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In a consumer-led society, data is constantly and rapidly increasing knowing that whatever we need is in the palm of our hands. With the increased dependency on smartphones, it is no wonder that data usage has been increasing at such an unprecedented rate.

With the prevalence of 5G, we will be able to do the same things we do with our smartphones now, but more efficiently and a great deal faster than this new technology’s predecessor, 4G. 5G promises extra fast internet speeds as well as download and upload speeds around 10 to 20 times faster than 4G.

By 2024, it is expected that the demand for mobile broadband will increase dramatically, to around 30 million subscriptions in the MENA region. According to the MEA edition of Ericsson Mobility Report, this figure accounts for two percent of total mobile subscriptions.

It has been speculated that 5G is expected to operate in countries with more advanced markets such as the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“It is anticipated that some 50 billion devices will be connected to mobile networks worldwide by 2020, and a large proportion of the communications will be between machine rather than humans. For a mobile network to carry the weight of the smart city of the future, it needs a fast, responsive and stable mobile network that can handle a vast amount of data. It needs 5G, and this is what we are gearing up for,” said Saleem Al Blooshi, chief infrastructure officer at Emirates Integrated Telecommunication Company (EITC), which is the company behind UAE-based operator du.

According to a GSMA intelligence report on 5G in the MENA region, the key use case in these circumstances will be enhanced mobile broadband as applications and services for enterprises will be tested and in turn, introduced. With regards to the commercial aspect of the implementation of 5G, it will be a great opportunity for operators to increase their revenue. Some operators in the region such as du, Etisalat, STC and Zain, among others, plan to launch these services within the next two years.

Operators in the region agree that the government, the mobile industry and some private sector players should work on developing a partnership that aims to work towards maximizing the potential of 5G in order to meet the increase demands of today’s digital society. This applies to all countries in the MENA region. The government should look at 5G as a promise for greater economic growth, progress and transformation within the industry and society as well.

However, it is vital to consider the regulatory frameworks that will be involved in order to maximize the potential of 5G technology.

Challenges

With new technology come new challenges. According to a GSMA report on 5G implementation in the Middle East and North Africa, some of the key challenges involved are the limited number of smartphones that are compatible with 5G deployments, advances in immersive digital entertainment and the fact that the transition from the digital to the augmented consumer still needs more time to mature.

“The most significant of these challenges will be implementing a network rollout plan that enables them to maximize the returns on their 4G investments of the past, but there will also be issues around the availability of sufficient spectrum, the conceptualization of new use cases and business models, and the integration or migration of IoT technologies,” said Ranjit Rajan, associate vice-president of IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

The current spectrum bands are becoming congested which as a result has caused breakdowns in service especially when a large number of people were in the same area trying to use mobile services online simultaneously. However, 5G can efficiently cope with thousands of devices simultaneously.

A limitation to this technology would be the fact that 5G deployment involves purchasing a new phone specifically tailored for that technology to function. 5G handsets, which are currently in the making and are expected to be launched by the end of 2019, will be needed in order to access the enhanced broadband service. The smartphones that are compatible with 5G will be able to switch between 4G and 5G networks to ensure the best and most stable quality of service.

Benefits

Many people are of the belief that 5G will become vital to the efficiency of autonomous vehicles so that data traffic and live maps could be communicated properly.

Unlike 5G, 4G mobile networks offer a speed of around 45 Mbps (megabits per second). Chipmaker Qualcomm believes that 5G could actually be 10 to 20 times faster than its predecessor when it comes to download speed. It is believed that a full length high definition film could be downloaded in just one minute.

However, many countries are behind in the race of 5G deployment. Many are likely to launch 5G services after 2020; however, Qatar, Saudi and the UAE plan to implement it this year.

In 2017, the smartphone industry contributed around $164 billion to the economy of the MENA region, which accounts for four percent of the GDP. This figure is expected to increase to about $200 billion by 2022. This is due to the fact that the industry will improve even further with its new technological developments which will in turn increase productivity and efficiency thus benefiting the region’s economy.

An increase in the take-up of mobile services is also expected. It has been said that this growth in the industry will support many jobs as it did in the 2017. Back then, the mobile industry supported over 1 million jobs both within the industry and those which were directly affected and supported by the economic activity.

From a mobile traffic perspective, the MENA region holds the highest growth forecast globally between 2018 and 2024 as mobile broadband subscribers are expected to double.

Additionally, the combination of high app usage, a young population, favorable policies and relatively lower cost devices, investments are expected to increase within the telecoms sector.

“As 5G now hits the market, its coverage build-out and uptake in subscriptions is expected to be faster than for previous generations. At the same time, cellular IoT continues to grow strongly. As networks mature and ecosystems evolve, service providers need to become increasingly agile to achieve the goal of profitable growth,” said Rafiah Ibrahim, head of Ericsson Middle East and Africa.

There is an increase in opportunities for operators in the new consumer-oriented services such as eSports, immersive reality and digitally enhanced entertainment places. What is more, is that video consumption via mobile devices will evolve due to the technology and it will include virtual reality and augmented reality applications which will cause content to be more data intensive and immersive.

“The commercial launch of 5G services by operators in the Gulf Cooperation Council will be crucial,” said Rajan from IDC. “As such, they are positioning 5G as one of the key technologies underpinning the development of smart cities and the use of autonomous and connected vehicles, robots and drones.”

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