The roll-out of 5G in the Middle East is not just about faster speeds. Indeed, it can provide high-capacity connections up to 10Gbps, which is only possible today over a dedicated fibre connection. But 5G is more. It is a technology that transforms underlying architecture in carrier networks. It enables greater use of virtualisation, cloud native environments, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
Yet despite its promise, nearly 60 per cent of IT leaders in the Middle East are not fully aware of the benefits of 5G, according to research by GlobalData.
From the outset, 5G will drive high-density sensor connections with the internet of things (IoT). While 4G supports thousands of connection per cell, 5G moves the threshold into the millions. These connections are sensors, objects and things which connect with each other, communicate, share and analyse data.
The solutions, referred to as machine-type communications (MTCs), will underpin smart utilities and smart city concepts such as dynamic traffic control, and will be used widely in predictive maintenance.
The immediate benefit is the reduction of unplanned downtime. MTC works on scale and lowering unit costs. These technologies will be central to the major infrastructure projects sweeping across the GCC.
As the technology takes hold, enterprises will start to look at 5G credibly as part of a next-gen wide area network (WAN) solution. Network slicing will allow IT managers to set policies for speed and quality of service on a per application basis. It also allows for networks to be partitioned, which is an important consideration for security as operational and information technology converges.
5G will lead to the introduction of new capabilities such as ultra-low latency, which promises an application response time of several milliseconds – at least 10 times faster than human reaction time. This brings in new capabilities, such as tactile internet, which applies the forces of human senses, such as vibrations or motions, to an application in near real time.
One use case to emerge was remote brain surgery on a patient in China. Oil and gas firms could apply the same technology to lower the cost of upstream exploration or improve midstream industrial processes.
5G also allows edge computing, which takes computation to the edge of a network, where the data is being generated. This reduces latency and the need to backhaul data to the network core.
The Middle East will not only accelerate its adoption of ‘hybrid cloud’ services, but these will now be ‘core’ and ‘edge’ solutions. The use cases, mostly driven by AI, will have a multiplier effect across industries.
When 5G is combined with the high availability of applications, we move into an era of new use cases. This includes the roll-out of autonomous vehicles. Dubai, which has already tested flying driverless taxis, could use 5G as the network.
More practical examples revolve around the ability to reinvent field services through augmented/virtual reality and mixed-reality, dense sensor monitoring for asset tracking and preventative maintenance, and the use of wearables to improve workplace health and safety.
Many initiatives are taking place to prepare for this transition. UAE carrier Du is working with suppliers such as Nokia on fibre roll-outs for backhaul, network virtualisation, bandwidth slicing and various AI-driven initiatives to drive operational efficiencies. Ericsson is also active in the region, with 5G contracts with Etisalat, STC, Batelco and Ooredoo, and services online in four countries.
The adoption of driverless vehicles or industrial automation will not happen overnight. There will be many steps along the way. US-based Verizon and Australia-based Optus have deployed fixed-wireless access. Other carriers are looking at 5G as an SD-WAN capability, which is applicable to many industry specific applications such as construction, transport, logistics, retail and manufacturing.
Middle East carriers are investing in core service-based architecture, the most important building block. The transition will be rocky, but many operators in the region and globally are betting on 5G as an architecture to become leading digital service providers.
About the author
Dustin Kehoe is research director, Asia Pacific and Middle East and Africa regions, at GlobalData
More from this month’s Agenda
- Comment: Inclusivity must be top priority for telecoms firms
- Main Agenda: 5G to feed Mena region’s need for speed
- 5G investment: 5G means a step change for telecoms network services
- Infographic: Caching in on connectivity