5G and Beyond

Middle East Operators Battle for 5G Bragging Rights

A quartet of Middle East operators -- du and Etisalat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar's Ooredoo and Saudi Arabia's STC -- all claim to have launched 5G networks in what looks like a race for regional superiority.

But with a discernible lack of 5G devices to connect to such networks, does having a "live" network mean anything of substance? (That's a rhetorical question, by the way…)

Bragging rights do seem to be key agenda item here. Ooredoo is claiming the "first commercially available 5G network in the world." Bravo! But even Ooredoo subsequently notes that connecting to the operator's so-called Supernet, which is operating in the 3.5GHz band, requires "a 5G compatible device from Ooredoo," which poses a challenge currently for the operator's customers.

Responding to questions from Light Reading, Ooredoo admitted that it is "waiting for manufacturers to start producing mobile devices -- they don't exist yet anywhere in the world. Once these devices are produced, we'll make them available for immediate use, as our networks are well ahead with readiness. We are already able to use the 5G network on specially adapted tech such as drones." Right.

Etisalat , meanwhile, claims in this announcement to be the first operator in the Middle East to "have a fully developed commercial 5G network available to provide gigabit internet services to its customers." Yes, it's available, but of little use just now, other than to perform tests.

Its local rival Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co. (du) , meanwhile, is in a similar state of readiness. It notes that the "availability of 5G services in the UAE is one step closer to reality" following the activation of its first 5G site, "ahead of the anticipated commercial rollout of the 3GPP compliant 5G terminals in 2019."

Saleem AlBlooshi, chief infrastructure officer at Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co., noted in the company's official 5G launch statement: "As a transparent and innovative company, we are excited to announce our complete network readiness this year, in anticipation of its 2019 roll out."

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Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) has the same staggered deadline. Its 5G announcement features a statement attributed to interim CEO Nasser Al Nasser, who notes that STC's initial launch of 5G involves "operating a number of towers, initially, in the eastern region," and that the operator will "continue working on building the network construction gradually in the cities of the Kingdom until the devices are available during 2019."

Such announcements are likely to feature strongly in 2018: Just imagine the excitement levels when compatible devices and actual services become available. As for which company is "first" with 5G, only those in the marketing and communications communities are likely to give a toot.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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