The Evolution of Mobile Phones in Saudi Arabia (The Past)


       For years, people in Saudi Arabia were able to communicate very effectively after the introduction of phones in general. Through out the years, phones have been evolved in Saudi Arabia as well as in many countries around the world. After the vast use of landline, wireless, and portable phones, cell-phones (mobile phones) were introduced in early 1997. This chain of phone evolution was quite remarkable in Saudi Arabia; therefore, I would like to study how mobile phones have been evolved in Saudi Arabia and also to consider the widespread use of this technology. The use of mobile phones has been increased dramatically over the past decade in the kingdom; mobile phones are now an essential part of business, commerce and society.


 Phones Overview

       Actually, it won’t be adequate if I start talking about cell-phones and its impact on the society without considering previous phone technologies. For years, people in Saudi Arabia were able to communicate with each others using landline phones. It was very effective way to connect the society members together socially and economically. Landline Phones (Al-Hatif), which is provided by STC (Saudi Telecom Company), were the backbone of communication within the country or internationally whether you are calling your family, friends and/or a business contact.
In 1983, Saudi Arabia was experiencing the emergence of the portable phones “two-way radio systems” which were invented by Motorola. The car radiotelephone industry was greatly introduced to the region to implement social and business purposes. Although Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country, it was not a shock for such a community to adopt this portable technology, due to the fact that this culture is very luxurious. Motorola produced mobile telephones in cars or “car phones,” as they came to be called. Radiotelephones essentially were two-way radios connected to the landline telephone system. However, problems with car radiotelephone systems emerged as their popularity grew. Due to the limited number of available frequencies, car phone systems allowed only a few calls at one time. Frustrated callers often experienced long waits. In addition, radio channels could not be reused in nearby areas because of interference from the high-powered base stations. In addition, no privacy was insured using car phones; some specific scanners can penetrate car phones calls.

       In Saudi Arabia, people have shown a great potential in the mobile technology. Since the emergence of cell-phones, which was10 years ago, people have used cell-phones in a large scale after years of communicating via landline, portable, and car phones. In a country like Saudi Arabia, providing a new technology is not an issue as long as people can afford it. Indeed, the luxurious life style in Saudi Arabia compels people to adopt the most recent and expensive way of communication not only for communicating purposes but also for their social image, sometimes, the social image is more important_ you can see people with two or three cell-phones with unique numbers as a sign of luxury.


Talking Sands

       In general, people in Saudi Arabia are sociable and private at the same time; with no doubt, cell-phones enable them to communicate any where and at any time. It is not a joke when I say people in Saudi Arabia spend a lot of time and money on phone calls. Gossip plays a crucial role in the social environment, and mainly it takes place over cell-phones rather than meeting in person. I can illustrate many reasons for which Saudi people prefer using cell-phones. First, the hot climate in Saudi Arabia compels the residents to stay in their houses rather than gathering outdoors. It is very rare to see people are walking down the street; everyone travels in his/her own vehicles. Another contributory factor in the vast using of cell-phones is the fact that women don’t drive cars. Although every household in Saudi Arabia has at least one driver, it is considered a burden not to be able to drive any time in the day. Therefore, cell-phones made women who are in the same social or educational environment are more connected to each others.   Also, we have to consider the fact that Saudi Arabia has no entertainment activities, such as movie theaters or night clubs for religious reasons. So, people in Saudi Arabia tend to adopt cell-phones and other entertaining tools more likely than other nations in the world. Last reason is the fact that people over there are very much concerned with the life style and the social image. Saudies usually compete on carrying the latest cell-phone device and/or to be updated with the newest services. The Saudi society always appreciates people with updated technologies. Cell-phones have a great impact on the social level especially among the younger generation.


 Cell-Phones and Romance

       Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -3:00 a.m., two luxury cars side by side on an empty street, slicing through the sticky seaside air at 100 miles per hour, a girl in a gold Lexus waved at a guy (Husam Thobaity). She was in the back seat, covered by a black veil that hid everything but her eyes. “She had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen,” Thobaity recalled. “So I gave her my number by Bluetooth.”

Thobaity, 23 years old pushed a button on his cell-phone and activated Bluetooth, a short-range wireless function that is standard on most new cell-phones. Within seconds, the girl’s Bluetooth screen name popped up on his cell’s glowing display. He laughed: She called herself “Spoiled,” which matched the flashy Daddy’s Girl car. Excited, flustered, using his left hand to steer, he clicked on her name and sent her a text message with his phone number. The big Lexus roared off down another road. It would be a week before Thobaity heard from the girl with those eyes, the woman he loves. Cell-phone technology is changing the way young people meet and date in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Calls, Texting, and more recently Bluetooth are breaking down age-old barriers and giving young men and women discreet new ways around the sentries of romance in the most insular, conservative and religiously strict societies in the world.


