Ooredoo discovers 5G killer app: flying robo-taxi PR stunts

Ooredoo 5G taxi
An Ooredoo-branded 5G robot taxi, recently. Image credit: Ooredoo

Good news! Qatar’s Ooredoo has found an application for its recently launched 5G network: staging PR stunts with autonomous flying taxis to showcase what 5G can probably do one day.

Ooredoo has “commercially” launched 5G twice this year – once at Mobile World Congress, where it claimed it had already launched 5G services for business customers in Doha, and again in May when the operator said it had switched on the world’s first live 5G network on the 3.5-GHz band.

All this despite the fact that at the time of both launches, there were literally no commercial devices anywhere in the world that could possibly use any 5G network on any spectrum band. And still aren’t, for that matter. (No, the Motorola bolt-on thingie doesn’t count.)

While it’s unclear what Ooredoo means by “launch” – perhaps it simply means staging a big PR event telling people you have an operational 5G base station plugged in somewhere – at the very least its 5G network is serving as a PR tool for demonstrating services that 5G may eventually enable.

Which brings us to the self-explanatory “Self-Driving 5G connected Aerial Taxi”, which Ooredoo tested in a public demo at The Pearl. The “taxi” looks like a huge drone, seats two people and can fly “to a destination up to 20 minutes away” at a top speed of 130 km/h.

The flying taxi was one of several 5G demos Ooredoo staged around The Pearl. Others included a 5G bus (basically a bus providing standard Wi-Fi connectivity but with a 5G backhaul link with speeds up to 2.6 Gbps) and an 8K virtual reality game on a houseboat.

The key bit is the color quote from Ooredoo CEO Waleed Al Sayed:

“… As our customers cannot yet access the speeds and benefits of our ongoing investment, we wanted to demonstrate the true power of 5G and showcase what our technology will do for Qatar in the near future and in the years to come.”

In other words, “No one can actually use our 5G network yet so we’ll use it for demos to promote it.”

And fair enough – most operators who have gone the #MeFirst5G route are doing more or less the same thing, although few conflate that with actually launching commercial 5G.

One point of note: Waleed Al Sayed also hinted that Ooredoo sees 5G as an IoT play that – he hopes – will also serve Qatar’s smart-city ambitions:

“Ooredoo is leading global Internet of Things innovation thanks to our world-class 5G networks and we are the clear partner for Qatar’s growing Smart City technological needs.”

Meanwhile, Ooredoo says its 5G coverage won’t be limited to Doha – work is underway to make 1,200 base stations across Qatar “5G-ready” so that the network is ready to go once 5G devices are commercially available.

If 1,200 base stations doesn’t sound like a lot, remember that (1) Qatar isn’t that big geographically, with a population of just 2.6 million, and (2) Ooredoo is initially using the 3.5-GHz band, which provides wider coverage than mmWave 5G bands.

Of course, with 3.5 GHz, indoor 5G coverage will be a challenge, although that’s arguably not a problem if your killer 5G app is flying robo-taxis.

But with commercial 5G devices not due until next year, there’s time yet to figure that out.

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