As the introduction of ubiquitous 5G technology approaches, understanding its use cases and defining the deployment strategies are going to be the key to integrating it on a large-scale, accessible basis. As technology with the potential to revolutionize almost every aspect of modern life for governments, industries, enterprises, and individuals, operators must evaluate the benefits of 5G and set implementation strategies to ensure that they stay ahead of the perpetually transforming ICT industry curve.

For operators, the concept of 5G is not difficult to grasp, but understanding and communicating its many use cases is pertinent in bridging the gap between operator and customer. This begins with understanding how next-generation technology will alter everyday operations. According to the Middle East and North East Africa appendix of Ericsson’s 2016 Mobility Report, between 2016 and 2022, smartphone subscriptions will more than double from 230 million to 480 million. And while 33 percent of subscribers currently have smartphones, this figure will increase to 56 percent in the next five years. Because smartphone traffic is a key driver for data traffic, 5G will be integral in the adoption of mobile broadband.

Additionally, it is predicted that average active smartphone data consumption per month will increase from 1.8 Gigabytes (GB) at the end of 2016 to 13 GB by 2022. What’s more, mobile data traffic in the region is expected to reach around 4.8 Exabytes (EB) per month by the end of 2022, which is almost 13 times greater than it is estimated to be at the end of 2016. Taken together, these factors indicate immense growth potential for big data in the coming years, and 5G will provide the necessary means to function efficiently and effectively at such advanced data transmission levels.

Beyond keeping pace with the rapid increase of smartphone use, 5G will also enable new opportunities for the Internet of Things (IoT), as vendors push the limits of technology. As more and more devices, sensors, and appliances connect to each other and to the internet, security and sustainability are key requirements for the successful uptake of 5G services. By 2022, it is reported that the Middle East and North East Africa will have around 20 million 5G subscribers and cellular IoT connections will reach 45 million from 10 million in 2016.

5G use cases span nearly every industry. In the TV and media industry, the technology will allow for broadband and media presence everywhere, making it possible to communicate in crowded or remote areas at high speed. In the transportation industry, sensors embedded in roads, railways, airfields, and vehicles will communicate with each other through the 5G network. In the infrastructure industry, 5G will bring the high reliability and low latency required to control critical services and infrastructure. In the manufacturing industry, 5G will allow for remote control of heavy machinery, in turn increasing efficiency and reducing costs and risks. But the use cases don’t stop there; 5G will also transform healthcare, agriculture, utilities, and many other commercial sectors-and telecommunications operators will be at the center of the transformation.

IoT has the power to facilitate the digital transformation of nearly every industry, unleashing creative business models that will help network operators in the region to prosper into the future. Moreover, greater technology investments are foreseen in the region, with manufacturing and transportation sectors expected to be the largest contributors. The growth of 5G is linked to the expansion of the complete digital ecosystem and the realization of the Internet of Things. Network development and rollout must occur in tandem with the development of terminals and devices.

In a world where the technologies of the future are approaching at an unprecedented pace, operators must start assessing the cost associated with the deployment of 5G versus its revenue-generating potential. Operators need to take a holistic approach to investment with the view to adapting next-generation technology in its earliest stages in order to optimize the technology’s uses moving forward. With nearly one third (31%) of the global operator community expecting to launch full commercial 5G service by the end of 2021, and almost a further half (44%) anticipating this outcome by the end of 2025, operators must recognize the urgent requirement for collaboration between fixed and mobile networks, and the need to share resources more effectively and pro-actively. Success in the investment in 5G use cases is what will ultimately fuel the overall realization and success of the Networked Society.

Scott Gegenheimer
Zain Group CEO & GSMA Board Member