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KSA’s Neom mega-city: From sand dunes to flying taxis

Yehia El Amine

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Saudi Arabia’s Neom Mega-City

“A start-up the size of a country,” is how Saudi Arabia’s futuristic mega-city Neom is being described by Saudi officials, investors, contractors and the like.

The city will take up a whopping 10,000 square miles of rocky desert and empty coastline in the country’s remote northwest Tabuk province, where the kingdom will look to attract the world’s brightest and best.

However, the seaside of the northwestern province was considered so barren that the only identifiable resources were sunlight and an infinite supply of salt water.

Yet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t see a coarse wasteland when he landed in his helicopter there years ago. But a future where human civilization and progress can be propelled forward in every sense of the word.

What is Neom?

Neom is a portmanteau of the Greek word neos, meaning “new,” and mustaqbal, the Arabic word for “future.”

With a price tag of more than $500 billion, as well as seeking foreign investments to fully foot the bill of its ambitious goals, the project is expected to be a crossover between Silicon Valley’s innovations, Hollywood’s entertainment aura, mixed with a French Riviera vacation spot.

Neom will be 33 times the size of New York City and nearly the size of Belgium, more than one million people will work and reside within it and will include a number of towns, ports, and research centers.

“The city will drive the future of human civilisation, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media and entertainment,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz described the project to reporters.

What this means for the Kingdom

According to reports by Al Arabiya, Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman and Neom CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr signed the memorandum of understanding in several energy fields as of late August.

This shows the kingdom’s relentless push and unwavering willingness to achieve the monumental goals they’ve set for themselves as put forth through its 2030 Vision; as well as diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy away from its dependency on oil and more into renewable energy and human capital.

“We all hope that as citizens, the Neom project will accomplish all its goals and on time…and if we want to do so, we have no choice but to be up to the work and ambition required for this project,” Prince Abdul Aziz told reporters.

Neom aims to produce 15 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, which is equivalent to a quarter of the country’s electricity consumption at peak times, the minister added.

Neom, which is coastline bordering Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt aims to lure serious international investments to make it the number one destination for both work and pleasure worldwide.

This futuristic mega-city, however, isn’t the only plan on the horizon. The kingdom will also look to push multibillion-dollar plan to erect a handful of new cities in the hopes of kick-starting the country’s economy into the future.

The developments include a sports and entertainment city outside Riyadh, luxury tourism resorts spread across an archipelago of pristine Red Sea islands and an ancient Arabian trading post turned wildlife reserve called al-Ula.

Infrastructure

From an infrastructure perspective, Neom Co., the developer of the smart-city, has chosen US-based engineering and construction firm Bechtel to design, build, and manage the construction efforts of its transportation, as well as its power and water infrastructures.

“Neom is one of the most complex projects in living memory and we are proud to be part of it. The vision for a futuristic, innovative and sustainable ecosystem is unique and bold, and we believe Neom will change the way new cities are developed by future generations,” Brendan Bechtel, Chairman and Chief Executive of the family-owned company, said in a press release.

Bechtel has long experience of working with the kingdom, beginning with the construction of the Trans-Arab Pipeline in 1947.

In addition, Neom Co. also signed a number of contracts with Saudi telecom company STC to establish and lay the ground work for a 5G network, as well as a $5bn partnership with US-based Air Products and Saudi ACWA Power to develop the world’s largest green hydrogen and green ammonia plant, to be operational in 2025.

While in parallel, Aecom has also been awarded a contract to work the city’s general design, alongside a plethora of environmental and geotechnical support.

“We are excited to be playing such a pivotal part in delivering one of the world’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects,” said Lara Poloni, president of Aecom in a press release.

She added that with Neom being the centerpiece of Saudi Vision 2030, it will become one of the world’s leading destinations to attract talent and investment and drive economic change in the kingdom.

Hollywoodesque Features

Seeing that Neom will be constructed in one of the world’s driest climates, the city’s architects are planning to draw on “cloud seeing” technology to create artificial clouds, producing more rainfall than naturally possible in the desert.

Also, plans have surfaced that include the construction of an artificial mood drone that would light up during night-time, as well as showcasing live-streamed images of outer space.

The project also aims at constructing a Jurassic Park style island filled with a myriad of robot dinosaurs, alongside a vast stretch of glow in the dark sand on its coastline.

It’s estimated it will take around 7 to 10 years to finish the project.

This smart city will aim to lead the world when it comes to healthcare, education by using holograms to give classes and quality of life.

