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JEDDAH: When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit early last year, Saudi residents were forced to stay at home.

As a result, the number of hours spent by people on platforms such as Netflix and Zoom soared. Shopping on Amazon, grocery, and restaurant apps became commonplace, gaming boomed, and dependence on the internet was considered just as important as having electricity and water connections.

And one of the companies that helped the Kingdom manage the surge in demand for its telecommunication services was Nokia.

Khalid Hussain, Saudi country senior officer at Nokia, told Arab News: “There was an almost 30 percent traffic spike in Saudi Arabia soon after the pandemic declaration in March 2020. Many of the organizations had to switch to complete remote mode without any time for preparation.

“The sudden transition to working from home resulted in a rapid increase in data-intensive business collaboration and video streaming applications. Our customers had a huge challenge to continue to support their users with robust, reliable, and fully secure networks so that business continuity was not hampered.”

The Finnish brand is best known for its mobiles from the early 2000s, when it launched some of the first camera phones on the market. While Nokia is still associated with smartphones, the company’s biggest revenue generator now is its telecommunications network business, which accounts for around three-quarters of its sales.

Nokia has been providing services in Saudi Arabia since 2001 out of its headquarters in Riyadh and branches in Jeddah, Khamis Mushait, Madinah, Abha, and Alkhobar. The firm has around 1,500 employees in the Kingdom, a network technology portfolio including clients such as telecommunication operators STC, Zain, and Mobily, and a strong working relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).

Last year, while Nokia’s global sales dipped 6 percent to 21.867 billion euros ($26.65 billion), its Middle East Africa (MEA) division witnessed a sales rise of 1 percent to 1.893 billion euros. The MEA region accounts for around 9 percent of total global turnover and Saudi Arabia is its largest market in the segment.

Hussain said: “During the pandemic, Nokia, by taking help from its global centers of expertise, helped the Kingdom’s top telco-operators with cutting-edge solutions to enable them to monitor their network performance, address risks, and ensure zero service disruption even when the network load peaked to an all-time high.”

According to a report in April by internet intelligence firm Ookla, Saudi Arabia had the highest adoption of 5G technology of all its Gulf neighbors and the largest number of devices connected to the network.

In order to help the country manage the increased demands during the COVID-19 pandemic and also achieve its Vision 2030 goals, Nokia has been working with the Saudi government to implement a number of key projects.

Last year, the company collaborated with STC to launch the operator’s technology innovation center in Riyadh, and in December accomplished a record 5G speed of 1.9 gigabytes during a successful trial of its AirScale indoor radio (ASiR) system at Zain KSA’s headquarters in Jeddah.

During 2020, the firm also signed a partnership with TAWAL, a Saudi infrastructure company, to deploy 5G in the western and southern parts of the Kingdom.

Nokia’s 5G business readiness report, launched in October, found that the Kingdom had huge potential to leverage the power of 5G over the next decade, with 13 percent of Saudi organizations being rated as 5G mature.

“This will be a significant focus area for us in 2021 and beyond, and we will continue to share our global experiences with Saudi Arabia to bring digitization and automation across all industry sectors such as manufacturing, health, and mining,” Hussain added.

The potential for growth in the Kingdom certainly looked promising, as 56 percent of decisionmakers surveyed by Nokia in Saudi Arabia as part of its October report, said they had accelerated their digital transformation programs as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. And 65 percent of technology buyers were planning to invest more in 5G than they had in 3G and 4G technology.