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Engineer Tariq Al Awadi, Executive Director of Spectrum at TRA addressing delegates at the UAE 5G conference in Dubai on Sunday 08 December 2019. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Coverage of the superfast 5G network has reached 80 per cent in the UAE’s populated areas and main cities, with the footprint to grow under a new national strategy, a Dubai conference heard on Sunday.

Speaking at the ‘UAE 5G Conference’, Tariq Al Awadi, Executive Director of Spectrum, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), said the UAE has developed “a 5g strategy… a roadmap for the UAE for implementing 5G in the coming five years”.

He said 5G coverage in “populated areas, main cities” in the UAE is currently 80 per cent. How many users can or will avail this coverage depends on multiple factors, such as device compatibility and telecom subscription plan.

5G, short for fifth generation, is much faster – 10 to 20 times – than the currently widespread 4G network, allowing users to download content in seconds rather than minutes. Experts at the conference said 5G will also revolutionise the use of self-driving cars, automation and Artificial Intelligence.

‘Source of speculation’

However, the two-day conference, organised by TRA, also heard concerns about the impact of 5G on data privacy, cyber security and even human health.

In his opening speech, TRA’s director-general Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, said: “Today in this conference, we want to clarify facts. The term ‘5G’ has become the source of many speculation, scenarios, promises and warnings. Those who know and those who do not have become experts, benefiting from the widespread new social media platforms. Some picture a rosy prosperous human future, and others spread fear and panic, while people follow both sides, searching for credible information to satisfy their curiosity.”

‘Legitimate concerns’

Professor Konstantinos Masselos, president of Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission, Greece, said there are health concerns about the increased exposure to EMF, or electromagnetic fields. “These are legitimate concerns by all means but unfortunately amplified by a lot of uninformed, partly-informed or simply careless public speaking on 5G,” he added.

“On 5G, as with any new technology to be introduced at scale, we need to stay practical. And staying practical on EMF on 5G means first of all understanding the components of public EMF concerns.”

Some scientists say 5G will considerably escalate exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) on top of the existing 2G, 3G, 4G, and WiFi used for telecommunications. RF-EMF can be harmful to humans, many experts maintain.

Masselos said possible solutions to people feeling “uncomfortable” towards more exposure can be low radiation street-level signals making “non-public space effectively a zero EMF zone”. He added that “what if we could make sure that even for the ones moving along a street, EMF emission would be directional towards the actual user and not uniform for everyone in the vicinity”.

Paradigm shift

Masselos said rolling out 5G calls for “a paradigm shift” in the way the infrastructure should be built. “This is why I believe this conference bears promise of getting 5G right and plan towards a golden reference.”

The UAE has ranked first in the Arab Region and fourth globally in the launch and use of 5G networks, according to the Global Connectivity Index issued by Carphone Warehouse.

What is 5G?

5G, or fifth generation, is the latest mobile internet connectivity that vastly improves download and upload speeds. Not only is it faster, it has more stable coverage than its predecessors, the most recent being 4G.

5G can also support (connect) around 10 times more devices – about 1 million – at a time than 4G, per square kilometre.

A majority of 5G networks use high radio frequencies, mostly between 2 and 4gigahertz, to increase speeds of data transmission to (more or less) 1Gbps, or gigabyte per second.