At the moment, there’s nothing but golden sands and gorgeous coastline on the Saudi stretch of the Red Sea, and currently construction is underway to build an airport and resort.

What about Covid-19?

This is where the uphill battle begins.

The kingdom suffered harshly due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after introducing tourist visas for the first time back in September, the country was forced to close its borders to the most vital source of tourism income: religious visitors.

While Saudi Arabia’s economy is the biggest in the Arab world, the country has been hit hard by coronavirus. The kingdom has also had to deal with falling oil prices sparked by an acrimonious dispute with Russia.

However, steps taken by the Saudi government to keep the momentum going has been accelerated showing a strong fortitude toward getting the job done regardless of any hurdle that may come along.

Despite the difficulties ahead, the kingdom will see to it that the Neom dream will not turn into a distant mirage within the covid-19 era.

Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Feature Articles

Will startups lead the line of 5G rollout?

Yehia El Amine

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5g rollout

Timing has always been the catalyst to many inventions, ideas, businesses and the like; and more often that not, timing is underestimated as a key factor for the success of a startup.

In fact, Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab, was stunned by his own research when he found that timing accounts for 42 percent of the difference between the success and failure of a company, during his Ted Talk back in 2015.

And there is a wide array of examples to back it up.

Take for example companies like Airbnb and Uber, they both were pushed into the limelight at the height of the American recession.

Who would have thought that letting a stranger sleep in your own house, or riding with a stranger would disrupt and rock the industry.  

Their timing, however, was the catalyst that changed everything; the recession created a need for people to seek extra income far and wide, and apps such as these were the driving force that incentivized people to enroll.

Thus, with the emergence of 5G, the world’s eyes look toward startups to lead the line of disruption and innovation at this turning point of technological history.

While startup companies may be small compared to the established firms, they nonetheless have the chance to significantly impact the 5G landscape. This can be seen through the increased number of 5G-powered startups being taken under the wing of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Firstly, there will be a whole new generation of hardware and devices to take advantage of with 5G.

One startup that focused on 5G communications is PHAZR, which has developed a solution known as Quadplex. This technology utilizes millimeter-wave frequencies for the downlink while using sub-6-GHz frequencies for the uplink. The company believes its technology can enable “high-performance, cost-effective, and power-efficient 5G systems.”

Another startup company fixated on 5G is Movandi. The company works extensively with millimeter-wave frequencies—its BeamX front end integrates RF, antenna, beamforming, and control algorithms into a modular, 5G millimeter-wave solution. Movandi’s goal is to help accelerate 5G deployments and grow the market faster.

Startup GenXComm has also thrown its hat into the 5G ring. With its simultaneous self-interference cancellation (S-SIX) technology, the company is targeting the 5G market, among others.

Startups will thus have a considerable impact on wireless internet services; an example of these kinds of opportunities was seen earlier back in 2019 when Google Fiber had to enhance its Webpass service in the U.S. due to increased competition from startups NetBlazr and Starry.

Essentially, startups could offer more competitive 5G broadband rates, since they have low operations costs and can provide faster service.

This is just a fraction of what 5G-based startups are attempting to do.

In parallel, 5G will unlock the ability to send and receive information in real time, which would open an unprecedented level of opportunities far and wide.

While 4G paved the way for social media influencers, 5G would open up the opportunity for a whole new generation of artists and engineers to leverage new modes of consumption for AR/VR content as well as immersive media in general.

According to a report done by Vodafone, with 5G, startup companies would be able to compete with industry leaders in terms of speed and quality of business processes, market awareness and intelligence, along with ensuring better productivity.

The study also found that 56 percent of leaders in the startup space in the U.K. are convinced that 5G will transform the way they operate their businesses.

Entrepreneurs are greatly recognizing the effect 5G may have on their business models, their strategy going forward, the potential impact it will have on society and how it might change society.

All of the elements that 5G is presenting can give SMEs a glimpse into the future and what they can do to prepare for it. The next Ubers and Airbnbs of the world will attempt to crucially center 5G as a metric for their upcoming success.

Especially since those who can adopt the next generation mobile network early while hitting all the right notes will be earmarked to a have significant advantages over their competition – no matter their size.

The rollout of 5G will ultimately change the way governments, organizations, and startups communicate, work, engage with their customers and partners. Thus, with a “sky is the limit” approach clinching to 5G, now is the time to consider how your business can unlock, benefit and thrive from its potential.

