5G will not offer a huge change for consumers, Etisalat executive says

The head of the telecom operator takes a realistic stance on the future of high-speed connectivity

Jawad Abbassi, head of MENA at GSMA;  Nasser bin Sulaiman Al-Nasser, group chief executive of STC; Hatem Dowidar, chief executive of Etisalat International and John Giusti, chief regulatory officer at GSMA during GSMA Mobile 360 in Dubai. GSMA
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Avid technology users will have to wait two to three more years for the luxury of 5G speeds on their smartphones or home WiFi connection – and even then it won’t make a huge difference, according to the chief executive of Etisalat International.

“Let’s be very clear ... because we talk about 5G all the time, there is no consumer proposition for 5G,” said Hatem Dowidar, speaking on a panel at GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) Mobile 360 in Dubai. “So today there are no consumer devices for 5G.”

He predicted that next year there may be “one or two consumer devices that will work best with 5G”.

“In 2020 or maybe later, we will start seeing consumer devices for 5G.”

Mr Dowidar said that from a consumer perspective, 5G, or fifth-generation technology, will not be especially different from its predecessor 4G.

“The way 4G is evolving, it is providing excellent speed and low latency for most of the services,” he said.

The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority allocated bandwidth to Etisalat and du this year to establish 5G networks in the agriculture, automotive, healthcare and education sectors in 2019.

5G will offer users three benefits: greater speed, lower latency and the ability to connect several devices at once. Its connectivity speed enables safe pursuit of robotics-led surgeries and self-driving vehicles.

“5G will be very important in the fields of tele-medicine, autonomous cars and in other industry applications like robotics and where almost real-time applications are needed,” said Mr Dowidar. “This is what we are going to see in the next two to three years.”

In 2017, the mobile industry contributed about $165 billion to the Mena economy, equivalent to 4 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to GSMA. This contribution is expected to increase to more than $200bn by 2022, driving new services across the region in fields such as robotics, AI and autonomous vehicles. By 2025, 5G will account for 16 per cent of total connections in these markets, GSMA added.


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“It is imperative that the region’s governments create a regulatory environment that allows 5G to flourish,” said John Giusti, GSMA chief regulatory officer. “This includes releasing sufficient spectrum, so that businesses and citizens can fully enjoy the innovative new services that 5G will deliver, as well as the resulting socioeconomic benefits.”

Telecom operators in the UAE stand to gain an additional $3.3bn in revenues by 2026 from the digitalisation of industries through 5G, according to a report from Swedish telecom company Ericsson.

GSMA is a trade body that represents the interests of mobile networks.