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DUBAI: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the digitalization trend has accelerated, with more and more people choosing to shop, work, bank and communicate online.

At the same time, a multitude of public and private institutions have moved their products and services into cyberspace, taking advantage of increasing internet access, improved infrastructure and technological advancements.

As a result of this rapid transition, governments and business leaders have been eager to find ways to improve the digital quality of life for their service users. To help them, cybersecurity company Surfshark created the Digital Quality of Life Index.

Drawing on a sample of public opinion from 110 countries, the 2021 index focused on the fundamental pillars of Internet accessibility and quality, electronic infrastructure, electronic security and electronic administration.

Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall, but ranked first in the most improved mobile speed category. (AFP)

The study, first launched in 2019, is based on open source information provided by the UN, the World Bank, Freedom House, the International Telecommunications Union and other sources.

Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall, but ranked first in the most improved mobile speed category. It was fifth for overall mobile speed at 97 megabytes per second and fifth for mobile Internet stability.

Although the Kingdom lost five places from the previous year, its overall performance improved as many other countries were included in the new index.

Povilas Junas, research project manager at Surfshark, told Arab News: “Clearly, Saudi Arabia’s strength lies in mobile internet. Not only does the country rank first in this category, but the index shows how much speed has increased over the past year.

“It also ranks fifth for mobile speed and mobile Internet stability, which we get from analyzing how mobile Internet varies from month to month.”

Saudi Arabia has made the digital transition a key part of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-tech knowledge economy. (AFP)

All over the world, digital tools are now an integral part of daily life, with the number of Internet users rising from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today, or nearly 60% of the world’s population.

Improving digital quality of life is therefore seen as an urgent requirement for future prosperity and well-being as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Junas said: “We need to talk about the elephant in the room, which today is defined by the pandemic. Even before that, many people spent a lot of time online, from TV to movies online, but due to the COVID-19 crisis we are doing more things online – we work, study and meet our friends and our loved ones because we couldn’t do that outside.

“It’s not only a social aspect, but also an economic one. Because a good digital quality of life means that you can improve your economic situation, offer services and start your own business, all while being able to interact with partners and customers halfway around the world.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend towards digitization has accelerated. (AFP)

“The digital quality of life strongly affects the social and economic development of our lives in general,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has made the digital transition a key part of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-tech knowledge economy that does not depend on revenues from oil exports.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Kingdom ranks among the top 10 developed countries in the world for its robust digital framework, as the pace of digitization accelerates before 2020.

Since 2017, PwC said, around $ 15 billion public and private investments in information and communications technology infrastructure have enabled Saudi Arabia to leverage more of its digital infrastructure on a solid.

“The country’s digital backbone has enabled essential services, including learning, shopping and even medical consultations, to continue and protect the economy from the challenges of the pandemic,” PwC Middle East said in a statement. April blog titled “Vision 2030 in a Post-Pandemic World.

He highlighted the example of a local online retailer, BinDawood Holding, which reported a 200% increase in its average sales over a 10-day period at the end of March 2020, while its average order value increased. increased by 50% and application installs by 400%.

The results of the 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study largely confirmed the assessment of the PwC blog. Saudi Arabia has proven to be excellent in Internet quality, ranking 10th ahead of Singapore, France and Israel, and in electronic infrastructure at 35th, about 20% better than the world average.

However, the speed of broadband internet in Saudi Arabia has shown that it can be improved. Ranked 41st, with 76 megabytes per second, it was far behind first-place contender Singapore, which boasted a speed of 230 megabytes per second.

“This is definitely an improvement that would allow Saudi Arabia to rank higher in the index,” Junas said.

Despite its high-quality internet connections, Saudi Arabia also has room for improvement in the affordability index, with a score 70% below the global average.

The Surfshark study suggested that residents had to work an average of nearly nine hours to afford the cheapest broadband internet plan – three hours and 13 minutes more than in 2020.

In order to improve its overall ranking in future indices, Povilas Junas, research project manager at Surfshark, noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements to its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

Then again, with an area of ​​2.15 million square kilometers, the challenge that Saudi Arabia faced in building and maintaining the infrastructure required to provide fast and stable broadband connections was something that Singapore, a small city -State, did not have to raise.

Meanwhile, the latest PwC Hopes and Fears survey found that 79% of those polled in Saudi Arabia believed technological advancements would improve their future employment prospects, and nearly 90% were confident they could adapt. the use of new technologies entering their workplaces.

“This is a strong endorsement of the success of digital transformation initiatives already underway,” the study report says. “According to our latest survey of Middle East CEOs, 59% of CEOs surveyed in the Middle East, vs. 49% globally, aim to increase their investments in digital transformation by 10% or more in the next three years. , in direct response to the impact of COVID-19. “

The number of internet users worldwide has increased from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today. (AFP)

The 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study found that Saudi Arabia’s e-security – around 20% below the global average – was one of the potential areas for improvement despite the palpable progress made over the years. last years.

Surfshark Managing Director Vytautas Kaziukonis told Arab News: “Digital opportunities have proven to be more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis, stressing the importance for every country to ensure fully remote operational capabilities for their communities. savings.

“That’s why, for the third year in a row, we’re continuing digital quality of life research, which provides a strong global perspective on how countries excel digitally. The index lays the groundwork for meaningful discussions about the impact of digital advancement on a country’s prosperity and areas where improvements can be made.

In order to improve its overall ranking in future indices, Junas noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements to its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

“If countries give more privacy to different data brokers or any kind of service that can access user data, the score improves, because it’s a pretty big pillar,” he said.

Another point to mention is that a wider online presence for the country’s government agencies would also improve the Kingdom’s score, meaning that some government-offered services that are available offline to citizens could also be activated. in line.

“Online services are crucial: if citizens can do their taxes, enroll in health care, or do many other state-provided services online, it can help improve the index score,” Junas added.

Twitter: @CalineMalek



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