Despite hurdles, interest in 5G high in MENA

5 min read
5G is expected to fuel tech growth and ease lifestyle.
  • 5G subscriptions in the MENA have exceeded 1 million at the end of 2020
  • The deployment of a 5G network faces several challenges

As Gulf countries shift away from complete dependence on oil and gas revenues, some of them have focused their new economic strategies on digital transformation to attract international investment and stimulate domestic growth.

The widespread reliance on 5G networks is an essential part of this transformation process due to the enormous offers and speeds that this network provides and its importance in future innovations, particularly in the IoT, autonomous vehicles, and other emerging technologies.

5G in the region

According to Ericsson’s recent Mobility report, commercial 5G deployments with leading service providers have taken place, and 5G subscriptions in the MENA exceeded 1 million by the end of 2020.

The GCC countries are among the most advanced ICT markets globally; 4G was the dominant technology, accounting for about 80 percent of the subscriptions at the end of 2020.

However, with 5G adoption accelerating in the forecast period, most mobile subscriptions are anticipated to be for 5G at over 62 million in 2026, representing about 73 percent of total mobile subscriptions.

This will make the GCC the region the one that has the second-highest 5G penetration at that time.

Zoran Lazarevic

Speaking to TRENDS, Chief Technology Officer for Ericsson Middle East and Africa, Zoran Lazarevic, said:” Before the end of this year, we will have surpassed half a billion 5G users in the world. However, the picture is slightly different when looking at the development on a regional level. It will take longer in some regions for 5G to be deployed and ready for mass adoption. Nevertheless, whether it’s 4G or 5G, the need for good, high-speed connectivity is virtually limitless. The fact that more than 70 percent of all service providers are now offering fixed wireless access (FWA) services speaks to this need.”

Lazarevic added that so far, globally, more than 160 communications service providers have launched 5G services, and over 300 5G smartphone models have been announced or launched commercially.

Consumer expectations

While initial use cases and reviews have been encouraging in terms of customer expectations for 5G, Ericsson is also interested in how consumer behavior will change as connectivity improves.

The 5G network provider issued its largest consumer study to date, covering the views of 2.3 billion consumers in 31 markets, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

Consumers will not only continue to manage routine tasks — remote work, e-learning, e-health, and online shopping — online, but will also add an average of 2.5 new services, according to the report.

The report also predicted that consumers would prioritize their leisure time to travel more, practice mindful living, and spend time with friends and family.

Moreover, consumers are expected to spend an additional 10 hours per week online because of increased online activities.

This shift is also expected to bridge the gap between moderate and advanced online users, with the more moderate users incorporating more online services into their daily lives.

The other key findings of the report included:

  • Around 64 percent of consumers believe that it will be necessary to juggle multiple jobs to maintain a decent income.
  • While 75 percent of consumers predict that life will be steered by convenience in 2025, seven in 10 also expect to pay more attention to online security and privacy.
  • Driven partly by environmental concerns, half of the consumers globally expect to shop for more locally made products and produce as a new future norm.
  • While most consumers believe that more sustainable travel options should be made accessible, only one in three indicate that they will refrain from flying when traveling for leisure in the future.

Benefits and challenges

According to Lazarevic, every sector will benefit from 5G. The first that comes to mind are the industries relying on real-time responses, such as mobility providers or emergency services.

“Today’s industries require large data analysis and a greater focus on artificial intelligence. 5G enables real-time analysis of massive amounts of data, which is tremendously valuable to industries like banking and healthcare,” he said.

“Furthermore, 5G is vital for the manufacturing sector, allowing autonomous production lines, digital replicas of real-world machinery, logistic networks, and remote access to powerful robots and vehicles for improved safety in risky environments. These innovations can boost productivity, provide new revenue streams, and offer new job possibilities across the region,” he added.

On the other hand, the deployment of a 5G network faces several challenges. The most significant is that telecom service providers must assure end-to-end privacy by design. Telecom equipment providers play an important role in this since privacy must be designed into their products to meet the privacy needs of telecom service providers.

Another difficulty for telecom service providers is attaining regulatory compliance by turning these juridical concepts into technical and operational steps that can be implemented in technical solutions. The goal is to respect subscribers’ rights to privacy by considering privacy at every stage of a product or service development and operation.

Lazarevic, on the other hand, stated, “Rather than challenges, we see great opportunities. Consumer interest in 5G is high; people expect the new technology to deliver both a better experience of traditional voice and data services, as well as completely new services, in areas such as entertainment, gaming, and education.”

He added: “Furthermore, 5G expansion will enable organizations of all sizes to benefit from increased mobility, flexibility, reliability, and security. This will allow IoT and industrial applications to reach previously unheard-of heights. This is a vast addressable market for service providers, with a potential of $700 billion by 2030.”