Research and development energizes Qatar's pioneering spirit
August 08 2022 11:14 AM

Research and development (R&D) is an important driver of economic growth as it spurs innovation, invention, and progress. R&D can lead to breakthroughs that can drive both profits and the well-being of citizens. Today, R&D dominates many industry sectors such as biotech & pharmaceuticals, but most importantly Information and Communications technology (ICT).

Among the Middle East countries, Qatar stands out for its focus on research and development. The GCC country has tapped its vast natural resources to direct significant investments into innovation in line with economic diversification objectives outlined in Qatar National Vision 2030. Qatar is positioning itself as a leading hub for research and innovation by building several pioneering initiatives that are triggering transformative change across the nation, the region, and the world at large.

The Qatar Foundation is at the heart of this development, pioneering several initiatives that lay the foundation for a knowledge-based economy. The Foundation-founded research university, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, hosts three research institutes, among them the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI). QCRI is focused on tackling large-scale computing challenges that address national priorities for growth and development. It conducts cutting-edge research in Arabic language technologies, social computing, data analytics, and cyber security.

The Foundation has also set up Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), Qatar's premier hub for applied research, technology innovation, incubation, and entrepreneurship. The free zone hosts various international corporations, SMEs, research institutions, and local tech startups.

The country also launched the Qatar Research, Development, and Innovation (QRDI) Council in 2018. It developed a national strategy to optimize RDI activities and help realize the country's overarching goals and ambitions. The Council brings together prominent national and international figures from government, industry and academia and draws on the wealth of knowledge and expertise of individuals from varied disciplines.

Further, fans arriving for the FIFA World Cup later this year will be kept comfortable and connected through varied innovative solutions. The Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC) has used its IoT platform to connect a series of sensors around Qatar's capital city that will make it easier for fans to plan the best route using real-time information about traffic, taxis, the new metro system, and even venue entrances and exits

Behind these efforts is the recognition of a direct link between innovation and economic development, a strategy best exemplified by China, a country with rich experience in this domain. Massive public and private sectors investment in R&D has established the Asian country as an innovation powerhouse, particularly in advanced technologies such as AI and 5G.

As a result, China is quickly closing the once-formidable lead the West, particularly the US had on AI research. The country is poised to become a leader in AI-powered enterprises as Chinese researchers now publish more papers on AI and secure more patents than their U.S. counterparts China also accounted for nearly one-fifth of global private investment funding in 2021, attracting $17 billion for AI startups. This focus on entrepreneurship should be of interest to Qatar, a country that aims for regional startup hub status. QSTP offers numerous initiatives to nurture startups and entrepreneurs, including an entrepreneurship boot camp, an accelerator program and a 12-month technology-focused incubation program.

China has also staked a leading position on 5G innovation. The Chinese mobile ecosystem has become a critical driver of the 5G evolution globally. China is determined to lead the next-generation 6G evolution and has already announced a 6G strategy in 2019.

Qatar is pioneering 5G deployments in the region. Ooredoo announced that its network covered more than 90% of populated areas as of September 2020, and also announced earlier this year the successful implementation of the world's first 5G Indoor shareable solution in Qatar, achieving speeds of 1.5 Gbps. The solution is now deployed in stadiums to drive immersive experiences for fans ahead of the World Cup.

Public-private partnerships in R&D play a complementary role in driving innovation. Following in government footsteps, enterprises in China have prioritized R&D to remain globally competitive. R&D spending in China grew 10.2% in 2020, accounting for a record 2.4% of GDP, with private companies accounting for 76.6% of total investment. An excellent example is Huawei, a Chinese giant ICT company that is one of the world's biggest spenders on R&D. Huawei's R&D expenditure reached $22.4 billion in 2021, representing 22.4% of total revenue and bringing its total R&D expenditure over the past ten years to over $132.5 billion. The company ranked second on the 2021 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard. In 2021, Huawei had about 107,000 employees dedicated to R&D, representing approximately 54.8% of the workforce. Today, Huawei maintains one of the largest patent portfolios globally; by 2021, it held more than 110,000 active patents across over 45,000 families. The company invested more than $600 million into 5G technology research between 2009 and 2013, in addition to  $1.4 billion into 5G product development in 2017 and 2018. Therefore, Huawei 5G network RAN portfolio was ranked a leader for the third year in a row in GlobalData's H2 2021 report.

This R&D focus has also allowed Huawei to diversify its business and innovate in new business lines. Last year, Huawei launched a Digital Power business unit to develop clean power, enable energy digitalization, and drive carbon neutrality to power energy revolution for a better, greener future.

Huawei is also innovating on the cloud, and Qatar's SMEs and enterprises can leverage the company's cloud services to drive digital transformation. HUAWEI CLOUD is currently the fastest-growing cloud services provider in the world, attracting 2.6 million developers. Following the Chinese government's ambitious efforts to nurture startups, Huawei in 2021 announced the launch of Spark, a startup support program for the region. Spark is part of the HUAWEI CLOUD Oasis Program, where the company announced plans to invest $15 million over the following three years to accelerate the development of technology enterprises and ecosystems in the Middle East.

Innovation has enabled Chinese technology firms to circumvent a US-led geopolitically-driven campaign to isolate Chinese firms from the global technology market. This is especially true in semiconductors, a major target of American sanctions. Chinese organizations have responded to the restrictions by pursuing technology self-sufficiency in chipsets, with China emerging as a semiconductor manufacturing hub. China remains the world's largest importer of chipsets. However, last year the country's imports of integrated circuits shrank 9.6% in volume in Q1 of 2022 from the previous year, reversing a 33.6% increase in the same period in 2021.

Qatar is a country already steeped in R&D and tradition that its inhabitants are rightfully proud of. But it has its eyes firmly set on the future, with a growing international profile due to forward-thinking policies and a global mindset. Supported by a continued focus on innovation and public-private partnerships, Qatar's future is one of discovery and evolution.

Last updated: August 08 2022 11:20 AM

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