Mobile tech fuels Middle East economy as 5G becomes reality, GSMA says

Enterprises need to get ready as mobile broadband drives use of emerging technology including IoT, VR and artificial intelligence.

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Martyn Williams

Mobile technologies and services generated 4.5 percent of total GDP (US$191 billion) for the Middle East and North Africa's economy in 2018 and, as 5G is deployed, will boost implementation of emerging technology such as IoT, AI and virtual reality, according to new research from the GSMA.

The research from the GSMA, the global trade body representing mobile operators, was included in two reports released at the annual GSMA Mobile 360 – MENA event happening in Dubai, which ends Wednesday.

The contribution of mobile technology and services to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will reach more than $220 billion in value by 2023 as economies benefit from a boost to productivity fueled by mobile broadband and the increased take-up of mobile services, the GSMA said.

The GSMA research suggests that enterprises will need to keep the mobile arena top of mind when planning business development initiatives. 

By the end of 2018, there were about 240 million mobile internet users in MENA, approximately 40 percent of the population, compared to 29 percent four years earlier, according to The Mobile Economy: Middle East and North Africa report. Deployment of mobile broadband networks in previously underserved areas, along with plunging prices for data plans, have driven the growth, the report said.

Meanwhile, the transition to 5G is now under way.

"Backed by proactive government support, mobile operators, particularly in the GCC Arab States, have speedily deployed 5G technology," said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, in a statement accompanying the research. "Beyond the GCC, the wider MENA region has an opportunity to benefit from the technological developments delivered by 5G and IoT. To fully embrace those benefits the region's governments must support regulatory frameworks and policies that ensure 5G flourishes, including making sufficient spectrum available."

Ten operators across five markets – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have already launched commercial 5G services. Applications include mobile broadband for individuals, and fixed wireless access for households and businesses, as an alternative to fibre, the GSMA said.

5G is a term for a set of standards and technologies that can provide transmission speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G. It's expected to enable a new era of the Internet of Things (IoT) -- with an increasing number of industrial and consumer devices becoming connected.

Mobile broadband will allow mobile operators and enterprises enhance bandwidth-hungry applications including cloud services, IoT, virtual reality and augmented reality.

For example, this year Etisalat launched a cloud gaming service, which could benefit from 5G's low latency and high-speed connectivity, and Telecom Egypt teamed up with Ericsson to test  AR, VR and MR on a 5G network, offering an immersive experience for football fans, the GSMA noted.

5G will be key to the development of smart cities, which integrate components such as sensors with IoT networks as well as information and operational technology to monitor and control infrastructure. IoT and AI will play a pivotal role in smart-city development.

Regional smart city initiatives include: Neom, a US$500 billion megacity green-lit by Saudi Arabia in 2017; Kuwait's plan to create the ecofriendly Saad Al-Abdullah with the help of a consortium of South Korean construction companies; Qatar's project to make  Lusail the first city under Project Qatar 2020 to offer citizens and residents with applications involving infrastructure, energy, mobility, utilities, and more.

Non-Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) markets will increasingly roll out 5G in the next decade, with Turkey, Egypt and Morocco among countries where 5G trials have been announced, the GSMA said.

Meanwhile, the increase in in the number of IoT connections in MENA is second only to Asia-Pacific, according to the GSMA report, Realising the potential of IoT in MENA. The GSMA forecasts that there will be 470 million IoT connections in MENA by the end of this year, increasing to to 1.1 billion by 2025, and that IoT deployment will add $18 billion to regional GDP by 2025.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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