Thursday 31 August 2023

United Arab Emirates has a Fantastic 5G Experience but Coverage Needs to Improve

The UAE has a strong mobile market, dominated by Etisalat and du. Both are majority-owned by the government. In a bid to attract additional foreign investment, it was resolved in early 2021 that the stake held by foreigners in the two companies could be increased.

The U.A.E. was the fastest 5G market globally in Q2 2023 according to Ookla's Speedtest Intelligence data, with growing competition between the nation’s two network operators helping to drive overall performance in the market to reach a median download speed of 557.63 Mbps. etisalat by e& was the fastest 5G operator globally with a median download speed of 680.73 Mbps.

Etisalat and du have deployed LTE networks providing national coverage, while the 5G penetration rate is the second highest globally after China. This has underpinned growth in the mobile broadband sector, and has enabled the strong development in the take-up of rich content and applications, as well as m-commerce. To help increase the capacity of 5G networks in coming years, and so keep up with data demand, the government has allowed for the GSM networks to be closed down and for spectrum and other assets to be re-purposed for 5G by the end of 2022.

According to the most recent Open Signal report  Etisalat remains top for award hauls. The operator takes home the greatest number of award wins, with nine outright victories and one shared win, a change from the last report when it was the sole victor in seven categories and shared first place with du in a further four. Du manages a respectable six first place finishes, five outright wins and its shared win with Etisalat for 5G Voice App Experience.

There has been a lot of focus on 5G in the United Arab Emirates, with both operators announcing partnerships with equipment vendors in February 2023. Du has partnered with Huawei to develop 5.5G (or 5G-Advanced) technology. They are expecting it to offer greatly improved data speeds, lower latency and increased energy efficiency. Not to be outdone, Etisalat has chosen Nokia to upgrade its existing 5G network, with the vendor providing services for replacing existing equipment and implementing automated transport slicing. Along with this, in late February 2023 Etisalat launched its commercial 5G standalone access (SA) network. The operator expects that the SA network will offer enhanced performance for business and residential customers

Both Emirati national operators have turned their attention to satellite connectivity, with du demonstrating what it claims to be the first satellite-enabled 5G backhaul in the Middle East, using SES's satellites in January 2023. Since then, Etisalat announced that it has launched a 5G satellite solution, partnered with Eutelsat. Using satellite technology would bring access to remote areas with low terrestrial connectivity, and it will be interesting to see how these technologies develop.

The Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the completion of the second phase of testing of 5G-Advanced services in the 6GHz band. The regulator is working with local service providers Etisalat and Du on the trial, with the aim of achieving 10Gbps download speeds using 400MHz of spectrum in the 6GHz range. The TDRA’s director general, Majed Sultan al-Mesmar, commented: 
‘The exponential number of internet users, and the scientific advances witnessed by the world today, require new speeds to accommodate the increasing load on networks and keep up with the high specifications of emerging technologies on the world stage such as metaverse applications, to name a few. Having attained a speed of 10Gbps … this new, globally unprecedented speed will lead to faster data transfer, ushering in a new era of high-quality streaming and seamless cloud services. The trial will also enhance the IoT by providing the infrastructure necessary to simultaneously handle multiple connected devices, while ensuring seamless and reliable connectivity.’

Meanwhile in May 2023 Du completed a successful demonstration of 5G Voice over New Radio (VoNR) technology to showcase its 5G Standalone (SA) capabilities. The trial was carried out in conjunction with equipment partners Huawei and Nokia.

Saleem AlBlooshi, Chief Technology Officer at Du, said: 
‘The successful demonstration of 5G network VoNR capabilities represents a significant milestone at a time when the digital sector is entering a new era. It enables unprecedented simultaneous voice and data transmissions and provides incredibly rapid connectivity transmission rates.’

Du claimed eight million mobile subscriptions and 559,000 fixed broadband subscriptions at the end of June 2023, up 8.0% and 18.3% year-on-year, respectively.

While 5G speeds, rollout and adoption increasing rapidly, according to OpenSignal, 5G availability is still low for both the operators and has a lot of scope for improvements. With the rapid rate of deployment, this number is surely bound to go up in the coming years.

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