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The promise of 5G technology

The promise of 5G technology

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Fifth-generation wireless (5G) is the latest iteration of cellular technology, engineered to greatly increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks. These speeds exceed wireline network speeds and offer latency of one millisecond or lower, which is useful for applications that require real-time feedback. Industry pundits share insights behind the rapid adoption of 5G technology and what this means for CIOs in the Middle East.

With 5G technology deployments sweeping across the Middle East, data transmitted over wireless broadband connections can travel at multi-gigabit speeds, with potential peak speeds as high as 20 gigabits per second (Gbps) by some estimates.

5G technology is already enabling a sharp increase in the amount of data transmitted over wireless systems due to more available bandwidth and advanced antenna technology. Industry experts estimate that 5G networks and services in the Middle East region will be deployed in stages over the next several years to accommodate the increasing reliance on mobile and Internet-enabled devices. Overall, 5G is expected to generate a variety of new applications, uses and business cases as the technology gets widely rolled out in the region.

According the Ericsson Mobility Report, published in 2020, it predicts that 5G will reach 80 million subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by 2025, which will account for 10% of the total mobile subscriptions.

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) was among the first in the region to begin its preparations for 5G at an early stage. In March 2018, TRA allocated 200 MHz of frequency spectrum to operators in that country to deploy 5G services and in May the same year, the UAE successfully became the first in the Middle East to launch 5G in its commercial form to the public, thanks to mobile operator Etisalat.

Yarob Sakhnini, Vice President, Emerging Market, EMEA, Juniper Networks, said 5G remains a priority for a number of Middle East countries because of the endless economic possibilities that can be unlocked. Sakhnini said countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have already started 5G implementation and are well positioned to benefit from the transition to the new generation of mobile technologies.

“Mobile network operators in the Middle East are either deploying 5G network infrastructures or carrying out 5G trials. The majority of carriers are focusing on tapping the ever-increasing demand for higher-speed, greater capacity broadband services by rolling out basic 5G services such as enhanced mobile broadband,” he said. “However, 5G technology is already evolving from being just a fast mobile broadband network to an enabler of ultra-low-latency applications such as Augmented Reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and real-time interactive gaming.”

He added that for industries and manufacturers, 5G capabilities will enable massive machine-type communication and accelerate the Middle East’s IoT and M2M industry. “As national agendas increasingly focus on connected cars, grid management, fleet management, utility metre reading, track and trace systems for logistics and other intelligent machine-driven capabilities, we will likely see the emergence of Industry 4.0 in the region,” he said.

According to Sakhnini, 5G is now real, bringing the new monetisation opportunities that these deployments can enable for operators. “Enterprises in the Middle East can benefit from 5G capacity and low latency adopting many of the existing use cases around: real-time remote monitoring and surveillance useful in the oil and gas industry, bring specialists virtually anywhere useful in healthcare, education or engineering, high precision remote operations for heavy machinery or robotics applications,” he said.

Samantha Naidoo, Telco Industry Value Advisor, SAP Africa, said the rollout of 5G in the Middle East and Africa’s urban centres is likely to be one of the most significant technology events of 2021. Naidoo said where 3G and 4G LTE technology provided increased speeds compared to their predecessors, 5G will establish an entirely new innovation platform upon which many of the technologies and day-to-day conveniences of the future will be built.

“It’s less of an iteration on previous technologies and more of a total Digital Transformation in how we connect to virtual and physical worlds. The number of connected devices will grow exponentially, linking previously static infrastructure – cars, clothes, parking meters – to a smart network that constantly generates and processes vast amounts of data,” she said.

5G deployments

With CIOs being urged to plan and architect their networks to maximise the promise of 5G technology, successfully integrating existing IT infrastructure to new 5G technology is crucial.

Talal Shaikh, Director, Undergraduate Studies, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said CIOs need to consider their 5G use cases and the nature of their business, before considering any upgrades and changes to their network architecture. Shaikh said it might be relevant for industries such as manufacturing where 5G can enable more flexibility, reduced cost and shorter lead times for factory floor production reconfiguration, layout changes and alterations – which together can make a manufacturing company more innovative, efficient and profitable.

“In such cases, it is necessary that the CIO audits the current network infrastructure and determine what upgrades and/or replacements to network hardware, software and services might be needed in order to leverage the full potential of 5G,” he said. “Since network upgrades are a costly affair, it is vital to create a budget plan that periodically deploys systematic upgrades in phases that can approximately follow the multi-year trajectory of enterprise 5G adoption.”

Sakhnini said CIOs are expected to identify the right path for their business to drive change and therefore should factor 5G into their infrastructure deployment planning. He explained that CIOs know that Digital Transformation goes beyond technological innovation and is more a structural, strategic transformation of an entire company, its positioning, organisational models, and internal processes.

“CIOs should get their organisations ready to adapt their processes to cloud-based operations, telemetry and AI. 5G will open a wide range of opportunities to those organisations that have digitised their processes, accelerating them with ubiquitous connectivity, massive capacity and extreme low latency,” he said.

