Qatar has taken an early lead in the roll out of 5G mobile services, with the country’s two operators, Ooredoo and Vodafone Qatar, both launching their next generation networks in recent months.

Having run initial test services in May, Ooredoo announced that it had successfully launched 5G services at 50 network stations across the country, making it the first company in the world to roll out a commercially available 5G network.

Vodafone Qatar in turn, switched on its own 5G service on 26 August, with its first enterprise customer, submarine cable provider Gulf Bridge International, connected two days later at the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

The competing 5G services offer rapid connectivity, with download speeds in excess of 1GBps, and ultra-low latency, meaning very short delays for data transmission. Subscribers should notice improved performance in functions such as voice over internet protocol, streaming services, content downloads and online gaming.

Internet of Things to Receive Boost

The launch of 5G services should also open doors for those local ICT players able to take advantage of expanded bandwidth capacities to develop new applications and advanced programming.

One area likely to benefit significantly from higher mobile network speeds is Qatar’s burgeoning internet of things (IoT) segment, which requires high speeds of data transmission to facilitate the introduction of IoT applications, such as driverless vehicles, smart transport technology and augmented reality.

Ooredoo announced earlier in March that it was partnering with German-based Software AG to use the latter’s Cumolcity IoT platform to provide its business customers with IoT solutions, and, following the launch of Ooredoo’s 5G network, its COO, Yousuf Abdullah Al Kubaisi, said the firm expected significant potential for IoT applications in the transport, retail, energy, healthcare, education and entertainment sectors.

Demand for internet capacity is forecast to grow rapidly in the coming years from both enterprises and individuals. Local capacity requirements will increase as a major component of Qatar National Vision 2030 is focused on raising the country’s digital capabilities, said Abdulla Al Rwaili, Managing Director and Executive Vice-Chairman at Gulf Bridge International

This demand will come from a range of sectors including education, transport, hydrocarbons and government services.’

Government spending on ICT is expected to continue, particularly in developing integrated e-government services, which will also help boost the country’s digital capabilities.

Despite the ongoing blockade, there have been no cuts to government spending on the ICT sector – particularly on developing the country’s e-government capacity and the digital transformation of Qatar’s economy, according to Yousef Al Naama, Managing Director of IT services firm Malomatia.

Qatar Already Highly Rated for Mobile Data Speeds

Ramped-up investments in infrastructure and supportive technologies are already paying dividends in Qatar, which ranked first for its mobile internet provision in the July 2018 edition of the Speedtest Global Index, a monthly survey undertaken by the network tester Ookla. Qatari users’ mobile download speeds averaged 62.63 Mbps, almost three times the international average of 22.81 Mbps.

Moreover, while its rank of 52nd in fixed-line download speeds indicates that there is ground to be made up in that regard, the development of 5G capacity is expected to hasten the shift towards mobile usage and, correspondingly, further erode the significance of fixed-line access.

Broader Benefits of 5G

As the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure has matured, opportunities for ancillary IT services such as cybersecurity have seen commensurate growth.

With the growing cyber threat, the need for secure telecom networks is increasing along with ancillary IT services such as cyber security. Customers are aware of these threats, particularly the government entities, and are demanding the service providers to secure their networks,’ said Ahmed Salman Ali Al Sulaiti, CEO of state-owned ICT infrastructure provider Qatar National Broadband Network.

Residual resistance to market changes has dwindled. The market now knows exactly what it needs to protect its information, and we expect this to strengthen demand for private and special networks for secure data servers.’

The roll out of 5G will also accelerate the development of wider communications infrastructure in Qatar, according to Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, CEO of Qatar-based satellite services operator Es’hailSat.

While the deployment of 5G will increase pressure on satellite service providers, it will also create a stronger operational environment, one in which terrestrial and satellite providers offer complementary services. Satellites, for instance, will continue to comprise a critical piece of disaster management systems, in addition to providing connectivity in areas that are unreachable for fibre optic cables.’

This Qatar economic update was produced by Oxford Business Group.