The adoption of 5G technology in the Middle East has been evident, particularly with Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), being ranked among the fastest capitals globally in Ookla’s latest H1 2021 data.
GCC Arab states are known as 5G pioneers, with governments and regulators working hand-in-hand in gearing mobile operators to deploy some of the world’s first and fastest 5G networks in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. By now, Gulf countries have led the way in adopting 5G technology and the continued rollout of 5G-powered services showcases their roles as digital technology leaders.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed down 5G deployment in neighboring countries, 5G leaders in the GCC Arab states have continued to invest in the technology. These include leading telcos Etisalat, du, Ooredoo, and Zain KSA. All have significantly stepped up their investments in coverage expansion to bring the best 5G experience to more users.
No doubt that the 5G technology revolution is poised to change the digital-centric society within the Middle East. According to GSMA Intelligence, 5G adoption will reach 16% in the GCC Arab states by 2025, with around 20 million connections. Consistently setting the stage for 5G in the region, the financial impact in MENA by 2034 is also expected to equal $15.4 billion, representing a 1.1% increase in GDP.
Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, director-general of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) mentioned that “5G is a huge leap forward and a powerful catalyst for digital transformation bringing new opportunities to various industries and the country [UAE].”
The availability and access to the super-fast speeds on 5G is a huge accomplishment that reflects the continuous efforts of operators and their innovative approach during today’s ‘new normal’ scenario. In a June 2021 OpenSignal report, UAE and Saudi Arabia had the fastest 5G experience in EMEA. The average 5G download speed scores recorded were 274.9 Mbps and 237.4 Mbps, respectively.
As for umlaut’s report, Zain KSA emerged on the top of 5G network and data performance across Saudi Arabia networks using the latest 5G-supported smartphones. The reliability of Zain’s 5G data services showed 98.8% success rates, delivering the highest 5G peak data rates and strongest pure 5G coverage in Riyadh — at least 27% more than its competitors.
Ooredoo was also hailed as the fastest mobile network in Kuwait during the first and second quarters of 2021 while Zain has once again won Ookla’s Speedtest Award for ‘fastest fixed internet’ in Saudi Arabia during the same period. In terms of the best 5G services provided, Zain KSA also ranked first in the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) Q1 2021 Meqyas report.
5G verticals and enterprise business
An ecosystem of technology and business innovation is empowered by 5G across various vertical markets. These include automotive, energy, government, healthcare, manufacturing, public transportation, and many more.
Targeting guaranteed long-term value, operators must nurture 5G use cases for enterprises. Operators’ success in the enterprise market will depend on how the enterprise needs and 5G capabilities complement each other and the pace of digital transformation. Among the most sought-after use cases of today are enhanced mobile broadband, 5G-based fixed wireless access, massive Internet of Things (IoT), and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.
Etisalat launched its first commercial 5G wireless network in May 2018 and was ranked the fastest mobile network globally in 2020 — the first telecom operator in the MENA region to achieve these technological breakthroughs. As the official premier partner to Expo 2020 Dubai, from October 2021, Etisalat’s network will also provide the most advanced digital and telecom services to millions of visitors that are expected to be roughly 300,000 users on peak days.
Etisalat has a proven history of supporting economic growth and innovation by bringing the latest technologies and broadband services. To clearly illustrate, Etisalat has been at the forefront of healthcare innovation and cybersecurity through its subsidiaries Etisalat Digital and Help AG and offers customized industry solutions to vertical markets like smart government, energy and utilities, financial services, transportation and logistics, and retail and distribution.
With 5G, Etisalat would drive enterprise business further to achieve financial and economic growth. Looking ahead, Etisalat is also one of the operators globally that is making its steps towards 6G through the introduction of new features, capabilities, and use of millimeter frequencies seen in 5G. The achievements by Etisalat today in 5G coverage, multi-access edge computing (MEC), AI, and automation platforms, to name some, make it competitive for this later trend.
