COMMENT: Setting the bases for the future

The telecoms industry is developing a roadmap to 5G; the Gulf region must contribute
3G, 4G, 5G, Customers, Governments, Industry, Network, Operators, Regulators, Telecoms, Columns, Research

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Despite the chatter around 5G, it is clear that it remains a long way off. For the Middle East, this provides an excellent opportunity for governments, regulators and operators to get involved with the discussions around standardisation of the technology early on.

Indeed, in a recent paper, Anne Bouverot, the outgoing director general of the GSMA, stated that the organisation was already “collaborating with operators, vendors, governments and other industry organisations” to ensure that the future 5G standard is both technically and economically viable.

Gulf countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been at the forefront of the telecoms industry in terms of deploying fibre and 4G infrastructure and implementing services that made use of these networks. This puts them in a strong position to start thinking about - and discussing - 5G with organisations such as the GSMA.

However, while the future of the telecoms industry is important, so is the present, and to this end, the real priority of the region’s telecoms sector – including ministries, regulators, operators and vendors – should be on ensuring broadband access for all.

Some countries have just launched 3G and the coverage of 4G is limited in some countries, as only the capitals or main cities can enjoy 4G. According to the GSMA, 4G will continue alongside developments in 5G.

The organisation expects 4G network infrastructure to account for much of the $1.7 trillion the world’s mobile operators will invest between now and 2020. “Operators will continue to focus on generating a return on investment from their 4G and 3G networks by developing new services and tariffing models that make most efficient use of them,” states the GSMA.

GCC shipments of 4G LTE handsets have increased more than four times over the last year and are now close to accounting for one half of all smartphones sold in the region, according to the latest figures from International Data Corporation (IDC) and 5G handsets are not ready yet.

We also need to think about the affordability of these devices, as not all regions in the MEA region have populations that have enough money to bring 4G devices.

Analysts from Boston Consulting Group, also reminded that the majority of 3G and 4G networks suffer from poor radio signal quality, configuration errors, imprecise key performance indicators, and inadequate information on customer behaviour. Adding more challenges to the development of 5G.

The GSMA believes that the progress from initial 3G networks to mobile broadband technology has transformed industry and society by enabling an unprecedented level of innovation. “If 5G becomes a true generational shift in network technology, we can expect an even greater level of transformation. There are varying implications of providing an increased level of connectivity or developing a new radio access network (RAN) to deliver a step change in per connection performance, or a combination of the two,” the organisation said.

This means that the final design of a 5G network could be any one of a range of options with differing radio interfaces, network topologies and business capabilities. While a shift to 5G would be hugely impactful, the industry will need to overcome a series of challenges if these benefits are to be realised, particularly in terms of spectrum and network topology.

Consumers might not enjoy the development of 5G as soon as other industries. Ericsson believes that by 2020, 5G will be commercially launched and they explained that the company might not be focus on the consumer side. The European Commission is working to achieve this objective too. Brussels presented the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership, (5G PPP), initiated by the EU Commission and industry manufacturers, telecommunications operators, service providers, SMEs and researchers. According to its website, the 5G PPP will deliver solutions, architectures, technologies and standards for the ubiquitous next generation communication infrastructures of the coming decade.

Where can we find a common regulator in the Middle East or Africa working with the private sector in order to evaluate the need of 5G and how to develop the research? The GSMA works on a global and common perspective, but we cannot forget it is just the global industry perspective. Regulators needs to safeguard customer’s rights and ensure a healthy competition environment. Regarding 5G, there is no common regulator that safeguards what the consumer demands or needs in the MEA region.

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