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By Khalid Murshed, CTIO, Etisalat UAE

When we thought about bringing 5G to the people, we had our heart set on being the difference and leading the way in the era of ‘connectivity renaissance.’ Staying future-focused, we brainstormed how we could revolutionise people’s lives by implementing innovative technologies that serve them in the best way possible.

These past four decades, the essence of ‘connectivity’ has undergone several iterations in the UAE. The UAE leadership has always recognised the importance of driving innovation and establishing a world-class digital infrastructure to boost the country’s socio-economic growth for the benefit of its citizens and residents. As the country’s first telecommunications service provider founded in 1976, we were guided by similar principles to pave the way for a better tomorrow: deploying technologies that are connecting people and bringing them closer to what is important to them.

From launching voice connectivity to introducing the Middle East’s first broadband internet service, followed by the region’s first 3G network and 4G in the UAE, we’ve come a long way. Since the beginning of the international 5G development journey, Etisalat UAE has led the regional and international standardisation activities working in close coordination with UAE’s Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA). This has included putting the necessary technical specifications and regulatory environment in place, while ensuring timely availability of unique spectrum resources. By 2019, we’d enabled key sites across the UAE with 5G. In hindsight, the implementation of the 5G network in the UAE before 2019 was so important for the economy, especially as the pandemic hit soon after, disrupting the way organisations did business and forever impacting people’s lives as well as industries and economies.

Today, we can see that 5G deployment is accelerating the UAE’s digital transformation boosting the country’s reputation as the Middle East technology and digitalisation hub. We are proud to have been instrumental in maintaining the UAE’s network leadership with one of the fastest and most advanced networks in the world as well as its global FTTH penetration leadership.

5G Makes Phenomenal Visitor Experiences Possible at Expo 2020 Dubai, the Fastest 5G Event on Earth

5G is not about bringing yet another piece of technology to the table. The core reason for implementing 5G revolves around changing lives, and we have already seen how 5G has revolutionised industries and sectors, offering enterprises the opportunity to hyperscale and expand to new geographies.

With the unprecedented level of 5G speed, we were able to harness the power of next-generation technology and networks to provide excellent coverage with optimal performance to Expo 2020 Dubai.

Implementing cutting edge digital services across a 483-hectare site required a highly resilient 5G, WiFi and fixed network with cutting edge digital services. To ensure that visitors could enjoy spectacular experiences at Expo 2020 Dubai, it was imperative to implement the 5G network that allowed us to run flawless digital and telecom operations, host superior data connections, as well as provide robust security and pavilion infrastructure. We did this by deploying 8,500 mobile access points, 700km of fibre optic cable, 800km of cabling for indoor mobile and Wi-Fi network requirements, two data centres within the site, and redundancy delivered as a dedicated fallback Wi-Fi network.

Through 5G, international participants at the 192 country pavilions were able to tap seamlessly into e&’s cloud technologies, Big Data, AI and Machine Learning solutions as well as our digital applications such as targeted marketing, Cloud Talk, end-to-end managed digital signage solutions, pavilion analytics and more.

With the unprecedented level of 5G speed using mid-band spectrum – a median download speed of 1.1 Gbps over six months – we were able to harness the power of next-generation technology and networks. We are proud that we provided Expo 2020 Dubai with the fastest speed on record anywhere in the world and were instrumental in powering the expo’s ranking as the fastest event on earth.

In fact, the 5G network performance at Expo 2020 Dubai has far superseded all mega global events from the 2022 Super Bowl to MWC Barcelona 2022 and the Summer Games in Tokyo, 2021.

5G as the Ultimate Enabler for Digital Transformation

5G networks can deliver the level of performance needed for an increasingly connected society. Let’s think back to when we used 4G mobile networking. We were faced with the limitations of watching top-quality videos through our smartphones whenever we so desired. 5G has eradicated the buffering times that were previously experienced with 4G, as well as eliminated the need for telephones. In addition to providing low latency, higher speeds, increased bandwidth, and more efficiency, 5G has the capacity to interconnect a range of devices at the same time.

5G is already offering endless innovative possibilities to springboard from. It has opened the doors for us to deploy end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to enterprises as we work towards a smarter, safer and more sustainable world. 5G will evolve to become the fulcrum which delicately holds the possibilities to drive optimal operations of various sectors and industries such as smart and sustainable cities, retail, fintech, Industry 4.0, oil and gas, utilities, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, eGovernment and defence.

Building on our 5G advanced capabilities, I foresee that we will continue to enable emerging use-cases and applications over secured 5G slices spanning from interactive cloud gaming for entertainment to mission-critical communications across the country. Such an expansive 5G portfolio will focus on the strengthening of immersive customer experiences and will include Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR), as well as supporting massive communications for broadband IoT applications. We will also see the rapid development of fully automated industries equipped with 5G robotics, leading to autonomous driving both on the ground and in the air. I have no doubt that 5G along with ever-evolving AI, Big Data and blockchain technologies, will drive our transformation towards achieving the country’s objectives for a digital economy across all domains of our smart cities.

Expo 2020 is not our first 5G mega-project, and it certainly won’t be our last. We will continue to bring pride to the UAE and encapsulate the spirit of new-age technology that will benefit individuals, enterprises and governments. We will achieve this by delivering premium connectivity enabled by a strong infrastructure through our 5G and fibre optic capabilities at Etisalat UAE.

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