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A lot of expectations are riding on 5G and for good reason. The technology offers potentially gigabyte speeds over wireless. The speeds will be fast enough that for the first time, wireless could be a competitive alternative for wired systems such as cable, phone, and fiber-based systems, for basic broadband access.

5G is designed to provide greater capacity for wireless networks, more reliability, and faster speeds, and will enable new services, such as massive internet of things. Some of the features that users can look forward to including 360-degree panoramic virtual reality video, unlimited cloud storage and instant access to applications without having to download or install them.

5G in the Region
The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is usually a follower rather than a leader in the launch of new technologies. But with 5G, things will be different, say industry experts. Operators in the UAE and Saudi Arabia will be among the first in the world to launch 5G commercially, starting with 5G fixed-wireless broadband (FWB) services and adding 5G mobile services as 5G smartphones become more commercially available. These early launches of 5G will put Gulf operators and markets on a par with some of the most advanced operators worldwide.

An Jian, the President of Carrier Networks Business Group at Huawei Middle East

South Africa is also preparing for 5G, though launches there are expected to come later than in the advanced Gulf markets, and progress with 5G in South Africa will depend on factors such as the allocation of spectrum. South Africa’s two biggest mobile operators, Vodacom and MTN, both have had 5G trials underway for months now, and Vodacom says it will be ready to launch 5G in South Africa as soon as it has the necessary spectrum. Vendors and key stakeholders, who support and provide for the development of 5G, agree that the opportunity is huge.

“The industry is already prepared with 5G mature technology, terminals, and commercial uses cases. As of September 2019, Huawei has signed over 60 5G commercial contracts and shipped more than 400,000 Active Antenna Units (AAUs),” explains An Jian, the President of Carrier Networks Business Group at Huawei Middle East. “27 of the 40+ commercialised 5G networks are built by Huawei. In terms of the 5G ecosystem, Huawei Middle East is currently cooperating with over 70 local partners to explore and enrich the various 5G practice.”

Sanmeet Singh Kochhar, the General Manager for the Middle East at HMD Global is of the opinion that everyone stands to reap tremendous benefits of 5G. “It will revolutionise the telecom industry in the region with greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect several devices at once,” adds Kocchar. “Etisalat has already announced the availability of 5G networks, supporting smartphones for commercial use, and reports indicate that major GCC operators are already accelerating the deployment of 5G networks. Once adoption rates increase, operators will be able to leverage the full potential of 5G to meet the demands of an increasingly connected society.”

Sanmeet Singh Kochhar, the General Manager for the Middle East at HMD Global

Nokia meanwhile adds that it has seen a strong initial appetite for 5G in the US, China, and South Korea. “But, we also see a strong acceleration of 5G launches in the Middle East region this year. Globally, as of August, Nokia signed 45 5G commercial agreements and 11 networks are now live with 5G services. In the Middle East region, as of August, Nokia’s public commercial references include Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Zain KSA (Saudi), du (UAE) and Ooredoo Qatar,” adds Aji Ed, the Chief Technology Officer at Nokia Middle East and Africa.

Lucas Jiang, the GM at TP-Link MEA FZE explains that with a data rate of up to 10 Gbps, 5G will bring more than ten times improvement over the existing 4G LTE technology. “5G will certainly revolutionise our world. The tech will also make online gaming and general 8K/4K video streaming possible at trailblazing speeds,” adds Jiang. “5G offers three major benefits such as faster data transfers, better coverage for IoT and stronger reliability which will support critical applications with a unified ultra-robust network.”

Quoting a market study done by Deloitte Global, Pierre Havenga, the Managing Director of Vertiv MEA, reiterates that by end of 2020, 5G handset sales (15–20 million units) are expected to represent approximately 1 percent of all smartphone sales, with sales taking off in 2021, the first year in which retailers will sell more than 100 million 5G handsets. “The most noticeable benefits of these first 5G networks for users will be faster speeds than today’s 4G technology: peak speeds of gigabits per second (Gbps), and sustainable speeds estimated to be in the hundreds of megabits per second (Mbps),” he says.

According to Azz-Eddine Mansouri, the General Manager of Sales at Ciena Middle East, 5G will change how operators and customers see network performance and this will create a path for an incredible amount of new services and applications to be developed. “Smart cities are a great example, as hundreds of thousands of sensors are added to the network every minute, making cities “smart” by gathering, analyzing, and acting upon vital collected sensor data,” he explains.

