it can “leapfrog” into the digital economy, according to a top executive at Chinese tech firm Huawei. 

Speaking to Arab News, Safder Nazir, senior vice-president of digital industries at Huawei Middle East, pointed to the Kingdom’s tech-savvy youngsters as holding the key for innovation.

According to Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics, 69 percent of the population are 35 years old or younger. 

Nazir argued that whereas older generations “take a little bit more time” to get to groups with new technologies, youngsters have no such reticence.

“What you’ve got in the kingdom is great opportunity to leapfrog ahead in the digital economy, because it’s great having the technologies, but unless people are using them and able to innovate using those and come up with new ways of developing businesses and transforming industries, then we’re not going to be able to fulfill the promise,” he said.

Other advantages Saudi Arabia has is its quick adoption of 5G and its promotion of smart cities, supported by new technologies, said Nazir.

“We know the Kingdom is developing some very mega projects, as well as the renovation or the redevelopment of existing cities,” says Nazir. 

“The digital infrastructure is what connects everything,” he adds.  

With Artificial Intelligence developing further, the use cases are expanding. 

Nazir said: “We’re hearing more about cognitive cities, for example, NEOM itself as a cognitive city on a regional level. So that’s what’s driving a lot of the topics around that. And from a Huawei perspective, we break this down into several topics.”

“What we call the digital infrastructure, is being able to sense and connect everything. So this is where things like IOT (Internet of Things) come into play, and then we need to be able to connect and transfer that data,” he said, adding: “This is when all the different types of connectivity are introduced from the 3G, 4G, and of course, 5G.”

Nazir believes Saudi Arabia is very well positioned with its rapid use of 5G as it will help drive further the digital economy, and then onward into AI. 

“All the data that comes into the cloud platform and with the use of AI and multiple types of algorithms, we can then do smart use cases,” he explained.

As an example, five years ago, Huawei talked about doing smart parking, using street sensors.

“But today, we’re deploying smart parking, using video in the Kingdom. That is computer vision. This is the kind of enhancement that we’ve seen over the last few years,” he added.

This type of innovation allows Huawei to show the breadth of its portfolio from phones all the way through to 5G and fixed connectivity.

“By showing the use of AI, we will be bringing a Huawei cloud region into Saudi Arabia, as well as our enterprise business,” said Nazir.

This will translate into the digital transformation of all industries, “from healthcare to airports, to the electric grid and so on,” he said.

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