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Saudi Telecom Company (STC) announced today that it is working with Nokia to launch a 5G network in 2018 within Saudi Arabia — the latest in a series of recent announcements suggesting strong Middle Eastern interest in rapidly adopting the next-generation wireless standard. The STC-Nokia agreement promises to deploy “hundreds” of 5G base stations within Western Saudi Arabia and to jointly develop both network and commercialization strategies this year.

As the so-called “fifth-generation” of cellular services, 5G wireless technology will leverage new radio spectrum and technologies to deliver ultra-fast, responsive, and reliable data services. 5G is planned for use in everything from mobile devices to autonomous cars, smart cities, critical infrastructure, and remote health care. Since last week’s Mobile World Congress, carriers around the world have hastened their plans to deploy 5G over the next two years, seeking to avoid being left technologically behind.

Nokia is just one of several partners involved in STC’s 5G network upgrade plans. Last week, the company signed 5G technology agreements with Huawei and Cisco, the former expected to provide new network technologies and services, while the latter will be involved in transforming STC’s existing network architecture for 5G. STC also announced that it’s working with Ericsson on expanding LTE-Advanced and Internet of Things technologies within Saudi Arabia, as 4G/LTE networks form the backbone for 5G services.

While 5G plans by the United States, China, Korea, and Europe have received the lion’s share of attention, the Middle East has been carving out its own place on the world stage. In late 2017, Qatar-based Ooredoo made regional headlines by launching an extremely small, pre-standards 5G network, at the time calling it the world’s first 5G network. Last week, multi-country carriers Ooredoo and MTN each signed deals with ZTE to bring 5G to a number of Middle Eastern countries.

STC is the dominant mobile carrier in Saudi Arabia, and it also has a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Kuwait, and the UAE. If it succeeds in launching a 5G network in Saudi Arabia this year, it will join U.S. carriers Verizon and AT&T as being among the world’s very first to offer 5G network services, though compatible devices are expected to be limited to mobile hotspots and home broadband modems.

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