Bahrain announced a major milestone in its continuing efforts to establish itself as a high-tech hub earlier this year, when the kingdom’s telecom operators achieved full nationwide 5G coverage. The first country in the GCC, and one of the first in the world, to deliver nationwide 5G coverage, Bahrain’s 1.5 million citizens now have full access to high-speed mobile internet.
Bahrain’s ICT sector now accounts for nearly 3% of the national GDP, in part a result of conscious government diversification efforts like Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030.
Beyond faster transmission speeds for consumers, the country’s 5G connectivity establishes a foundation for rapid technology development and may make Bahrain an attractive prospect for global technology firms looking to establish a presence in the region.
The long-awaited 5G is a major leap in terms of scale and capacity compared to its predecessor. The new technology has the potential to transform not only broadband service for individual users but will create a foundation for society-shifting technology that underpins projects like smart cities and electronic health services.
5G expected to spur digital transformation
“Operators are keen to tap into the 5G capabilities to enable fintech, e-government, ecommerce, consumer solutions such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), 4K streaming on the go and cloud gaming, and B2B solutions such as immersive education, IoT and Industrial IoT, AR and VR, and robotics,” says Krishna Chinta, Program Manager, Telecom & IoT, IDC MEA. “Additionally, the nationwide coverage of 5G is expected to speed up the ongoing national digital transformation plans as part of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030.”
Though often referenced as a single technology, 5G is in reality a set of radio access technologies designed to supplement existing 4G LTE networks and surpass them in speed and other features. High-frequency millimetre waves allow 5G to offer mobile internet speeds of more than 10 gigabits per second. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, globally 5G subscriptions are set to reach 3.5 billion by the end of 2026 and are predicted to account for more than 50% of mobile data traffic.
The GCC states have been amongst the first in the world to launch commercial 5G networks. High 4G adoption rates and government support are helping leading operators to challenge both North American and Asian operators in driving 5G development.
Meanwhile, STC Bahrain, one of the Kingdom’s three telecommunications providers, has been instrumental in the nationwide rollout of 5G and was an early mover in the project. The company was the first operator in Bahrain to commercially provide a 5G network to its customers.
“Taking the lead in establishing the groundwork for the next industrial revolution and enhancing our technological infrastructure, we were the first in Bahrain to showcase our future connectivity services to the public with a live demo of our 5G network in 2018,” says Badr Al Sulaiman, CTO, STC Bahrain. “This was followed by our extensive commercial roll-out of 5G services in Bahrain to coincide with the company’s rebranding to STC Bahrain in 2019.”
5G to pave way for IoT, edge computing
Bahrain’s newfound 5G connectivity is expected to encourage deployment of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and, in particular, IoT and edge computing. Regional experts in emerging technologies believe that 5G technology will pave the way for new innovations, creating an environment in which 5G and emerging technologies develop in tandem.
“The growth of edge computing and 5G are mutually dependent. In order for 5G to provide accelerated network speeds, it depends on low-latency and high interconnection that can be delivered through edge computing,” explains Jassim Haji, President of the Artificial Intelligence Society of Bahrain.
“With projected enhanced reliability, significantly reduced latency and bandwidth capacities in the gigabits, 5G networks will allow better real-time connections between edge devices and cloud-based servers.”
More connectivity may mean more risk
Two out of the three Bahraini mobile operators now offer 5G services, and the kingdom’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications officially confirmed the nationwide coverage in early 2021, saying Bahrain is “one of the first countries in the world to provide complete 5G services” in a January statement. While telecom operator Batelco partnered with Sweden’s Ericsson on its 5G network, STC Bahrain opted to partner with Chinese firm Huawei for its 5G infrastructure.
While there have been some security concerns regarding the widespread adoption and use of 5G, these concerns stem from the number and type of new connections enabled by 5G connectivity, rather than 5G network technology itself.
A recent report from Booz Allen Hamilton outlined the potential security risks associated with 5G. While the new technology does have new security protocols, the sheer volume and sensitive nature of data created by IoT-connected, 5G-enabled devices will create tempting new targets for bad actors. The distributed, open and programmable nature of technologies behind 5G functionality such as Network Function Virtualization and software-defined networking may also present new security challenges, the report explains.
While there are some security issues surrounding 5G, cybersecurity experts agree that these challenges can be addressed and overcome, allowing businesses across industries to reap the benefits of lighting fast connectivity.
“5G is emerging as a key enabler of the fourth industrial revolution due to its ability to support industrial use cases,” says Chinta. “Thus, all the core industries in Bahrain are expected to benefit immensely by deploying 5G.”