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Article Details

Telecommunication in Saudi Arabia

by Expatguru - 02/09/2010

"This article describes the evolution of telecommunication in the kingdom, its present status and relevance to expats."

When I first landed in Saudi Arabia 12 years back, the only telecom company was the state-owned PTT. Landlines were a rarity and possessing a mobile phone was a status symbol. One had to pay a deposit of SR10000 to obtain a mobile phone.

Landline rate was an atrocious SR13.50 per minute. Internet had not yet arrived in the kingdom. Barring a miniscule minority, telecommunication was virtually a nightmare for most expatriates. Long queues could be seen in public telephone booths. Most phone booths were coin-operated. It was a herculean task to talk and at the same time keep dropping coins every few seconds to keep the line live! Later on, the coin booths were replaced by card booths, which used prepaid telephone cards, but there was no end to the woes of people.

Prior to 1998, satellite television was banned in the kingdom. The only way people could entertain themselves was by watching movies through video tapes. Availability of tapes was restricted and even those that were available were old ones. The advent of satellite television brought about a sea change. It was only a matter of time before the change would set into the telecom sector.

How times have changed! PTT was privatized and a new company, STC (Saudi Telecom Company) was formed. Currently there are two more companies, the UAE-based ‘Mobily’ and ‘Zain’. By virtue of being the first telecom company, STC still has the widest reach but is being given a run for its money by Mobily. Competition has brought down the rates and subscribers are treated to new schemes at regular intervals by both the companies. Zain, being a new entrant, doesn't have as much coverage as the other two, but is quickly catching up.

Internet was introduced only in the year 2000. The gateway is based in Dhahran and strict censorship is in place. Websites considered “unacceptable” are banned. However, for the expatriate, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), otherwise known as internet telephony, has come as a boon. With just a click of a mouse, expats can be in touch with their near and dear ones. There are a lot of “internet cards” available in the market. As internet telephony has still not been legalized, sale of these cards is considered not legally allowed, but nevertheless, they are extremely popular and are freely available.
Mobile SIM cards are easily available, but one still has to register with the telecom companies by giving photocopies of their residence permits before one is issued.

Road-side card-operated phone booths have all but wound up. Though the tariff is still rather high as compared to other GCC countries, it has definitely come down from the earlier levels. Change has slowly but surely set into Saudi Arabia.

(2 Votes)

Views: 2923

11 comment(s)

Tuesday 9 February 2010, 9:37 pm
You know, I was going to do some extensive traveling when I was much younger...places like Egypt, etc. But I was too timid to do so. These days my courage has grown and now with internet used as an video and telecommunications, I am quite comfortable to be away from the ones that I love. Granted not all are connected, but I am considering extensive traveling and have done a bit as well. In light of this last report, Saudi Arabia is still not up to speed and therefore not in my schedule of places to hit. So, keep me may not be long before I do.

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Thursday 3 June 2010, 2:37 pm
I have been saudi one years plus,so the I can not imagine how expensive to connect to home for expatriate,thank you for your information.

Gil Ron
Tuesday 12 June 2012, 6:55 am
Ya Saudi Arabia is very much costly regarding to telecommunication. People do prefer to call from internet rather than their mobile phones or from telephone booths since it charge too high. 1 minute charge is up to 20-30 rupees. That's why they prefer internet for communication. boite mensuelle

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