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The state of 5G in the UAE and beyond – More speed to come

5G continues to pick up speed in the UAE and beyond, with improving infrastructure set to boost speed and latency further.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, 60 million 5G subscriptions are forecast for the end of 2024 in the MENA This May, Etisalat became the first telecom company to provide 5G services in the UAE A shift to SA networks will bring a better service to 5G users, but there are some caveats to owners of NSA devices

5G has begun to find its footing in earnest in 2019, and many users in the UAE and around the world have begun to experience the mind-blowing speeds promised by telecom companies and industry experts.

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, 60 million 5G subscriptions are forecast for the end of 2024 in the Middle East and North Africa region, representing 3% of the 1.9 billion global mobile subscriptions, as per Tech Radar

Etisalat became the first company to launch a commercial wireless 5G network in the MENA region last year, in the UAE, and this May became the first to launch a 5G service to consumers. 

Before the end of the year, Etisalat said it will have more than 1,000 5G towers in the UAE. This just one part of the AED 4 billion ($1.01 billion) the company plans to spend on effectively bringing 5G to the UAE.

To help customers experience its new service, Etisalat partnered with Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE to provide access through their latest ZTE Axon 10 Pro device, the first available 5G device from Etisalat. 

ZTE was soon followed by Huawei, which this month opened preorders for its first 5G-enabled device in the UAE: the Huawei Mate 20 X (5G). Honor, on the other hand, has plans to launch 5G-enabled devices by Q4 2019. 

du, the rival telecom firm of Etisalat, is currently hot on their heels, having partnered with Virgin Mobile to bring its own 5G service to the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, STC Group officially launched commercial 5G services in the Kingdom in late June of this year. 

Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G networks
In the current rollout of 5G networks, it’s important to understand the difference between the type of networks. 

“The first wave of networks of 5G networks will be classed as Non-Standalone (NSA), which is to say the 5G networks will be supported by existing 4G infrastructure,” Huawei explains. “However moving forward there will be a switch to the 5G Standalone (SA) network which is the ultimate true 5G solution. The advantage of Standalone (SA) is simplification and improved efficiency, the eventual migration from 5G NSA to SA by operators should be invisible to the user.”

According to the Chinese manufacturer, the Huawei Mate 20 X (5G) is the world’s first 5G smartphone that works on both SA and NSA network architecture. 

When it comes to purchasing 5G devices, one should be wary of the following:

“If users purchase a phone that only supports (NSA), once the migration to (SA) takes place, phones that lack this feature will not work with (SA) 5G networks,” Huawei said. “As an example, if users with 5G smartphones that only support Non-standalone (NSA) travel to countries where there is a Standalone (SA) 5G, their smartphones will not work.”

Unparalleled speeds

Many users across the world are already experiencing the great speeds offered by 5G. 

“According to wireless coverage mapping company OpenSignal who measured 5G and 4G speeds in eight different countries… the highest maximum 5G [speeds in the world] were experienced by U.S. users, with 1,816 Mbps, 2.7 times as fast as 4G users’ fastest speed,” Statista reported. 

5G download speed UAE global Etisalat

As per this study, Statista explained that Switzerland came second, seeing speeds up to 1,145 Mbps, 2.6 times as fast as regular 4G users. South Korea came third with its 5G speeds reaching 1,071 Mbps while its fastest 4G speed was 619 Mbps. 

“Elsewhere, the fact that the technology is not fully mature is certainly evident in some countries such as Australia where 4G outperformed 5G in download speed,” the site continued. “OpenSignal states that this will change as networks continue to expand.” 

“The U.S. is so far ahead of the pack because its operators are already able to use millimeter wave for 5G which is a very high capacity and fast spectrum,” Statista continued. “However, it has very limited coverage compared to the 3.4-3.8GHz 5G mid-band spectrum used in most other countries.” 

As for the UAE, its customers “will be able to experience speeds of 10GHz and above and will be able to download larger files in milliseconds in 2020 through fifth-generation cellular technology [5G],” TechRadar explains. “Telecom operators in the UAE are offering speeds of 1GHz speed now with the non-standalone (NSA) network infrastructure.”

In the future, as infrastructure develops, telecom operators will be able to provide 5G services on SA networks, offering even higher speeds and latency. 

“Our next milestone for next year (2020) will be 10GHz speed with the deployment of millimetre wave [26GHz-84Ghz] and achieve one millisecond but it is not possible with the current C band [3.4GHz-3.8GHz],”  Saleem Al Blooshi, Chief Infrastructure Officer of EITC,  parent company of telecom operator du, said in an exclusive to TechRadar Middle East.

In terms of global impact, OpenSignal’s analysis adds that 5G speeds will improve further once the technology evolves to combine the performance of multiple bands and channelsto boost maximum and average download speeds.