(L-R)  Saeed Zarouni, senior vice president, mobile network, Etisalat and Petter Järtby, head of Etisalat global customer unit at Ericsson Region Middle East (L-R) Saeed Zarouni, senior vice president, mobile network, Etisalat and Petter Järtby, head of Etisalat global customer unit at Ericsson Region Middle East

Ericsson and Etisalat have successfully conducted a 5G trial with outdoor mobility at Etisalat’s Head Office in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in early May 2017. The trial demonstrated 5G capabilities in a real world environment over a live network, including tests on speed, latency and beam steering.

The trial was a part of the first Ericsson and Etisalat Technology Summit. The event also included workshops and discussions where Ericsson presented its latest technology trends and demonstrations. The event’s sessions and demos touched upon different areas covering 5G, IoT, network functions virtualisation (NFV), cloud and digital transformation.

The 5G trial system used 800MHz of spectrum in the 15GHz band, demonstrating over 20 times greater performance than what is currently used in 4G networks. The trial achieved aggregate site throughput of greater than 24Gbps, with a latency less than half of what is seen currently in 4G networks.

Describing the uniqueness of this trial compared to other 5G trials in the region, Saeed Zarouni, senior vice president, mobile network, Etisalat and Petter Järtby, head of Etisalat global customer unit at Ericsson Region Middle East say that this is the first time a 5G trial was conducted outdoors and with mobility. This kind of a trial was important as it tests 5G technology in real life environment and scenarios which will be a reality in the near future. All earlier 5G tests in the region had been indoor   trials. “We chose to conduct the trial in a highly urban environment of Abu Dhabi. This unique environment, and test results collected, will help Etisalat to deploy latest 5G technology,” adds Zarouni. Both the parties were really impressed with the results of the trial.

One obvious question might come into the picture about the relevance of these trials given the fact that the 5G standards are yet to be specified. Zarouni says: “Before any new technology goes live and is used in the mainstream, it must go through a series of trials and tests to determine its validity. For 5G, it’s undergoing the trial stage currently, between operators and technology companies making aggressive investments in this space. Currently 5G specifications are in final stage, and our trial with Ericsson is based on latest available specifications as of today. We will learn from these trials and contribute to the final 5G standard that the 3GPP standards organisation is developing.”

Järtby explains how Ericsson is working across a range of spectrums while testing 5G, to observe the various throughputs and latencies made possible therein. He further drew attention to the fact that the industry is looking forward to the big ITU conference to be held in the UAE in 2019 which will significantly contribute to the standardisation discussion.

Though it might be too early to specify with accuracy which 5G use cases will apply in the UAE, nevertheless, Zarouni says 5G use cases will transform industries such as transport and automotive, energy and utilities, safety and security among others. “5G use cases will also shape consumers’ way of living through wearables, sensors and connected gadgets in their day to day activities. We have already seen strong signs of demand from consumers across the globe for AR/VR (augmented and virtual reality) and 4K video streaming. 5G will be enabler and booster of their proliferation,” he adds.

Järtby says that there’s a lot of ongoing discussion around the various potential use cases, some of which have been emphasised on greatly by the leadership of the UAE. These include autonomous cars, which are expected to make up around 25% of transportation in Dubai by 2030. Other areas of focus are healthcare, mining, and education. “We are enabling the future when it comes to telecommunications together with Etisalat”, adds Järtby.

Zarouni further highlights that Etisalat, together with Ericsson is also starting an initiative to work on the new, locally applicable, use cases with universities in the UAE. “Apart from testing the new use cases, the objective also is to increase awareness of 5G and its potential with the future industry experts.”

When asked about what prompted Etisalat to choose Ericsson as a partner, Zarouni says: “Ericsson is world leader in communications technology and services. It has engaged in 5G with major operators including Etisalat since the very early stages and is investing considerably in developing 5G technology and use cases across the world with Tier 1 operators in North America, Europe and Far East Asia.  And this global knowledge and experience is what Ericsson is bringing on the table to support Etisalat in their 5G journey.”

With Ericsson 5G radio prototypes, operators are enabled to move beyond the 5G hype of lab-based speed tests to see the potential for 5G in their own network environments and markets. Ericsson also provides a suite of solutions in order to optimise the spectrum, whether it’s GSM, 3G or 4G. In addition, it’s also engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the spectrum owners, standardisation bodies and the operators to make sure the best technologies are in place going forward.

The live over-the-air interoperability between the 5G Intel mobile trial platform UE and the Ericsson 5G radio prototype system, has passed multiple milestones of interoperability in 2016. Looking ahead, Ericsson is looking forward to partnering with the relevant players, in order to build a strong ecosystem around connectivity.

There are advanced standards and technologies being added to the existing networks paving the way towards the development of 5G network. Etisalat plans to make advanced field tests this year in partnership with leading technology providers to achieve higher efficiency in addition to the highest possible speed. “Etisalat expects the initial pilot launch of the 5G network to take place before end of 2017”, says Zarouni.

5G enhances existing services with additional capacity, higher speeds and lower latency, while supporting a large number of machine-type connections. The trial definitely provided a glimpse into the future and what mobile services will be like in the next few years. With technologies supporting IoT gaining popularity, there is a tremendous growth expected in devices being connected on this platform. Zarouni says: “The overall strategy of the government to focus on building smart cities will also build a momentum to introduce new services on these technology platforms. This will require an advanced network and infrastructure to support in terms of speed, latency and build efficiency in the entire network. There is an expected growth in the volume of data that will be processed on these networks.”

Järtby says: “This next generation of technology will enable organisations to move into new markets and build new revenue streams with radically new business models and use cases, including Internet of Things (IoT) applications.”

Commenting on the evolution in the relationship between telcos and vendors, Järtby says the partnership is only going to be stronger. He stresses that it’s high time for telcos to put an end to the free lunches they have been serving to the OTT players. “Beyond being just the providers of voice and data, we need to show the world that we as an industry can actually solve real business problems in different enterprises.  That’s where the growth is going to come from in the future,” Järtby adds.