MENA will be a 5G hotbed in 2020 – just not for everyone: GSMA

MENA Nokia du 5G robot
(From left) Marwan Bin Shakar, VP of Access and Transport Planning at UAE operator du, and Rima Manna, head of du customer team at Nokia, demonstrate a 5G industrial robot demo at GITEX Technology Week 2017 in Dubai. Image credit: Nokia

Never mind Asia and the US – operators in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will be a major part of the 5G vanguard in 2020, according to a new GSMA report. However, the majority of the region will remain without internet connectivity of any “G” for some time.

The study – released Monday at the GSMA Mobile 360 Series – MENA conference in Dubai – forecasts over 50 million 5G connections across MENA by 2025, by which time 5G networks will cover around 30% of the region’s population.

Those projections build on the region’s current 3G/4G base, which currently accounts for close to half of MENA’s 639 million mobile connections (as of the end of 2016). The GSMA forecasts total mobile connections to reach 712 million by 2020, by which time 70% will be 3G/4G.

According to the GSMA, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE) will be amongst the first 5G early adopters, thanks to a combination of high 4G adoption rates and government support. Etisalat and Ooredoo are already conducting live 5G trials and plan to launch commercial services based on 3GPP Release 15 in dense urban areas in 2020.

As in most other markets, the initial service focus will be on enhanced broadband capacity and performance. Once 3GPP Release 16 is ready, the cellcos will look to develop massive IoT and critical communication services.

However, while MENA cellcos will be on the leading edge of 5G, distribution will be considerably uneven. Currently mobile penetration in the region stands at 63% – that will grow to only 65% by 2020, with the GCC markets approaching saturation and less developed markets like Comoros, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen struggling to connect more subs.

That’s just for mobile phones. For mobile internet connections, the digital divide is considerably stark. On the bright side, the GSMA says, mobile internet penetration has doubled across the region over the last six years, reaching just under 40% penetration (228 million subscribers) by mid-2017. However, that leaves 350 million people unconnected to the internet.

The GSMA report says that if this is “properly addressed” (i.e. more 4G investment enabled by light/zero touch regulation, pro-mobile policies, etc), MENA operators could boost mobile internet penetration to 48% by 2020.

More after this infographic.

MENA 5G
Source: GSMA, The Mobile Economy: Middle East and North Africa 2017,

In related news, Nokia and UAE cellco du announced they will be staging 5G demos such as robot control and live streaming at GITEX Technology Week 2017 in Dubai.

The live streaming demo will feature Nokia’s OZO+ virtual reality camera and OZO Live VR broadcasting software.

For the robot demo, a dual-arm collaborative robot will be connected via 5G to an automated parts and material handling platform. The objective – not unlike a similar demo conducted onstage at MWC 2017 by CEO Rajeev Suri – is to showcase 5G’s ultra-low latency capabilities and its potential role in Industry 4.0.

Saleem AlBlooshi, executive VP of Infrastructure & Technology at du, said that du is looking at different ways it can make use of 5G tech as part of the UAE’s smart city initiative.

“If there is one thing that is certain about 5G today, is that there will be no 5G big bang,” he said in a statement. “5G comprises of many components that will be evolved on our 5G journey. In our pursuit of this 5G journey, du is actively looking at the potential 5G use cases from now.”

It's only fair to share...Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone
John C. Tanner
About John C. Tanner 224 Articles
John Tanner has been covering the Asia-Pacific telecoms industry since 1996. He has two degrees in telecommunications, and worked for six years in the US radio industry in various technical and advisory capacities, covering radio and satellite equipment maintenance, studio networking, news writing and production, the latter of which earned him several regional and national awards.

Be the first to comment

What do you think?