Revolutionising Industry 4.0, Smart Cities and Automation
One of the biggest successes of 5G would be the fact that the underlying technologies will revolutionize Industry 4.0, smart cities and automation. 5G could also usher in new innovations to supercharge the internet of things and mobile broadband applications, among others. Hence, it is critical for many countries to adopt this technology early. And the reason is that it is going to form the basis for innovations in a variety of areas, such as smart grid and smart connected automobiles, and factories of the future.

Energy, healthcare, education, transport, and entertainment sectors will benefit from various IoT use cases enabled by 5G. “These use cases will enhance operational efficiencies and user experiences. Nokia has been conducting successful 5G use case trials with leading operators in the Middle East.  Recently, Zain Saudi Arabia and Nokia successfully demonstrated a 5G-enabled VR (Virtual Reality) advanced use case in the Mashaer area and the Holy Mosque area in Makkah. This technology allows visitors to experience Hajj remotely as if they are present on-site,” adds Ed.

Aji Ed, the Chief Technology Officer at Nokia Middle East and Africa

5G also has the capacity of supercharging AR and virtual reality by placing virtual items, virtual characters and augmented contextual information in TV shows and movies or even projecting 3D holographic displays. 5G will play a key role in supporting the massive rollout of intelligent internet of things nodes and will drive the development of existing and new internet of things services and applications in vertical markets, including:

  • Manufacturing, such as time-critical process control, non-time-critical factory automation and remote control
  • E-health, such as robotics, remote monitoring, and smarter medication
  • Energy, such as advanced grid access, backhaul, and backbone projects
  • Automotive, such as connected and autonomous vehicles, sharing a vehicle’s point of view with remote devices, and the digitisation of transport and logistics
  • Media and entertainment, such as ultra high fidelity media, on-site live event experience, immersive and integrated media, and collaborative gaming.

“5G is a catalyst for smart cities. Some of the most widely discussed use cases globally are around autonomous driving, manufacturing, and immersive media. Thanks to 5G, we could be looking ahead to a future where autonomous vehicles become a reality or doctors perform surgical procedures remotely,” adds Kocchar.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have set up bodies to facilitate the progress of 5G. The UAE has established a National Committee for 5G, with three sub-committees focusing respectively on the spectrum, network developments, and verticals. Saudi Arabia has formed a National 5G Task Force to bring together representatives from government, operators, equipment vendors, and potential user groups.

Of course, the MEA region is highly diverse, and while some of its telecoms markets are very advanced, others are less so. Operators in Egypt, one of the most populous countries in the region, only launched LTE as recently as 2017. Iraq’s national operators have only progressed as far as 3G. In less advanced MEA markets, it might take some time to develop the business case for 5G. The regulatory preparations – such as the allocation of the spectrum – could take time, too.

Challenges Along the Way

Lucas Jiang, the GM at TP-Link MEA FZE

According to 451 Research, 5G will be the most impactful and difficult network upgrade ever faced by the telecom industry. It is part of the complex ‘digital transformation’ movement encompassing IT/network convergence and radical changes in how software is created and deployed. Those that can thrive in this period of change will create a new class of telecom operator with value-creation capabilities that far exceed anything we’ve seen in the past couple of decades. Telecom companies and other providers will have to invest billions to make 5G a reality — not only to buy more spectrum but also to build out the infrastructure.

According to a report by McKinsey, since it’s uncertain how much revenue 5G will bring, for now, the most prudent path for telecom firms is to upgrade the capacity of their 4G networks by reclaiming airwaves allocated for 2G and 3G, as well as buying more spectrum. “The fourth stage of the Industrial Revolution, also termed Industry 4.0, is the next era in industrial production, which will be largely dependent upon advanced mobile wireless communications machine to machine. 5G is an ecosystem for technology and business innovation with a massive portfolio of applications and their equally widespread requirements such as high reliability, ultra-low latency, high bandwidth, and mobility. Some of the newer features that will boost the development of Industry 4.0 include cloud platforms, analytics, system automation, and network slicing technologies, as well as new business models,” explains Havenga.