   Social Amplifications

       A very noticeable and important outcome of such a conservative society is the misuse of Bluetooth technology by young men and women is increasing in Saudi Arabia. A recent study found that pornographic material accounted for nearly 70 percent of messages exchanged by teenagers. Abdullah ibn Mohammed Al-Rasheed, associate professor at the College of Dawa and Information in Riyadh, who conducted the study, said 88 percent of girls had been victims of such misuse. Rasheed presented his study at a seminar organized by the King Fahd Security Academy. The study focused on teenage boys detained by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for harassing girls in the Qasim region. “The flash memory of mobile phones taken from teenagers showed 69.7 percent of 1,470 files saved in them were pornographic and 8.6 percent were related to violence,” said Rasheed. About 99.2 percent of people surveyed, mostly students, military officers and businessmen, used Bluetooth in public gatherings.

Hard to tell if the 70% figure is based on all teenagers or just that demographic of busy-hand boys that the study “focused on.” As written, it sounds like it’s the former, especially since they also surveyed teenaged girls. Speaking of which:

Ninety-nine percent believed that the device had broken the barrier of social taboo and traditions. Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported on Thursday that Saudi Arabia will overturn a ban on the import and sale of cell-phones with built-in camera in the conservative Muslim kingdom. Although widely used across the country, camera phones are illegal in Saudi Arabia and have been condemned by religious leaders who say they are used to invade privacy, particularly of women. Al-Eqtisadiah quoted unnamed sources as saying authorities had asked the Interior Ministry to put in place regulations to prevent “the negative use of the camera equipment in the phone.”

Female Students who are carrying cell-phones on campus in any college in Saudi Arabia could face a SR500 fine ~$133, taking the cell-phone for at least a week, and a 3-year suspension under recent regulations issued by the Ministry of Education.

Woman fired over mobile snapshots – this was an article about a Saudi woman who has been expelled from her university for taking pictures of unveiled colleagues with a camera-equipped mobile phone posting them on the Internet.

When the Saudi people finally rise up in revolt and throw out the House of Saud, fellow Saudi blogger, Alhamedi Alanezi says: “it won’t be for democratic reform, and it won’t be for an Islamic republic. It’ll be about mobile phones.” Saudi Arabia enforces ban on camera phones, the Saudi government began enforcing a ban on the sale of camera-equipped mobile phones. This results in creating a black market to sell banned camera phones.


 STC’s Mission

       Saudi Arabia has one main carrier which is STC (Saudi Telecom Company), this institution is governmental. STC has established in 1998 and delivered a range of positive results after providing better services to customers. This has been achieved through an ambitious transformation & restructuring program compound with an extensive expansion of the network and infrastructure. Saudi Telecom Company is aiming to be the leading Saudi mobile voice and data service provider, with the widest coverage, expanding our customers’ horizons while proudly respect their culture and values.

In the last two years, another telephone company has been launched in Saudi Arabia which is called Mobily, it is a private organization. But in this case study, I will consider facts from STC only. 

       By the end of 2002, the Saudi Government announced that 30% of Saudi Telecom Shares will be released for sale to Saudi citizens & organizations; Saudi citizens (20%), General Organization of Social Insurance (GOSI) (5%), and Pension Fund Organization (5%). By the end of the subscription period, requests for shares exceeded the number offered by 3.5 times. This is a clear indication that Saudi people are confident of Saudi Telecom’s success and trusts in its future. The General Assembly Meeting of Saudi Telecom new shareholders held at the end of April 2003.


Services and Usage

       STC is very keen to keep up with the latest technology by offering more than the basic GSM voice service. Therefore, they offer their valued customers additional value added services based on these new technologies enabling them to partner with STC. STC thrive to maintain the highest customer satisfaction. They generously invest within their dedicated manpower to contribute in a great manner to the telecom world. Even more they do their best to offer any new and practical service to make them the most reliable GSM operator in the world based on their innovative approach of being truthful and transparent towards their valued customers according to their values and traditions. The power and flexibility of Aljawal (cell-phone) is available for anyone for small sum of SR 50~$13 to connect (a one off payment), and a payment each month of SR 35~$9. Aljawal comes with free bundled services included.

People in Saudi Arabia don’t tend to use all services that the carrier provides. According to this culture some services are very widely used and some are poorly used, such as the poor use of voice messaging _ I don’t know exactly why, but people over there don’t like to leave voice messages. On the contrary, they show a great potential in using text messaging. The average bill for a Saudi individual use is 1500-2000 SR ~ 400-530 $ a month.  They exchange photographs, video clips, and sound files with each other, as well as to publish them to public or private websites.

The Bundled Services for Aljawal:

Aljawal also provides the clients a variety of value added services they can buy by calling Aljawal Center:

  • Mawjood & Mawjood Extra
  • Call Barring
  • Adding International calls
  • Increase or Decrease Credit Limit
  • Bill Info
  • International Roaming
  • Changing P.O Box Address
  • Temporary Line Suspension based on customer request
  • Reconnection after temporary suspension based on customer request 
  •  Reactivation of outgoing calls after suspension when reaching credit limit
  • Reactivation of line after temporary suspension due to unpaid bill
  • 700 Numbers
  • SIM card delivery outside the Kingdom

 Aljawal offers its valued customers a variety of monthly subscription plans and minutes rates to meet each customer’s needs and help them manage and control their calls budgets.  


