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5G network competition heats up in Middle East

In the Middle East, competition surrounding who will build the 5G network is stiff. 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019. It is the successor to 4G technology, that provides connectivity to most current mobile phones. Leading providers like Huawei and Nokia are vying to obtain investment in the region.

In contrast with increasing regulatory headwinds for Huawei in Europe, the company secured a major success last month, when it was able to launch its first public cloud service in the Middle East in September, with a data centre in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Furthermore, Huawei co-hosted the Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Dubai this month, where it presented its 5.5G villa, together with UAE-based operator Du. 5.5G technology, also known as “5G-Advanced”, is an upgrade to 5G, aiming to help equipment deal with ever growing amounts of data.

The world’s first 5G Advanced (5G-A) villa intends to demonstrate the smart home of the future, running on a 10 Gbps network. It employs Huawei Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), to assist applications like naked-eye 3D and XR. Earlier in 2023, with du, Huawei already agreed a Memorandum of Understanding on 5.5G, focused on 5G-A innovation, application exploration and ecosystem development. It all just prompted Nokia to make its own announcements, hoping to catch some of the attention as well.

During the Global Mobile Broadband Forum, hosted by Huawei in cooperation with GSMA, GTI, and the SAMENA Telecommunications Council, the rotating chairman of Huawei, Ken Hu, said “We need to keep innovating because technology is changing so fast, with large language models, ChatGPT and driverless cars,” adding “the demands are evolving every day, so our networks also need to evolve. And we, as an industry as a whole, need to get ready for the future. (…) We should be confident about what we have achieved. Today, we are starting to see how 5G is changing the world. That is why we are working so hard for the 5G tech and for 5.5G.”

Also speaking at the conference was Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA, who explained that “it took twelve years for 3G to reach 1 billion users. For 5G, it only took 3 years to reach that number. We believe that 5G will reach 5.2 billion users by 2030.” His colleague, Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer, GSMA, specified that “our mobile networks cover 95pct of the world’s population. Witnessing that we have 1.5bn users after only 4 years, we can call this the largest mobile revolution ever. 5G is truly the first technology that could reliably replace cables’ for systemic functions.” In that regard, Karim Benkirane, Chief Commercial Officer of du, remarked “we believe 5G can serve as a backup for fiber.”

Further contributions were made by Shaun Collins, Executive Chairman, of CCS Insight, who remarked that “2030 is the most optimistic for 6G, so 5G only game in town for the next 7 years”, providing an overview of the business to business, business to home and business to consumer applications. Li Peng, Corporate Senior Vice President and President of the Carrier BG, Huawei, added: “5g will drive up data traffic up to 10 times to stream, so networks will need to be become stronger.”  As smart vehicles will be able to share information in real time with others and the cloud, we will need “100 times as much capacity needed with self driving”. He thereby pointed out that already today, in China, there are 1000 self driving cars on the road.

At a roundtable on the sidelines, German Professor Peter Sachsenmeier, pointed out that “industry is currently the fastest adopter of 5G”, as it seeks to exploit the benefits like more precise localisation and other benefits. Vishnu Ram OV, a Vice Chair of ITU Focus Group on Autonomous Networks, looked at the implications of 5G for AI, calling AI “a nice tool”, however adding that “we need to ask ourselves the question which concrete uses it can offer, and also whether we have enough data so we can create the value that we seek” for applications like health care and passenger safety, stressing how crucial improvements like 5G are for AI.