The commercial rollout of 5G is now underway in the Middle East. The Dubai Expo 2020 launched a 5G network this week through a deal with Abu Dhabi telecom Etisalat—making the expo a high-profile early adopter of the next generation mobile technology.
5G is projected to be 20 times faster than 4G and is anticipated to spur breakthroughs in areas like autonomous driving, the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial automation. Globally, the technology is still being tested, but U.S. operators plan to introduce 5G commercial networks between late 2018 and mid-2019. Large-scale global deployments of 5G are expected to pick up in 2020, just in time for Dubai’s expo to kick off.
The global exhibition in Dubai will run from October 2020 to April 2021, during which time Etisalat’s network will provide digital and telecom services to an expected 300,000 users on peak days. “At Expo 2020 we plan to optimise every visitor’s experience by digitally connecting them with their surrounding environment and enriching their interactions,” said Mohammed Alhashmi, who oversees innovation and future technology for the Expo 2020.
One of the Arab world’s largest companies, Etisalat is among several regional telecoms looking to introduce 5G technology in the near future. At the Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, Kuwait’s Zain, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Dubai’s du all struck individual deals with global tech companies to help develop their 5G networks.
For its part, Etisalat plans to have 5G available in the U.A.E. for homes and businesses by the end of this year, and for mobiles by 2019, Zawya reported this week.
In 2015, the U.A.E. announced it hoped to have commercially available 5G by 2020. A year later, Etisalat completed the region’s first 5G mobile technology live trial during Gitex 2016—and followed that up with another trial at the trade show last year that reportedly broke world records for 5G connectivity, hitting speeds of 71 gigabits per second. In 2016, du formed a consortium of technical and academic experts to work on developing 5G. Meanwhile, last year in neighboring Bahrain, Batelco worked with Ericsson to live demo 5G.
Research firm Deloitte estimated last year that mobile operators across the Middle East will invest $50 billion in network infrastructure between 2017 to 2021, mostly in 4G upgrades, but with a portion going to 5G trials and commercial launches. Deloitte expects 5G won’t become the prevalent standard in the GCC until 2025.
Widespread implementation of 5G in the region won’t happen overnight, but the signals are growing stronger that the U.A.E. will be a successful early adopter.