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Future mobility services: SK Telecom and Uber team up for new venture

Inside Telecom Staff

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mobility services

South Korea’s largest mobile carrier, SK Telecom, has partnered up with U.S. ride-hailing app, Uber, to spin off its mobility services, while the latter aims to crack the tough SK market.

According to the mobile carrier’s regulatory filing, the mobility business, called T Map Mobility Co., will be entirely owned by SK Telecom to become its own independent company as of December 29, 2020.

The partnership brings forth a joint venture that will see Uber Technologies directly invest more than $50 million within the new entity that offers mobility services such as satellite navigation and taxi-hailing, while the remaining $100 million will be done via joint venture structure.

“The new joint venture would create opportunities in the taxi-hailing market in Korea and explore new areas, including future mobility services,” Uber and SK Telecom said in a joint statement.

The move is Uber’s latest attempt to expand in a market where it has previously faced tough competition as well as opposition from taxi drivers and regulations which forced it to stop using private cars for its ride-hailing service in 2015.

According to the joint statement, the mobility services venture combines T Map Mobility’s “network of drivers and mapping technology with Uber’s ride-hailing technology and global operations expertise.”

The platform will look to launch in a co-branded manner, where riders and drivers of T Map Taxi will be encouraged to join after launch. T Map Taxi is SK Telecom’s taxi-hailing platform, the second largest in Korea after Kakao.

Under the plan, Uber will own a 51 percent majority stake within the joint venture, while the remaining 49 percent will be held by SK Telecom. “We expect T Map Mobility, which is valued at 1 trillion won ($873.3 million), to grow into a company worth 4.5 trillion won by 2025,” the statement read.

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Embedded finance: the next phase of growth in Fintech

Yehia El Amine

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embedded finance

Financial services have always been the nervous system of the global economy, a critical system that must always provide effective and equitable services for social cohesion and enhanced development.

While advancements in the Fintech industry have grown tenfold, the legacy 20th century business models in finance have grown out-of-date, with many not even adapting to the fundamental paradigm shift – technological, institutional, and societal – ushered in by the monumental transition from an Industrial to an Information Age.

As such, these business models need to be reshaped to better serve the needs of the market and keep up with the ever-changing technological tides.

The current buzz around Fintech right now is embedded finance, which, according to UK-based venture investment firm Anthemis, is predicting a market-wide revenue of almost $7 trillion in the next decade.

What is embedded finance?

Embedded finance is the integration of financial services within a non-financial app, website or platform. The biggest and easiest example of this is done via ride-hailing apps; when a customer pays for a ride at the end of the journey directly on the ride-share company’s app, they are using embedded banking.

They do not need to fumble with cash or hand their payment card to the driver. In fact, they don’t even need to say a word to the driver at all. They can simply exit the vehicle and finish up the transaction on their phone.

The same can be applied to Amazon loans, Apple Cards, booking a parking space directly from the Google Maps app, and Shopify merchant accounts.

How it works

Embedded finance can take on many shapes and forms, but traditionally fall into three categories:

  • The transfer of value in space:  This category includes payment processing and traditional bank products such as savings and checking accounts.
  • The transfer of value in time: This category includes investments as well as loans and other forms of financing.
  • Managing risk: This category includes insurance and other products that provide some layer of protection against risks.

All of these can be integrated into non-financial services and platforms delivered on the Internet. The difference between embedded finance and different forms of integration is that it paves the way for cross-industry integration.

This can be seen via the popular rise of digital wallets, in which a person stores their payment card information on the app. The credit or debit cards are issued by a traditional bank.

From there, customers can use the app to pay for purchases in brick-and-mortar stores, online payments, as well as the ability to transfer money to other users of the app without having to type in their bank account or credit card information each time.

Thus, the versatility of embedded finance can be a widely impactful tool for businesses to open various revenue streams, as it allows all sectors to become more Internet-enabled ultimately leading to be “finance-enabled.”

What’s on the horizon?

Previously, organizations who wanted to integrate financial services within their business models had to deal with massive heaps of operational coordination and technological plumbing in the background.

As Banking-as-as-Service (BaaS) is on the rise, technology-driven suppliers that underpin the infrastructure of banking is also meeting it upwards in parallel for both financial services and non-financial companies.

“While embedded finance is still a nascent field, we expect many more use cases to come. It’s a great opportunity for selected start-ups, SMEs and large corporates to create more client value, while capturing new revenue lines,” the report by Anthemis said.

This gives embedded finance companies an edge due to their ability to streamline operational capabilities through distribution, data, and resources, which in turn, provides a major boost to the worldwide startup ecosystem.

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