Jiang says one of the basic and most obvious challenges faced by the companies to deploy the 5G service and network is the 5G enabled devices. This is because most manufacturers are yet to release 5G-compatible phones, tablets, and other devices. “Apart from this, it is an expensive affair considering the spectrum licensing, the installation of the necessary hardware and successful testing of the network for public use. There are also operational complexities associated with the deployment of 5G as not all the professionals are aware of the features, threats, and concerns of the fifth-generation network. It will take some time to solve these challenges successfully,” he adds. 

According to Jian, the first challenge is talent and 5G partnerships. “To explore more 5G business, more collaborations from vertical industries is crucial. However, most entrepreneurs have limited knowledge and a good platform to join the 5G business. Hence, Huawei’s launch of the 5G OpenLab in the Middle East to focus on the B2B market, providing the local vertical industries with a real 5G network environment in which they can experience and innovate the latest 5G applications with operators and partners. By doing so, we hope more and more local vertical partners can join the 5G journey with us,” he adds.

Pierre Havenga, the Managing Director of Vertiv MEA

Jian further continues that the second challenge is the high cost of the 5G spectrum. Currently, few countries are still offering expensive spectrum. This will cause financial stress, especially in the initial stage. “Aligned with GSMA’s opinion, we think that a reasonable price is essential to promote the 5G industries so that the government will obtain a greater benefit in the long run. The third is the challenges of difficulties in 5G site deployment, limited footprint or load, and high OPEX. In response to these issues, Huawei offers leading lean site solutions that enables rapid 5G deployment and protect customer investment,” Jian says. “With this in mind, we will keep enhancing our collaborative partnership in the Middle East to cultivate a strong and inclusive 5G ecosystem—in turn building a fully connected, intelligent the Middle East.”

Security Threats
Upcoming technologies such as 5G offer phenomenal capabilities to industry and governments, taking developments beyond speed and bandwidth of networks to throughput, latency, and reliability, enabling technologies to succeed. For instance, IoT-enabled processes in chemical plants or manufacturing units can only have high-quality and first-right outcomes if latency levels are ultra-low, with always-on, seamless connectivity.

However, as with any promising technology, there is always a threat when it comes to security. “The biggest threat surrounding 5G is in relation to cybersecurity. 5G enables IoT networks much larger than previous networks, so the risk of cyberattacks could be potentially damaging. Misuse of data, data privacy and related data breaches could prove to be very disruptive for people and society,” says Kochhar.

The challenging nature of 5G networks to support unique and diverse business requirements of various sectors have rendered current network security less than adequate. In 5G networks, reliability does not only refer to the network infrastructure but also to ensuring high connectivity, infinite capacity and coverage (and other promised 5G features) anytime and anywhere. This implies a security makeover of how confidentiality, integrity, and availability will be maintained and managed in 5G networks. Furthermore, the complexity of securing a network has increased due to the introduction of SDN and NFV in 5G networks.

“Our end-to-end security solutions help mitigate these security risks in a three-step process. We collaborate with 3GPP and other specification bodies to influence the security requirements, which are then implemented into all our products by our DFSEC (design for security process),” says Ed. “Lastly, we have a wide range of network security solutions and services that help operators to automate and orchestrate the security requirements by consolidating network security requirements into a single operations view via our SOAR (security, orchestration, analytics, and response) approach. It leverages our best-in-class global threat intelligence repository and automated workflow management to help CISOs and CIOs develop end-to-end visibility and control on their security operations which will become far more critical as the adoption of 5G accelerates.”

5G is a brand new technical upgrade all set to roll out in the market to revolutionise our experience of the internet and communications. But it is obvious that this fifth-generation network alike the other networks such as 2G, 3G and 4G is exposed to some key security concerns such as a heightened risk of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and proximity service (ProSe) intrusions. The wide distribution of decentralized, small-cell networks 5G IoT requires will make it a challenge to keep each system updated and capable of meeting rapidly evolving cyber-attacks also the higher bandwidth will create more potential security risks.

Azz-Eddine Mansouri, the General Manager of Sales at Ciena Middle East

“Another threat to 5G networks is the storage of a large amount of data in the cloud rather than on secure local servers. The data gathered by IoT devices contribute to a wide attack surface. Experts warn that the proliferation of data traffic and mobile IoT connectivity comes with a significant amount of risk that must be addressed by the telecom industry. The problem of authentication will be also an obvious threat to security and privacy concerns given the number of devices gathering data in massive IoT networks like connected city infrastructures, offices, and homes. Addressing these concerns will require forward-thinking designs that anticipate and prepare for threats and build effective security features into the design of 5G networks,” says Jiang.

