UAE consumers should not be priced out of 5G market, says expert

Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai will be the first district in the UAE to be powered by the technology

Visitors walk past a 5G logo during the Mobile World Congress on the third day of the MWC in Barcelona, on March 1, 2017. - Phone makers will seek to seduce new buyers with artificial intelligence functions and other innovations at the world's biggest mobile fair starting today in Spain. (Photo by Josep Lago / AFP)
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The introduction of a 5G-powered phone network in Dubai has "innumerable benefits" but must not be prohibitively expensive for consumers, an expert has said.

Telecommunications company Etisalat and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre announced on Sunday that Jumeirah Lakes Towers would be the first district in the Emirates to be served by the high-speed technology, with the service due to be launched imminently.

While the move opens up the prospect of greatly improved download speeds, faster and more stable internet connections and even swifter integration of artificial intelligence, an analyst has called for costs to remain within the reach of the public.

“While it is hard to put exact figures to any newly launched technology, it is possible that 5G as a service may cost more than existing networks,” said Dr Tadhg O'Donovan, head of school of engineering and physical sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

“The key point here is that even if 5G is more expensive than regular networks, it is critical that is it is still within the reach of the average customer.

“It will enable a massive boost in bandwidth that can deliver innumerable benefits, but that won't be of any use if the average consumer cannot afford a 5G connection.”

The new technology is the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, heralded for providing faster download and upload speed, more stable connections and all-round better coverage.

The first country to adopt the 5G network on a large scale was South Korea in April of this year. Switzerland, the US and the UK followed suit a month later.

So far, there have been marked differences in the cost of unlimited 5G plans and their 4G counterparts across the world.

In South Korea, mobile phone providers were charging up to Dh250 for an unlimited package, Dh180 more than the 4G equivalent.

In the USA, provider Verizon announced users could purchase a one-off Dh180 device, which would enable some older phones to be 5G compatible.

The average cost of a 5G plan in the US was Dh330, while UK users can expect to pay as little as Dh108 for a sim-only monthly tariff.

However, in the UAE the price plans from mobile phone providers such as Etisalat and Virgin Mobile remained the same as on 4G.

The cheapest available 5G phone was the ZTE Axon 10 Pro which started from just under Dh3,150 upfront, or Dh137 a month for a two-year contract.

The work required to bring 5G to the wider public could have rich rewards, according to Dr O’Donovan.

Dr Tadhg O'Donovan, head of school of engineering and physical sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
Dr Tadhg O'Donovan, head of school of engineering and physical sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

“The Consumer Technology Association has reported that 5G will reach speeds of 10 GBPS, making it 100 times faster than 4G,” he said.

“This means that something which would take six minutes to download on 4G, would take less than four seconds to download on the new technology.

“5G will allow the region to go beyond just social and communication apps to the next level of connectivity such as hologram calls, connected vehicles and increased levels of public safety."

“If you are using a 4G phone then you will be having a downgraded experience compared to 5G handset owners,” said Rasheed Al Omari, strategist at software company VMware.

“You might be able to access it but it just won’t be the same.”

Amitoj Arya, executive director of telecommunications firm EY, said there remained a number of significant challenges to overcome, despite the UAE already investing more than Dh5 billion into the new technology.

“The different players need to work collaboratively to find the right service offering for the consumers,” he said.

“Some areas that need to be addressed are the availability of devices supporting 5G as well as network deployment.”