"The Gulf states have taken an early lead in 5G adoption, but issues of infrastructure, spectrum and tax pose possible obstacles to widespread 5G adoption" - Jawad Abbassi, head of MENA, GSMA
GITEX Times: How rapidly do you see 5G rolling out across the Middle East? Jawad Abbassi: GSMA Intelligence forecasts that there will be more than 1.4 billion 5G connections globally by 2025 – or about 16% of the total market by this point. In terms of coverage, we expect that 5G networks will cover 40% of the global population by 2025 - about 3.3 billion people.
Globally, 5G will start in urban city environments and it will coexist with earlier mobile generation [networks], which will connect citizens to the internet for years to come. 5G pioneers that have already launched commercial networks include South Korea, the UnitedStates, the Gulf states, Australia and the United Kingdom. GSMA expects commercial availabilityof 5G to expand to 118 markets by 2025. 5G is an opportunity to create an agile, purpose-built network tailored to the different needs of
citizens and the economy. For example, the digital economy needs 5G to respond to booming demand for mobile data to enable
an array of services that require fast, dependable, low latency connectivity. But it is vital that all stakeholders work together to ensure that 5G is successfully standardised, regulated and brought to market.
GT: A lot of operators have already introduced limited 5G services. What other factors are needed before there is 5G ‘lift off’ in the Middle East? Abbassi: Operators in MENA need to work in partnership with government departments and other private sector players to fulfil the potential of 5G for all stakeholders. This applies to all countries in the region, including the less digitally advanced countries where governments and regulators should view 5G as an enabler of wider economic growth, societal progress and industry transformation. Some early ‘killer apps’ are likely to be in verticals, such as transport, health, gaming and VR. However, policy decisions in key areas could affect the extent to which MENA’s 5G ambitions are realised. For example [around spectrum] regulators across the region should complete the assessment of 5G spectrum requirements for their markets and commit to releasing sufficient quantities of mobile spectrum to operators in a timely manner. 5G needs a significant amount of ‘harmonised’ spectrum, supported.
GT: How does the GCC compare with other countries in its ambition to rollout 5G? Are there any other markets that can be held up as examples of 5G deployment? Abbassi: The UAE and the Gulf are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G plans. Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC States – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. Following these launches, operators in 12 other countries across MENA are expected to deploy 5G networks, covering around 30% of the region’s population by 2025. By then, regional 5G connections will surpass 50 million. Early global 5G pioneers include the GCC countries, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
GT: What are some of the technical challenges with rolling out 5G? Aside from the infrastructure will operators have to upgrade the skills of their technical teams? How big a challenge is that? Abbassi: 5G is an exciting new era that will be embraced by mobile operators’ teams across the world. Successful deployment will require unhindered ability to invest in FO for backhaul and the ability to engage in innovative business models based on commercial agreements. It will also require the availability of the right amounts of spectrum in order to successfully launch.
GT: Which industries will be early adopters of 5G powered services? Abbassi: In addition to the enterprise, 5G will offer enhanced mobile broadband services that will deliver significant opportunities across consumer-oriented services, such as immersive reality, e-sports and enhanced in-venue digital entertainment at stadiums and music venues. Further, video consumption on mobile devices will evolve to include augmented reality and virtual reality applications that will make content even more immersive and data intensive. Jawad Abbassi will be appearing at the 5G Countdown conference at GITEX Technology Week.