Imagine a new age where friends and family thousands of kilometres away can experience the same world from a virtual perspective.
Fifth generation connectivity promises just that and is due to arrive in the UAE next year.
Technology analysts estimate 5G connectivity will boost the GCC economy by $269 billion (Dh988.04bn) over 10 years with cheaper, faster internet access and connecting devices through the Internet of Things.
With 600 5G hubs planned across the country, most people should have access to super-fast internet speeds that promise to offer new opportunities for businesses and consumers.
“The potential for $273bn of economic value in digital services is across a number of industries,” said Safder Nazir, a vice president at Huawei Technologies Middle East.
“There is an expectation 5G will enable much more of industry, so it is about bringing that industry together with governments and regulators to fast track the development of services.”
Health care, transport, agriculture, banking and entertainment are all expected to be big winners when the technology is introduced nationwide.
“The UAE operators have made public announcements about the public launch of 5G networks and we want to accelerate that,” Mr Nazir said.
He said that it was the governments’ job to enable the process.
“Unless our governments can execute these plans, they will not have an opportunity to enjoy these economic benefits,” Mr Nazir said. “Open dialogue and collaboration between industry and government regulators is crucial to realising these huge opportunities.”
Technology researcher Analysis Mason has identified the top 50 cases for 5G applications and said enhanced mobile broadband, connected health care, cars and smart cities would be the first to benefit.
Robotics, drones and virtual reality for on-demand video streaming would also have huge potential for regional operators.
“Most of us in this region are expatriates and we are all looking to communicate with our families and share experiences,” Mr Nazir said.
“Imagine if I could be in Dubai and my family in the UK could join me virtually and share the same experiences I am having in real time. If I could give them that virtual experience, it is the next best thing to actually being here with me.”
But regulation could provide a sticking point, with concerns over how 5G is used.
The commercial use of drones for delivery and transport are likely to be heavily reliant on 5G and will need to be regulated by civil aviation authorities.
Security cameras offering real-time information could also help make society safer, although questions over privacy and use of personal data will also need to be controlled by tight legislation.
Research published in the white paper Unlocking Digital Opportunities with 5G found that the UAE is the most 5G-ready country in the GCC, but there is some way to go to catch up with global leaders in the US and UK.
Analysts have encouraged operators to develop close relationships with industries most likely to benefit.
“We launched 5G in the UAE in May with a limited number of sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and we’re now in collaboration with telecoms vendors worldwide to have 600 base stations before the end of 2019,” said Saeed Zarouni, senior vice president of Etisalat mobile.
“This will give coverage to all the main cities in the UAE. We are now pushing the mobile handset makers to speed up their side of production to ensure the 5G service is well used.”
Etisalat anticipates that customers will have access to 5G internet speeds in homes and on mobile devices by September next year.
With speeds of up to 100 gigabits a second, 5G could be 35 times faster than 4G. Latency, or delay, will also be a game changer for mobile technology.
Mr Zarouni said Etisalat aimed to reduce latency to less than 10 milliseconds on the new 5G network, which a third of the lag time on 4G.
The new network is also likely to be cheaper to use, and health care is considered the most likely to unlock new profits.
Etisalat unveiled its RoboPharmacy, an unmanned futuristic pharmacy system, at Gitex Technology Week, .
The automated system uses a 5G connection between the hospital and pharmacy to send data on prescriptions for patients that can then be collected.
Operations could also be done remotely using 5G and special haptic gloves worn by surgeons from hundreds of kilometres away.
“These solutions are aimed at creating a more efficient and reliable healthcare system and transforming the health care of tomorrow,” said Dr Ahmed bin Ali, a senior vice president at Etisalat.
“By creating these telemedicine networks where caregivers can collaborate, patients can have easy access to the best care possible regardless of where they live.”