As for du, its 5G for Business motto is focused on the idea that 5G networks are the next step in delivering higher speeds and capacities, as well as in providing a more advanced mobile business future. With speed, reliability, and capacity being the pillars of business responsiveness, 5G can empower businesses to be connected to the world around them — customers, partners, and potential investors.
Ready to serve small and large businesses as well as governments, du has devices, fixed and managed services, and digital transformation initiatives that could respond to their digital needs.
Furthermore, du and Nokia signed an MoU to identify and develop new 5G use cases for enterprises in the UAE. These will focus on improving operational and cost efficiency through digital transformation for various industrial sectors like manufacturing, transport, shipping, aviation, energy, and health across the country.
With these in mind, 5G experience will be maximized and available for all, creating an interconnected society that benefits a fast, reliable, and inclusive coverage.
Zain's 5G enables breathtaking new experiences that will reshape lives by offering the most comprehensive coverage in Saudi Arabia equipped with the most advanced 5G and other ICT technologies. Businesses in today’s world have an increasing dependency on the internet and require reliable and robust connectivity.
Focusing on the importance of 5G for businesses, this telco would invest in more 5G B2B applications and use cases that will unlock vast opportunities in numerous fields of business from AI to the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.
Planning to pursue further growth opportunities, Zain KSA realizes that 5G has become a vital lifeline for driving economic growth and achieving sustainability across all industries, mainly with the prevalence of IoT, AI, cloud computing, and Big Data. Expanding their range of scalable solutions to businesses, they aim to reinforce their position in the world of digital innovation.
Ooredoo is one of the first operators that did a pre-commercial 5G launch in Kuwait in 2018. Following this, it is conducting the first international 5G video call in the MENA region between Ooredoo’s Kuwait and Qatar headquarters. Ooredoo Kuwait is as well among the first operators in the Middle East to deploy dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) to fast track the deployment of its 5G network.
In its efforts to provide a superior internet experience, Ooredoo’s 5G home internet, mobile, and business plans provide improved network coverage, stability, and faster download speeds. As part of its ambitious roadmap, Ooredoo plans to construct around 2,000 5G stations over the next five years to benefit various vertical markets — from scientific research and healthcare to entertainment and education.
A key prediction in its latest whitepaper emphasized the importance of managed end-to-end IoT service in enhancing products, solutions, and customer engagement. Under a managed IoT regime, it is essential for devices and operational support to work together to ensure positive business outcomes.
What to look out for
In line with the ongoing developments for 5G, the experience for all is majorly influenced by the three factors below. These must be paid attention to as more people become connected and the digital world strives to be more open and scalable than before.
Fixed wireless access
Through FWA, operators can reach the unconnected by providing advanced connectivity and services to subscribers still utilizing wireline infrastructure. To harness FWA’s market potential to the fullest, operators and the mobile industry as a whole should ensure interoperability and flexibility.
A Nokia-commissioned research revealed that fixed wireless access is actually a highly desirable 5G use case. Hence, owners and operators of 5G networks can use this to their advantage to improve the return on investment of their networks.
To build a 5G network with the best possible performance, operators need access to a large amount of harmonized spectrum. To help 5G services scale in the 2025-2030 timeframe as well, significantly more spectrum will be needed. It is vital that operators have the capability to deliver on the potential of 5G including up to 20 Gbps peak data rates and 100+ Mbps average data rates as well as area traffic capacity of 10Mbit/s/m2 (for machines).
For such capabilities, significant amounts of spectrum over the 5G era must be made available. Therefore, additional allocations and awards in new mid-bands (e.g 6 GHz), mmWave bands (e.g 40 GHz) as well as low bands (e.g 600 MHz) should be done.
Due to the spur of new services, architectures, and technologies brought by 5G, security challenges, as well as higher user privacy and protection requirements, are on the surface. The telecom industry needs to prepare and understand the diversified scenarios relying on software and redefine 5G security standards and technologies to address the associated risks.Various telecom players such as virtual mobile network operators (VMNOs), communication service providers (CSPs), and network infrastructure providers must address key end-to-end operations namely radio transport, telco cloud, IoT and devices, security operations, and slicing security.