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The tremendous growth in mobile phone usage worldwide and a number of trends will underpin the continued emergence of a 5G market that uses the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

In order to sustain future growth, there is a need to tap into mmWave, a revolutionary cellular technology which provides access to massive bandwidth and capacity available in frequency bands above 24 GHz. As of December 2021, GSA data revealed that 192 operators are investing in mmWave for trials, licenses, or deployments while 140 operators have been assigned mmWave spectrum to enable 5G network operations.

As per GSMA, the GDP impact of mmWave spectrum by 2034 in the MENA region alone would reach $15.4 billion, with the share of 5G services using mmWave to be 15% by 2025 and would increase further to 27% by 2034. Countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE are anticipated to contribute to this growth.

One important part of the modern connectivity puzzle is access to mmWave spectrum. The use of this range in mobile networks is a chance to offer performance levels that can benefit areas such as fixed broadband, industrial automation, healthcare, intelligent transport systems, and virtual reality.

At present, 5G mmWave commercial deployment keeps gaining momentum around the world – from the US, Japan, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East. Set to be a game-changer for businesses and consumers alike, 5G mmWave is believed to be wireless fiber as it can bring download speeds of up to 10 Gbps.

Critical role of 5G mmWave

5G mmWave not only promises to deliver multiple-gigabit data rates to end-users but also significantly support more capacity for a better experience. Complementing existing 5G sub-6 GHz networks, high-density locations with massive consumption and movement of data (e.g airports, railway stations, stadiums, production facilities, and convention centers) can benefit the most from this technology.

An analysis from Qualcomm Technologies ESG shows that the benefits of 5G mmWave are shown by measuring traffic in areas where the technology has been deeply deployed. Field measurement data shows that when 5G mmWave capacity is available, offloading traffic to the wider capacity helps achieve dramatically higher burst rates and average data rates, compared to 5G sub-6 GHz and LTE.

Due to this, 5G mmWave has been purposely viewed to help deliver massive increases in localized capacity. This addresses the ever-growing demand for data in key areas. For example, mmWave is very compatible with indoor wireless solutions in large venues, with their significant footfall, that may have capacity concerns. This can be seen particularly for fixed wireless access (FWA) and backhauling.

Important aspects related to this are regulators carefully considering how to release spectrum and to whom and SDOs establishing frameworks that can help MNOs deliver the 5G availability that almost everyone demands. In fact, superior everyday experiences are built on 5G mmWave such as voice and video collaboration using cloud-based applications, professional live TV video transmissions, and machinery and sensors connectivity.

Per Narvinger, head of product area networks, Ericsson, said that mmWave and 5G can enable new creative use cases to explore. These involve hybrid reality, media, remote healthcare, and smart manufacturing. “As a leader in mmWave, Ericsson welcomes a wider ecosystem support for this important technology."

“mmWave spectrum is the fuel for the rocket backpack that makes 5G fly,” expressed Jan van Tetering, senior vice president, head of Europe, Nokia. He emphasized that with 5G mmWave, we hold the key to unlocking a new category of user experience in dense urban areas as well as new, value-creating use cases across various industries.

Moreover, Huawei boasts leading mmWave beam adaptation and tracking technologies that ensure mmWave-capable terminals in real-life environments. Case in point, the Huawei 5G CPE mmWave is the world's first 3GPP 5G router that supports all 5G bands and 4G network backward, providing Gbps-level data downlink speeds, and allows NSA and SA networking.

Having said that, a 2021 analysis from GSMA Intelligence said that in dense urban and enterprise settings, 5G mmWave and sub-6 deployments are more cost-effective than sub-6. Bell Labs Consulting’s research found that 5G mmWave deployed in hot zones at high-density locations can offer an average of four-year payback period with 20 to 30 percent ROI after the fourth year. Furthermore, such deployments offer up to a 75% reduction in cost per gigabyte delivered. This data proves that 5G mmWave is indeed a game-changer, simultaneously lucrative for operators and beneficial to users.

Now, the global 5G mmWave ecosystem is becoming mature, with more than 120 5G mmWave devices like smartphones, PCs, hotspots, modules, and customer premise equipment (CPE) supporting the technology. In line with this, 5G mmWave enables telecom operators to strategically select and scale 5G services to serve high-capacity requirements at various locations.

Without a doubt, 5G mmWave isn’t just an evolution of 5G technology; it’s a 5G business imperative that would help cater for future growth as well as enable a range of new use cases and services that will benefit from the speed, latency, and capacity the technology offers.

5G mmWave in MENA

UAE was the first country in the MENA region to allocate frequencies in mmWave to expand the application of 5G for telecom operators. In 2020, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) allocated 24-27 GHz mmWave spectrum to Etisalat and du, making the UAE the first country in the Middle East with a live mmWave 5G network. In addition, the 40 GHz band will be considered for 5G in the future.

One specific use case is the 5G mmWave commercial deployment between Etisalat and Ericsson. This partnership aims to support the automation and massive bandwidth demands of futuristic technologies and advanced use cases.

While in Saudi Arabia, the biggest 5G market in the region, mmWave adoption is yet to come. In 2021, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) published its spectrum outlook for 2021–2023, with plans to allocate more than 23 GHz of spectrum for a wide range of uses, including the spectrum auction at 26 GHz in the second half of 2022.

Another scenario for this matter is achieved in Riyadh where Nokia has successfully completed a mmWave technology trial on Mobily’s live 5G commercial network. Using Nokia’s mmWave AirScale technology, Mobily has a critical competitive advantage to address the growing network capacity demand in busy locations.

More so, the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) in Qatar is considering boosting 5G mobile services by auctioning the 26 GHz band (26.5–27.5 GHz).

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