Qatar has a highly devloped internet infrastructure that is on par with that available in developed economies in a part of the world that does not particularly stand out for its high levels of connectivity. Qatar's fiber optic infrastructure in particular is noted to be among the best in the world, and operators Ooredoo and Vodafone Qatar are considered by many to be the first to launch the 5G service—albeit with a limited coverage.
Also of note is Qatar's National Broadband Network (Qnbn), which is the backbone of the nation's internet infrastructure, supplying many businesses and homes with high-quality internet subscriptions. Even as early as 2007, Qatar was ranked second in the entire Arab world in terms of connectivity, with an internet penetration rate that had jumped from around zero just a decade earlier to 37% . The internet penetration rate passed the 80% mark by 2010, and it is just under 100% now.
As connectivity is among the most important enablers for economic development, Qatar seems to be on the right track to achieve the economic leap that it is endeavoring to achieve by 2030. Such results have not come about by chance, and a review of the measures and steps that have been taken to make Qatar as well-connected as it is today will be useful both for the country itself and other nations that want to learn a lesson or two from Qatar's economic miracles in recent years.
At least since 2010, Qatar has considered its digital agenda as one of its winning cards in its bid to become a leading economic power in the Gulf region. The country's progress in digital technologies and Industry 4.0 gathered further momentum in the middle of the last decade and, with the launching of the National ICT Plan in 2015 by ictQatar to accelerate the nation's digital agenda, odds are that the objectives outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030 will be met well ahead of time.
Although ictQatar, as a public entity, has spearhead the nation's efforts to become a leading ICT hub in the region, one has to also consider Qatar's significant private sector, which is a force for rapid digitalization in its own right. The public and private sector are working in tandem to achieve the objectives set in the ICT Plan 2015, though they have adopted rather different strategies in doing so: while the public sector is keen to meet the desired benchmarks for connectivity and making the nation's ICT ecosystem as robust and well-connected as possible, private stakeholders are doing their best to maximize their profits by the adoption of digital technologies.
In plain words, the public sector is on a quest to create a mature digital landscape in which businesses can prosper, while the nation's private sector tries to make the most of the opportunity. Qatar's digital strategy has not forgotten its citizens and residents either: anyone residing in Qatar will testify to the fact that, as of 2020, most imaginable interactions between a resident and the government can be carried out using e-government platforms. If such platforms had not been developed over the last decade, life in 2020 and under the shadow of the pandemic would be difficult to imagine.
Back in 2019, Amir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani emphasized the urgency of investing in areas such as ICT that have a direct impact on the nation's human development, noting that “as citizens and residents form one of Qatar's most valuable resources, it is imperative to provide the skills necessary to prepare the digital transformation of the economy and enable them to contribute to future development,” according to The Peninsula.
And Qatari citizens and residents are doing their best to make a contribution. The private sector is drawing on the digital ecosystem created by the public sector to stay ahead of the curve and compete with the rest of the world. As Qatar is home to many tech savvy businesses leaders as well as over 2 million expats from across the world, it has become a crossroad of ideas and technologies. Any technology developed across the world will end up in Qatar well before it is adopted by most nations. Thus, Qatar's private sector has been an early adopter of disruptive technologies such as blockchain, big data, 5G, and cloud computing, among many others. Even foreign companies such as tech giant Microsoft are drawn to Qatar thanks to the country's robust internet infrastructure. In 2019, the American software developer announced its plans to launch a new cloud datacenter in Qatar for the company's regional operations. Microsoft announced its plans to “establish a new cloud datacenter region in Qatar to deliver its intelligent, trusted cloud services and expand the Microsoft global cloud infrastructure to 55 cloud regions in 20 countries.” Less than a year on, the project is about to become fully operational.
Given the synergy between the public and private sector in Qatar, the country is bound to remain one of the most connected nations in the region and the world, and we will see the fruits of this synergy in the following years. The country has already met many of the objectives outlined in the National ICT Plan 2015 and will continue to harness the power of ICT for the betterment of the country's economic and social good.