Etisalat, the UAE's biggest telecommunications operator, said it is exploring the development of 6G, the next generation mobile network that will allow for much faster and more sophisticated technology use.
The telecoms operator is conducting research and developing international standards that will be the main building blocks to create a 6G network, the company said on Wednesday.
“We are committed to bringing the latest technologies to UAE market to enable digital societies," Haitham Abdulrazzak, chief technology officer at Etisalat, said at the Mobile World Congress annual trade show in Barcelona. "Etisalat is upgrading tools and capabilities of its R&D centre to enhance the contribution towards 6G global standardisation within the international fora and alliances.”
International protocols for 6G are still being worked out, but in a research paper in December last year the International Telecommunications Union, the UN body responsible for setting global standards, produced a research paper highlighting potential applications. These included networks for drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, fully-automated vehicle technology, remote health monitoring and surgery, holographic conferencing, fully sensory virtual and augmented reality and enhanced virtual learning experiences, as well as the potential for virtual tourism.
Etisalat's foray into 6G comes as the UAE looks to increase the contribution of the digital economy by adopting artificial intelligence and internet of things. The digital economy's contribution towards the country's gross domestic product in 2019 reached 4.3 per cent, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said last year.
The UAE's telecom operators are currently rolling out 5G networks, which promise internet speed of up to 1.2Gbps, gradually evolving to 10Gbps – more than 100 times faster than 4G. Upgrading to 6G is expected to offer similar leaps in speed, enabling much broader technological development.
In a paper published in July last year, South Korean electronics giant Samsung said it expects 6G networks to be able to support 10 million devices within a square kilometre at speeds of up to 1,000 gigabytes per second. It expects 6G standards to be ironed out by 2028, with commercialisation beginning in the same year. Widespread adoption is likely by 2030, it argued.
"6G is going beyond earth networks into space to enable [a] new era of services and usage scenarios, with terabyte data traffic resulting in extraordinary human-to-machine interaction," said Mr Abdulrazzak.
Etisalat, based in Abu Dhabi, was founded in 1976 and is the UAE's oldest telecoms company.
It has operations in 16 countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, serving more than 156 million customers – an increase of 4 per cent year-on-year.