Need for speed: 5G only a matter of time

The UAE's telecom companies are firmly in the driver's seat.

United Arab Emirates, July 9, 2018

The road to 5G is becoming faster. And the UAE's telecom companies are firmly in the driver's seat.

While indeed the full rollout of the next-generation wireless standard will not happen in the near future, preparations being made by companies involved in the technology are in full swing, having showcased its capabilities and what it can do for businesses and society.

'The launch of the 5G network and associated applications will bring in an immense potential for all stakeholders providing them a platform to innovate, launch futuristic applications and empower the next generation with digital capabilities,' Khalifa Al Shamsi, chief strategy and governance officer of etisalat, said. The Abu Dhabi-based UAE telecom company - which on recently announced that it has become the first operator in the Middle East and North Africa to launch a commercial 5G network - stresses that 5G will be a game-changer as it would elevate and revolutionise several sectors, including transport, energy, smart cities, security and health, among others.

Dubai's du also recently announced its full readiness and ongoing network evolution as it preps up to offer 5G. 'The mass adoption of 5G in the UAE will completely transform the landscape when it comes to how residents utilise their various connected devices, and further strengthen Internet of Things services in the region,' Saleem AlBlooshi, chief infrastructure officer at du, says.

'This will allow us to offer a number of innovative use cases including augmented reality, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the Internet of Things, smart city applications and remote surgery, among others.'

Not so fast.

Both etisalat and du are on track to be among the first - if not the first - to deploy 5G in certain areas of the UAE. Network operators in other countries have declared they would be rolling out 5G either in 2019 or 2020. Next year would make sense, since it is expected that the first 5G smartphones will be available.

While indeed 5G does offer blazing speeds - theoretically, at its peak, it can be 20 times faster than 4G, 20Gbps versus 1Gbps - don't expect it to be fully implemented anytime soon on a mass level.

The target you ask? Some time in 2020, or, quite possibly, 2019.

That means, theoretically, that the next mobiles from the usual suspects next year - the Samsung Galaxy S10/Note10, HTC U13, LG G8, Huawei P30, Sony Xperia XZ3 and iPhone whatever-it-will-be-called - may well sport 5G capabilities.

(However, one rumour is persisting: Lenovo's Motorola may beat everyone to the draw, as it has been reported that its Z3 Play may be the first to become a 5G phone by using a Moto Mod attachment that would connect it to the next-gen network.)

History backs this timeline up. The previous generations of mobile telecommunications standards were launched effectively decades apart: 1G in the early-1980s, 2G in the early-1990s, 3G some time after the turn of the century and 4G just before the 2010s came in. (There was also '0G' way before 1G.)

However, it took significantly less time to come up with the standardisations for 5G compared to its predecessor. South Korean tech giant Samsung, in a post on its newsroom, shared that for 4G LTE, it took 21 months (from January 2005 to September 2006) for studies, while it took 27 months (from September 2006 to December 2008) for actual standardisation - a total of 48 months.

5G, meanwhile, has needed only a 27-month total so far: studies took 12 months (from April 2016 to March 2017), while the first-phase standardisation is set to end this month after a 15-month period (from March 2017 to June 2018).

'Rapid advancement towards [5G] standardisation were all possible not only because of technological developments but also due to constant contact with international organisations and various governments,' Hyukchoon Kwon, principal engineer of standards research at Samsung Research, says in the post.

Ericsson, meanwhile, in a recent study, says an average of 70 per cent across the industries it surveyed plan to be in production with their first commercial use case of 5G in 2021. And more than 50 per cent plan to be in trails by 2019 to pave the road for commercial use cases in 2019.

'This all indicates we will see an exciting 2019 where first-mover aspirations will be converted to first-mover advantages for the ones putting efforts behind their aspirations. And 2021 is not far away for commercial launch,' it added.

Speeding it up

And we could need those speeds ready pretty soon. The World Economic Forum has forecast that there will be a staggering 9.3 billion mobile subscriptions in the world by 2023, while Cisco predicts that all connected mobile devices by 2020 will produce 30.6 exabytes of data per month, with annual global mobile traffic to hit 366.8 exabytes.

One exabyte, mind you, is 1 million terabytes; to put that into perspective, that's basically a million laptops that have 1TB of storage in it.

In retail, for example, shopping using mobile devices is expected to peak globally in the next few years, according to Ericsson, which means consumers would be demanding more speeds to get their fill done at the soonest possible time.

'While fascinating in their own right, fast-changing consumer shopping behaviours are important to understand for anyone involved in 5G, smart homes, consumer IoT and artificial intelligence,' says Michael Björn, head of research at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab.

On May 16, Qualcomm Technologies, Nokia, MTV, Elisa, Enensys Technologies, Bittium and Yle showcased the new opportunities that the evolution to 5G broadcast enables for next-generation terrestrial TV delivery, showing that wireless networking technologies are now ready to deliver highly-customisable, mass-market broadcast services more efficiently, such as live media content to consumers.

'The digital broadcasting of television and video services require not only maximum capacity but also reliable and fast connections,' says Dirk Lindemeier, head of media and entertainment at Nokia Mobile Networks, says.

'Here we come to the essence of 5G networks, which offer a speed equivalent to mobile fiber offering, with unmatched quality of service and almost no latency or access time to the network. 5G will allow live streaming of high-resolution video or TV content.'

In a separate report, Ericsson, in a recent 5G-IoT report, examined more than 400 industry digitalisation use cases across 10 industries, including energy and utilities; manufacturing; public safety; healthcare; public transport; media and entertainment; automotive; financial services; retail; and agriculture. Of the 400 use cases, over 200 are where 5G is expected to play a vital role.

An earlier study found that operators can add a revenue of $204 billion to $619 billion (12 to 36 per cent) to their forecast service revenues of $1.7 trillion by 2026. They can do this by targeting the digital transformation of other industries, such as automotive and manufacturing, using 5G-IoT technology.

The report revealed that trials of 5G use cases will start in 2018, after which activities will ramp up quickly, with over 70 per cent of companies aiming to have use cases in production by 2021. Manufacturing, energy and utilities, public transport and financial services are the industries most likely to have use cases in production by 2020.

In manufacturing, for example, companies can do away with computers and other machines and divest their resources on AI and the cloud, which would be used in lower-cost robots that can lead to production that's more flexible.

'Groundbreaking technologies like 5G and IoT promise to solve complex business challenges and improve the lives of the population,' Ken Hu, Huawei's rotating chairman, said at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

In a more detailed statement to Khaleej Times, the Chinese technology giant says that while the switch from 3G to 4G was mostly a matter of increased speed, the rise of 5G will unlock the potential of a flood of new technologies.

Huawei Wireless X Labs had released a white paper on the 'Top Ten 5G Use Cases', which showed that the new standard will be the foundation on which a range of groundbreaking technologies will be built, from cloud VR/AR to connected cars to smart manufacturing to connected drones, personal AI assistants, smart cities, among many others.

'As we approach 2020, the growth of 5G-based enhanced mobile broadband networking and IoT applications will skyrocket, including VR/AR apps, industrial Internet, driverless technology and the Internet of Vehicles. This is why organisations - and consumers - are so excited to see 5G coming,' Anjian, president of Huawei Middle East's Carrier Network Business Group, said.

'5G is necessary for Middle East to progress in its digital transformation... the technology can provide smart intelligence within the city to optimise the daily use of energy [for example, through remote control of public transport systems], guarantee better public safety [through video surveillance in streets] or leverage an efficient smart metering system.'

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