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ACES-NH helps meet growing Saudi demand for high-speed services

Dr. Luai E. Hasnawi, Chief of Fixed Network of ACES-NH, discusses how the neutral host operator is future-proofing its investment in high-speed fiber networks in Saudi Arabia.

Joanne TaaffeJoanne Taaffe
09 Jul 2024
ACES-NH helps meet growing Saudi demand for high-speed services

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ACES-NH helps meet growing Saudi demand for high-speed services

Capital expenditure on 5G and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network infrastructure is central to Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision to create a diversified, digital, knowledge-based economy.

In addition to having extensive 5G network coverage, Saudi Arabia is home to some of the world’s first commercial 5G standalone networks and is encouraging investment in high-speed fiber networks.

Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems for Neutral Host (ACES-NH) is among the companies investing in new network infrastructure to meet the country’s growing demand for connectivity. And it is doing so thanks to an opening up of the Saudi Arabian wholesale telecommunications market,

Dr. Luai Hasnawi

A licensed neutral host infrastructure provider with operations in Saudi Arabia and India, ACES-NH initially offered wholesale indoor and outdoor wireless infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, based on a distributed antenna system (DAS) and small cells. Now ACES-NH’s focus has expanded to build a reliable and scalable fixed network capable of deploying FTTH services based on 25GPON technology, as Dr. Luai E. Hasnawi, Chief of Fixed Network of ACES-NH, explains in an interview with Inform.

An open wholesale market

ACES-NH branched into FTTH in part because it already owned 10,000 aggregated kilometers of dark fiber network in Riyadh, according to Dr. Hasnawi. “We realized it was sufficient to be a backbone network for a new fixed telecom infrastructure.”

The introduction of the Open Access regulation by the Communications and Space Commission (CST) in 2020 encouraged ACES-NH to invest in fixed telecommunication infrastructure using a neutral host business model. The Open Access regulation significantly enhanced the take-up rate of FTTH, with 50% of those homes connected now subscribing to FTTH services, compared to previous rates of 15%.

As a result of the regulatory changes, “ACES-NH can be the sole wholesale FTTH provider for a given zip code as a neutral host operator,” says Dr. Hasnawi, with standard network architecture and open access regulated tariff.

“The concept of a neutral host, from my point of view, is to be neutral in three dimensions: traffic, operators, and technology. We will treat all traffic neutrally and all operators impartially,” explains Dr. Hasnawi. “Lastly, we will build a future promising digital infrastructure capable of adopting all current and future technologies, regardless of their vendor.”

In addition, as in other countries, civil engineering costs account for around 70% of expenditure on network build, making it important to strike a balance between future proofing network investment and limiting upfront spend on capacity in line with customer requirements.

For this reason, ACES-NH chose to roll out a 25GPON-enabled network from Nokia that allowed it to start with a high-speed 10G PON network and then scale up symmetrical bandwidth capacity. This will help the company keep up with growing demand for higher capacity driven by increased use of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), as well as cloud and edge cloud computing.

“We have to go to market with added value … and the good thing about Nokia is that their platform is programmable to offer flexible wholesale products for our customers and you can upgrade XSGPON to 25XSGPON with minimal hardware upgrade. Such features result in resealable CAPEX and long-term scalable infrastructure,” explains Dr. Hasnawi.

Extending beyond residential access

For now, ACES-NH is focusing its FTTH network build-out on homes in Riyadh “as a starting point and aiming to expand nationwide in the following years,” says Dr. Hasnawi.

By the end of 2024, ACES-NH plans to have passed 23,000 homes in the country’s capital with fiber, which it will follow with an additional 15,000 premises per year in average in 2025 and beyond. And it is not stopping at residential properties. The choice of 25GPON also opens the opportunity to serve the wholesale enterprise, data centers and mobile towers with connectivity as neutral host operator, and benefit from the relative simplicity of using the same network technology across different use cases. Next year, the company also intends to launch Open Access Fiber-to-the-business (FTTB) services.

Further out, ACES-NH, which offers a range of solutions including Data Center Infrastructure and IoT, could even seek to become “a complete digital infrastructure provider to ISPs, wireless and international,” service providers in the country, says Dr. Hasnawi.

“ACES-NH is agile and if there is a business case we can get, actions will be taken in no time”