The UAE is already ahead of the pack when it comes to 5G implementation, so what’s the holdup?

We’re currently in the fourth generation of network technology but the leading technology companies and minds in the world want to give you the future: 5G. The chatter for the need for 5G and its implementation started in January last year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and turned into a unanimous chant this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Legend has it that wireless technology started with 1G in the early 1990s and expanded to 2G when companies first started enabling people to send text messages between two cellular devices.

Eventually, the world moved to 3G, which gave people the ability to make phone calls, send text messages, and browse the internet. The fourth generation of wireless technology didn’t reinvent the wheel as much as it perfected it. People could browse the web, send text messages, make phone calls and even download and upload large video files without any issues. Then – only a few years ago – came 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE). LTE simply perfected everything the fourth generation of technology built on and today is the industry standard of wireless technology. LTE even helped 4G get faster and, in turn, helped in the creation and sustainability of streaming services. To put it simply, your Netflix subscription wouldn’t be a thing if it wasn’t for 4G LTE.

Never one to fall behind on the technology trends sweeping the world, the UAE jumped onto the 5G wagon early. As early as October last year – in the lead up to the 5G deployment in the UAE by 2020, – telecom provider Etisalat announced its fastest 5G live trial reaching 71Gbps, setting a global record in the industry. Building on that success, by December, the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced the launch of 5G technology, with mobile operators in the country expected to start deploying 5G networks from early 2018.

At the time, Etisalat led the 5G charge confirming that it would be rolling out 5G technology, but du said it would only commence advanced field trials of the technology in the first quarter of 2018. However, Etisalat did note that no mobile device currently available on the market supports 5G and that it will be up to phone manufacturers to come up with updates or new devices to support the 5G technology.

With that announcement, the UAE is set to become one of the first countries to get 5G networks. Being the early bird in that race matters. Countries around the world are racing to reap the economic and civic rewards of being the first to deploy their service. The United States of America learned about the drawbacks of not leading the pack the hard way. After missing the memo and trailing its European counterparts in the roll-out of third-generation mobile services, the US was first to deploy 4G. That leadership paid dividends. Today, with only five per cent of the world’s population, the US makes up 15 per cent of global 4G connections. Its companies run the operating systems on nine out of 10 smartphones worldwide and its wireless services generate $400 billion in annual economic activity. In short, its economy benefitted immensely. Being one of the leaders won’t be a cakewalk though.

The fifth generation of wireless technology won’t simply build on everything that was a result of the fourth generation. In some ways, it’ll be exactly what you’re expecting: faster speeds than 4G that will give users the power to download 4K movie content in a matter of seconds. Problem is, that’s easier said than done. Typically, when a new mobile wireless technology like 5G comes along, it’s assigned a higher radio frequency. New wireless technologies use higher frequencies because those frequencies typically aren’t in use and move information at a much faster speed. Therein lies the catch. While higher frequencies increase speeds, and reduce latency issues of the previous wireless generation, they can’t travel as far as lower frequencies. Obstacles like walls become a hassle, which is why multiple input and output antennas (MIMOs) will probably be used to boost signals anywhere 5G is offered. Basically, you’ll see mini antennas everywhere. Then there’s the problem of implementation.

The number of connected mobile devices in the world surpassed the number of human beings all the way back in 2014. Getting all those devices and users onto the 5G standard won’t be an easy task. Despite the official worldwide 5G standards being approved in December 2017, there is still a lot of work to be done on behalf of cities, device manufacturers, and the carriers themselves.

Notwithstanding the loopholes, 5G is a must. It will drive the evolution of the internet itself. Experts believe it could also be the birth of a smart network. Since it’s designed for a world in which tens of billions of gadgets depend on constant connectivity, 5G networks will be engineered to adapt to the needs of each individual device. For example, if you’re streaming 4K video to a big-screen TV, it may prioritize sheer data throughput, but if it’s serving as the connection between a controller and a drone, it may prioritize a quick response.

In the smartphone universe, 5G will supposedly fix many of the problems with 4G and existing wireless technologies. It’ll be designed to support many more concurrent users and devices, serving them all at higher speeds than 4G. The days of your data speeds slowing down because you’re at a crowded event are numbered. It will also be the bridge we need to finally delve into Virtual and Augmented reality, which opens up a whole host of new possibilities that have yet to even be imagined.