Telecom operators trying to catch up with consumer demand for data: Experts

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SHARJAH —

As the UAE races to fully embrace fifth generation (5G) connectivity by 2019 to boost business profitability and develop new and existing market sectors, the fourth Sharjah FDI Forum has brought industry leaders in the technology sector to shed the spotlight on crucial aspects of whether the national and regional infrastructures are equipped to support these massive technological changes, how feasible they are, and how governments will play a role in executing transformation plans.

A panel discussion titled ‘The Race for 5G: Is the Infrastructure and Supporting Networks Equipped for 5G?’ heard from Dr Hichem Maya, Head of Industry Digital Transformation and Value Engineering, SAP; Adel Belcaid, Senior Principal with A.T. Kearney CMT practice, Advisor for corporations, regulators and government agencies in telecommunications; Henrik Von Scheel, originator of the “4th Industrial Revolution” (Industry 4.0), mastermind of the German Digital Revolution (European Digital Agenda), Board Member OECD National Competitive Council; and Juan Jose de la Torre, Partner & Digital Transformation Leader, IBM.

The speakers highlighted the different aspects of transformation in the 5G spectrum, stressing on the importance of strengthening the existing telecommunications infrastructure. “Most countries need the infrastructure to support this transformation; a basic example is the use of fibre cables to support the 5G network. If that isn’t adopted by countries across the board; 5G is just a marketing gimmick,” remarked Von Scheel.

Belcaid offered a numerical overview of the current global data demand, saying: “Global telecommunication operators are constantly trying to catch up with consumer demand for data. There are roughly 5 billion mobile users, and to estimates, each user would have a 20GB data consumption demand by 2020. After multiplying the two figures, the IT world is running out of terminologies to qualify the foreseeable data consumption. We are talking about 40 billion TB, and soon we will run out of Greek words to describe this surge in demand.”

He observed that the challenge is making business sense and earning a profit out of data supply to the end consumer, because most telecom companies end up spending 60 percent of their financial resources to make data available to their customers, but the revenue earned is not as much. “Despite high demand, the cost to modernize services isn’t something the end consumer is willing to bear.”

To all the skeptics in the audience, Juan Jose Torre said: “A few years ago, we said the world wasn’t ready for Uber or Airbnb, and then consumers proved us all wrong. The journey towards 5G has very much begun. It is no longer science fiction.”

The UAE Vision 2021 has set the 5G revolution as one of its main goals. It is the most 5G-ready country in the Gulf, and the region as a whole is making a sizeable effort to catch up with global leaders in the US and UK.

“2018 was a table-turner year for 5G Technology in the UAE,” remarked Belcaid to conclude discussions, with speakers agreeing that the UAE is eagerly anticipating to see how this new technology, once rolled out on a wider scale in the UAE next year, will be a catalyst of innovation in promoting businesses, attracting FDI inflows, boosting education and healthcare, and global connectivity.

According to a recent story by The National, technology analysts in the region estimate that 5G connectivity will boost the GCC economy by $269 billion (Dh988.04bn) over 10 years with cheaper, faster Internet access and connecting devices through the Internet of Things.

The Sharjah FDI Forum, which was first launched in 2015 under the patronage of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, is organized by Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah) with the support of the Ministry of Economy, and in strategic partnership with CNBC Arabia.

The fourth edition seeks to boost the emirate’s endeavours to attract more foreign investments, promote opportunities in main sectors, and strengthen the UAE’s position as a top investment destination in the region and the entire world. — SG


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