Azz-Eddine Mansouri, General Manager, Sales, Ciena Middle East, said in order to fulfill the 5G promise, CIOs must ensure their networks are not only automated, but adaptive. Mansouri added that private 5G networks, over the wireless and wireline domains, are software-centric allowing them to ‘adjust’ on the fly and adapt to changing user needs, from both humans and the machines connecting to the network.

“An adaptive network leverages programmable infrastructure, data-driven analytics and intelligence, and software control and automation. This enables intelligent closed-loop automation, the ultimate network end-state that allows private 5G networks to adapt to ever-changing conditions, in real-time,” he said.

“In addition, CIOs need to make sure their WAN is upgraded to cope with 5G traffic to be generated by IoT and multiple devices to be connected to different data centre where data may be processed.”

Promise of 5G technology

According to Naidoo, mass digitisation of public services could support the building of Smart Cities where key infrastructure is connected to a central network, enabling predictive maintenance and improved traffic management, for example. “In healthcare, junior doctors could be trained for surgery via AR or VR delivered via 5G and telemedicine – which has become even more vital in light of the pandemic – is set to experience what some analysts describe as a ‘tsunami of growth’,” she said. “In manufacturing, 5G could achieve cost optimisations by enabling virtual control of machines and telemetry or information exchange between large numbers of connected devices in real time.”

Naidoo explained that these benefits won’t be realised simply through the deployment of 5G, however, as organisations will need robust Digital Transformation strategies supported by systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms that can process, store and analyse vast amounts of data from huge numbers of disparate sources.

5G challenges

While there is no denying that 5G deployments have taken off on a good note in the Middle East, there are some challenges still persist for enterprises in the region

Maciej Nowakowski, Head, Systems Design, Secure Land Communications, Airbus, said the cost of coverage in rural areas may be challenging for mobile network operators. Nowakowski pointed out that this may require the implementation of special individual contracts for 5G services with enterprises. “Inter-country and cross-country connectivity also remains challenging for distributed operations in region,” he said. “Other challenges I see include: the maturing of the technology, the fact that there are very many and regionally-fragmented frequency allocations for 5G, a well as the availability of compatible terminals and the coverage available.”

Mansouri said CIOs should look at 5G as the technology that will allow networks to handle hundreds of millions of devices all at the same time. Consequently, he added, they must conduct an audit of their network infrastructures and plan a systematic upgrade or replacement of hardware or software to make way for 5G. Sakhnini pointed out that the ultimate objective of any CIO should be the complete Digital Transformation of their business, supported by the IT environment and not just 5G. “CIOs should not try to build a standalone 5G environment. 5G requires collaboration across enterprises, operators, integrators, cloud providers and equipment vendors,” he said. “Enterprises can benefit from multinationals experience in deploying 5G networks to bring private 5G to their corporation, working closely with application and cloud providers to build a strong ecosystem and use vendor and system integrators to complement the implementation with the rest of technologies to achieve a complete digitalisation beyond just 5G, including Wi-Fi, LAN or WAN.

Femi Oshiga, Vice President, Service Providers MEA, CommScope, said telco operators will not wait for the killer app and will be busy rolling out, densifying and powering the network in a variety of bands while working on driving the standards and technology.

Oshiga believes close co-operation between telco operators and telco equipment suppliers starts with identifying equipment that meets these needs. “Networks come in all shapes and sizes but they must be designed using the right equipment. Consumers rightly expect this equipment to aesthetically blend into their environment. Form and function matter more than ever, he said.

Bridging the skills gap

Aside from 5G deployment challenges, CIOs in the Middle East are grappling with the IT skills challenge and how to bridge this gap especially with emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, 5G, data science, Big Data, etc.

Ciena’s Mansouri explained that in order to bridge the existing skill gap, CIOs must acquire and retain staff and the skills needed for the increasing pace of technology changes. “By doing this, they will be helping their executive team acquire business leaders who understand technology to become a trusted advisor,” he said. “Additionally, they must also recognise the importance of up-skilling their current team through an ongoing and effective training programme. Lastly, diversity plays a pivotal role and should be embraced across organisations. Diverse teams are able to add value through a more creative approach to problem-solving and, therefore, perform better.”

Oshiga said CommScope agrees that there is a huge skills shortage in the IT industry in general and training the ecosystem on skills related to colocation services (e.g cloud), breaking the gridlock around increasing diversity, catching people early and being mindful of criterion for ‘quality’ and the types of programmes that people can tap into now is critical now if the skills gap is to be shortened. “CommScope is a founding partner of the Infrastructure Masons. This group specifically focuses on the best practices and developing new talent for the future,” he said.

Juniper’s Sakhnini added that there are several ways skill shortages can be addressed in the data centre space. “Looking carefully at the multinationals, partners and systems integrators working with your organisation can help CIOs to overcome some of these challenges. Those with the ability to listen and respond to a CIO’s unique business objectives, those who pursue a strategy of open, interoperable networking across their portfolios and solutions, will be the partners who can provide meaningful support and managed services that effectively extend a small in-house IT team and that should be a key consideration,” he said.

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