Dubai: Even though the fifth generation (5G) of cellular network technology is set to be commercially launched this year, 3G will still be the lead system until 2020 in the Middle East and North Africa region, industry experts have said.

Sukhdev Singh, vice-president at market research and analysis services provider Kantar AMRB, said that 4G is predominant in the Gulf countries but in the African countries — even if they have 4G networks on paper — the coverage is not wide and smartphone penetration is still low.

“The uptake of 4G is slow in certain North African countries due to political instability and issues around affordability, so 3G is still the driver. The 4G still has room for growth,” he said.

According to a report by GSMA, a global trade group that represents 750 mobile operators and over 350 companies in the ecosystem, 4G will overtake the 3G network only in 2021.

Jan Stryjak, senior manager for GSMA Intelligence, said 4G is meeting all the requirements of consumers’ needs now and at an attractive price point.

“The adoption of 5G will be relatively slow across the region. By 2025, 5G connections in the region will be only at six per cent of the network technology mix,” he said.

“4G adoption rates of Mena at 22 per cent are still behind the global average of 38 per cent as of the second quarter of last year,” GSMA’s report said.

As of the second quarter of last year, 2G had 19 per cent market share, 3G had 46 per cent and 4G had 34 per cent in the GCC states.

Moreover by 2025, Stryjak said, 4G will only account for just half of the total connections (51 per cent) and will still be behind the global average while 5G will account for six per cent of total connections by 2025, well below the global average of 15 per cent.

In the US, he said, 5G will have a 49 per cent market share of the technology mix by 2025.

Singh said 5G smartphones and 5G routers for home use are expected to be available in the second half of this year but at relatively higher prices.

For an individual, he said that there will not be a big difference between 5G and 4G but the real benefit is to connect to multiple devices and able to transfer data at high speed.

Even with 4G, he said, more than 1Gbps is available commercially in select countries.

“Even 1Gbps is a big speed for consumers and getting beyond that will not be noticeable,” he said.

“For 5G to gain traction, it will take time and we can see the difference and the economic impact after 2020. There will be a major uptake for the 5G fixed line but it will be expensive initially. 5G is seen as a technology for the long term,” he said.

Moreover, he said that the adoption of 5G will be slower than the adoption of 4G due to a higher price point when the high-speed 4G network is available.

What is 5G?

Previous cellular technologies such as 3G and 4G were built for human interactions but 5G is the platform for the fourth industrial revolution to allow industries to cut cables to their machines with the intelligence of the cloud.

Moreover, 5G promises machine-to-machine communication much better than what 4G can do and at more economical rates.

5G is not only about speed but also latency, efficiency, high reliability, the number of connected devices and “network slicing”, which will provide more bandwidth for different sectors such as the police, telcos, public safety and electricity through one network and without interfering with each other.

While 4G offers a latency of 15-20 milliseconds, 5G would be one millisecond and benefit verticals such as autonomous vehicles, healthcare, virtual reality and augmented reality. In 5G, data speeds will be 10 to 100 times faster than 4G and can provide up to 10Gbps.