With the current level of security technology, 5G data throughout would require massive server farms running intrusion scanners and packet inspectors just to keep up with the nominal state of a network. In addition, signalling for connection setup between heterogeneous connections and handover in distributed data networks will make session monitoring difficult. While it is clear that enhanced mobile broad-band (eMBB) is the simplest security case for 5G, even it will not be a simple undertaking—much work will be required to ensure that users and networks can be kept safe despite the huge amounts of data that need to be carried at breakneck speeds.

“Ensuring a secure network will require not only new technology, as with eMBB, but entirely new paradigms for how security is considered within the network. IoT networks, for example, will require large numbers of devices to communicate with each other, likely without a central coordinator,” explains Havenga.

Each new device doesn’t just drive traffic, it also dramatically expands the network attack surface through an increasing number of endpoints – fundamentally increasing the opportunity of cybercriminals to leverage sophisticated methods to exploit these opportunities. “However, to avoid security issues around 5G deployment, it is crucial that enterprises embrace a comprehensive, multi-layer security strategy to ensure an effective defense. Organisations that make a conscious effort towards implementing a multi-layer security approach have much to gain in the era of high-stake breaches and security risks,” adds Mansouri. “Additionally, the right network security partner is a crucial element which can ensure that people, processes and technologies which come into contact with an organisation’s network infrastructure are trustworthy and secure.”

The Way Forward
As mentioned earlier, advanced Gulf markets, notably the UAE and Saudi Arabia are expected to be the first in the MEA region to launch 5G, as well as among the first in the world. Major operators in South Africa are also preparing to launch the first 5G services on the African continent. 5G services, including demonstrations and trials of new use cases, are expected to be an important element of the Expo 2020 event in the UAE, which will start in October 2020 and run for six months.

From an operator perspective, there are many opportunities to monetise and profit from 5G. For consumers, the increased speeds offer an improved service than 4G and the reduced latency is perfect for gamers. For services such as these, a premium consumer offering can be developed to recoup the capital and operational expenditure to provide 5G services. However, this only scratches the surface.

“5G is also set to create significant business opportunities for telecom companies, as it will support them in gaining revenue in the fixed broadband market and business-to-business (B2B) opportunities such as smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT). While the advancement of 5G is being contemplated around the world, operators will need to support a diversity of revenue streams. The key, therefore, is to develop a 5G platform with sufficient capacity and flexibility to enable any use case which makes commercial sense, now or in the future. Fiber throughout the network, and flexible resource management across fiber and radio will be essential to this network versatility,” adds Mansouri.

For 5G to be profitable and worthwhile, certain advancements and adjustments need to be made regarding how networks and data centers are managed. 5G connectivity requires a significant amount of energy of run, especially after additional technologies are installed to manage and dictate the direction of energy. 5G is only a platform for services to be built upon as it is a tool to enable speed, increase the number of connections and expand the amount of data traffic flowing across it. The services which will run over that platform are largely in the incubation stage, and while we recognise they will come, we do not yet have clarity on their societal impact.

“In 2020, worldwide 5G wireless network infrastructure revenue will reach $4.2 billion, an 89% increase from 2019 revenue of $2.2 billion, according to Gartner, Inc. Additionally, Gartner forecasts that investments in 5G network infrastructure will account for 6% of the total wireless infrastructure revenue of communications service providers (CSPs) in 2019 and that this figure will reach 12% in 2020,” says Havenga. “However, according to recent research conducted by Strategy Analytics, it entails that any growth in 5G will be slow for the next 18 months before the technology gains strong momentum in 2021 as network coverage improves, phone prices fall, and use cases mature. This mirrors the growth we saw of 4G where between 2012 and 2018, 4G grew from 4% of all mobile subscriptions to 61% globally, but service revenue increased by less than 1%, according to firm’s research.”

One of the distinctive aspects of 5G is that it is expected to enable many new applications and services, some of which could transform the role of the operator, as well as entire industry sectors. However, in the main, those new applications and services, as well as the business models to sustain them, have yet to take shape. Leading parties from across the industry, such as operators, technology companies, regulators, and customers, should work together to develop common frameworks that will allow the development of new applications and use cases. Each major use case or vertical, whether it is telemedicine or autonomous vehicles, is likely to require a specific group of partners. In some cases, national coordination might be sufficient, but in others, coordination might need to be regional or global.

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