MENA: 50m 5G connections by 2025

The prospects for immense 5G growth in the Middle East and North Africa has emerged from a study by the GSM Association and released at an event in Dubai on Oct 8th and saying that Middle East mobile operators will be 5G “early adopters”.

Their study (The Mobile Economy: Middle East and North Africa 2017) and which highlighted that operators in the MENA region will be amongst the first in the world to launch commercial 5G networks. The new study, which was published at the GSMA Mobile 360 Series – MENA conference in Dubai, forecasts that there will be more than 50 million 5G connections across the MENA region by 2025, with 5G networks covering approximately 30 per cent of the region’s population by that point. The report also highlights how mobile broadband (3G/4G) networks account for about half of total mobile connections in the MENA region today and are forecast to increase to 70 per cent of the total by the end of the decade.

“With rising mobile broadband adoption, growing subscriber numbers and increasing smartphone use, mobile is having an incredible impact across this diverse region, ushering in an era of innovative tech startups and new mobile services, as well as helping to connect the unconnected,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “At the same time, we urge operators to continue investment in 4G networks to ensure future growth and encourage governments to set policies that promote technological, social and economic progress to create a society where all citizens can benefit from mobile technology.”

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states will be amongst the first in the world to launch commercial 5G networks. “High 4G adoption rates and government support is helping leading operators to challenge both North American and Asian operators in driving 5G development. Both Etisalat and Ooredoo are already undertaking live 5G trials on speed, equipment, latency and beam steering, with commercial launches expected in 2020. The early launches are expected to be based on 3GPP Release 15 and be deployed in dense urban areas as mobile operators look to offer increased performance and supplement existing mobile broadband capacity. Further enhancements will be made with 3GPP Release 16, including the development of massive IoT and critical communication services,” says the study.

There were 365 million unique subscribers across the region at the end of 2016, accounting for 63 per cent of the population, which is expected to rise to 399 million or 65 per cent by 2020. However, subscriber growth continues to trail the global average due to the diversity of the region, with the more advanced markets approaching saturation and the less developed markets facing the challenge of growing penetration. As a result, subscriber penetration will reach only 65 per cent by 2020, below the global average of 72 per cent. Smartphone adoption is expected to increase to an estimated 463 million by 2020, representing growth of 167 million from the end of 2016.

The report highlights that there are significant variations in mobile market maturity between the different countries across the region. “In the GCC States, 76 per cent of the population are mobile subscribers, with three of these markets (Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE) having a subscriber penetration rate of 90 per cent or above, placing them among the most penetrated mobile countries in the world. By contrast, North Africa5 has an average subscriber penetration rate of 67 per cent, and across the Other Arab States6, penetration stands at 46 per cent, including three markets where less than a third of the population subscribe to mobile services (Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia).”

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