STC dedicate a special ring to a special person or to a group. Note that Sada will work on any mobile since all your rings are stored on the Sada service system and will be played by the service itself.

 My Backup

My backup is a service designed to allows Aljawal customers to saving and retrieve all personal information such as: contacts, calendar, tasks, SMS, MMS, tones, and photo that stored in their phones. This services use GPRS, EDGE, and UTMS for that you need to be Jawalnet subscribers. 

Mirsal Aljawal (SMS)

Mirsal Aljawal or SMS Text Messaging is a service that lets you send and receive messages to and from any other mobile. The message can contain a maximum of 160 Latin letters or 70 Arabic letters.


  • Private and reliable
  • SMS messages will be delivered immediately to the person you are contacting whether their calls are diverted to another number, their phone is busy or if the mobile you are sending the message to is switched off the message is received when the phone is switched on again.
  • Cost effective


  Tadawul Aljawal

This service allows Aljawal customers to receive detailed information related to the Saudi stock market. Those who are interested in keeping track of the stock market activities will be able to receive real-time information about stocks quotes through SMS or MMS. This service is in collaboration with Saudi Stock Market (Tadawul).


Voice Messaging

Voicemail is a personal answering machine. With this service, you do not miss calls, people can deposit messages on your mailbox when:

  • There is no answer
  • Your line is busy
  • Your phone is off
  • There is no coverage


  • Always reachable
  • You choose when to listen to messages
  • Easy to use


 STC Strategy

STC has continued in adopting balance scorecard principle based on balancing of financial objectives with other non-financial objectives and comparing its services & performance with the performance indicators of global telecom companies. This will have a positive impact on improving STC performance, as well as increasing the customer’s base, customer satisfaction and meeting all the requirements and needs of the local market. STC endeavors in the next stage to develop and protect its achieved revenues, evaluates, and utilizes the available local & regional chances for developing business. STC is also working in reviewing the market segmentation and immediate response to market changes, customer needs and timely provision of solutions and new services to meet the requirements of STC current and future customers as well as placing innovated sales basis, beside continuous revision to the service tariff structure to ensure its consistency with company structure. Follow up the development of the related customer retention and satisfaction programs. 

Annotated Bibliography

_Hanley, D.C., (June 30, 1999). The Washington report on Middle East affairsWashington: Vol. XVIII, Iss. 4;  pg. 116. Retrieved October 21, 2007. (Document ID: 592493911).


Dr. Jon Alterman, program officer in the Research and Studies Program at the United States Institute of Peace, discussed the implications for Arab policies of recent developments in satellite TV and the Internet at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC March 11. Alterman, author of New Media, New Politics, pointed out that while faxes and phone lines can be monitored and printed material can be impounded, satellite TV and the Internet take users outside the realm of government censorship.


_Latest phones at i2, offering exquisite style and state of the art  technology. (2007, October 16). Middle East Company News,1. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from ProQuest Newsstand database. (Document ID: 1366716121).

 Founded in 1993 in Saudi Arabia, i2 is the region’s largest and most diverse mobile phone provider. Over 1,300 employees across 340 stores in 22 countries are dedicated to providing i2 customers with technological solutions and services that enhance their lifestyles and shopping experience. i2 stores offer the widest range of mobile phones, PDAs, wireless technology, software, value added services and mobile accessories in the region. 

_ OReilly, M. (1999). Broadcasting comes to the internet. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 161(9), 1170. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from: Health & Medical Complete database. (Document ID: 46738345).



_Saudi Telecom launches world’s largest EFM network with Zhone to provide up to 45 MBPS on existing copper infrastructure. (2007, October 10). Middle East Company News,1. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from ProQuest Newsstand database. (Document ID: 1361349621).


Zhone Technologies, Inc. a global provider of advanced communications equipment and a leader in VoIP, IPTV, and Ethernet over copper and fiber access lines, today announced that Zhone’s Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) solution has been selected by Saudi Telecom Company as a cornerstone business access technology in STC’s preeminent converged all-IP network initiative.


_ Winston, B. (1998). Media technology and society. London: Routledge.


_ Wootton, C. (2005). A practical guide to video and audio compression. Oxford, UK:  Focal Press Publications.

_Zhone technologies, Inc.: Saudi telecom company (STC) leverages high- density Efm aggregation with Zhone’s Malc to deliver high bandwidth services over bonded Copper. (10 October). M2 Presswire,1. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from ProQuest Newsstand database. (Document ID: 1361617551).

Saudi Telecom Company is the incumbent operator in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the largest wireless and wireline network in the Gulf. Since its independence from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in 1998, Saudi Telecom has embarked on what is recognized as one of the world’s most advanced network transformation projects, migrating from legacy TDM to pure IP packet technology.


1 thought on “The Evolution of Mobile Phones in Saudi Arabia (The Past)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s