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Visitors at Etisalat pavilion on the opening day of Gitex Technology Week at Dubai World Trade Centre on Sunday 06 October 2019. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit: Virendra Saklani / Gulf News

Dubai: Conversations around 5G networks took centre stage on the first day of Gitex with telecom operators calling on more hardware providers to offer 5G-enabled devices. Etisalat and du said these high-speed networks will be “revolutionary” rather than an evolution, and will bring about new revenue streams.

“As we are in the roll-out stage, one of the challenges is scarcity and the limited availability of 5G-enabled handsets in the market,” said Saleem Alblooshi, chief technology officer at du. “But this will be overcome soon — almost all of the handset providers have announced their road map, and 5G will come soon.”

Hatem Bamatraf, chief technology officer at Etisalat International, agreed with that view, saying the more providers there are of the technology, the more flexibility telcos will have in supplying the infrastructure. “We know that 5G might be delayed in some specific countries because the business case is not viable,” he said. “However, if there were other players that could supply the technology with a cheaper option, then this could accelerate the introduction of 5G.

“Unfortunately, the vendor landscape has gone through a lot of changes. A lot of [players] merged, some of them have disappeared and exited the market, and we end up now with few vendors.”

Limited choices

In the UAE, only Huawei, ZTE, and Oppo currently offer 5G-enabled smartphones, while Apple and Sony are yet to offer such devices.

In terms of opportunities, Fadi Pharaon, president for the Middle East and Africa at Ericsson, said that 5G will be a “platform for innovation”. He cited South Korea where 5G has seen an uptake of over three million subscribers since April.

“Everyone is looking at 5G as a way to improve the user experience, but the real step forward is the promise of creating new revenue streams for service providers,” he said.

Pharaon pointed that 5G will also provide a boost in the gaming market, where users are looking for the shortest latency and highest resolution. But for all the hype around 5G, network providers also pointed that it will come with challenges, even as more 5G-enabled devices make their entry.

Etisalat International’s Bamatraf said the company and is working to roll it out in Saudi Arabia. The launch will be slower in other markets, however, due to factors that include infrastructure, purchasing power, and literacy rates.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Madkour, vice-president of global wireless networks marketing and solutions at Huawei, who was on the same panel discussion, said energy consumption was a key challenge of 5G technology.

“What we need to do is work on enhancing the efficiency of 5G. This is what matters now; energy efficiency, deployment efficiently, operational efficiency, even equipment integration efficiency,” he said.