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UAE to become first country in Middle East to use higher 5G frequency this year

The UAE will become the first country in the Middle East to use higher radio frequency (mmWave) for 5G in preparation for Expo 2020.

On the sidelines of The 5th Middle East and North Africa Spectrum Management Conference, Tareq Al Awadi, executive director for spectrum management at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE, vice chairman of the WRC (World Radiocommunication Conference) and chairman of Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG), said in an exclusive to TechRadar Middle East that the strategy is part of UAE’s 5G strategy for the next five years.

“The board of directors at TRA has approved the UAE’s 5G strategy and will be implemented soon. First, we will start a high-level steering committee and then will have different programmes for different verticals [education, healthcare, transport, etc.]. Our target is to assign 26GHz this year, mainly for Dubai Expo 2020, as the system is available,” he said.

The Dubai Expo, which is expected to be the most technologically advanced so far, is opening on October 20 this year and ends on April 10 next year.

For mobile operators and other connectivity providers, low (below 1GHz) and mid-bands (1GHz to 6GHz) have always formed the backbone of spectrum portfolios. The emergence of the mmWave frequencies (between 24GHz and 86GHz) can help to deliver some of the high capacity coverage and very low latency required for 5G.

The C-band (3.4GHz to 3.8GHz) and 2.6GHz frequencies are widely used by the telecom operators in the Middle East, Africa and Europe for 5G networks.

In the UAE, both the telecom operators – Etisalat and du – are using the C-band for 5G.

It is the C-band and 2.6GHz frequencies that give wider coverage and indoor coverage and it is better in the C-band when compared to mmWave. 

The C-band can provide a good amount of spectrum for 5G when compared to 4G LTE but when you look at specific scenarios in hotspots, such as stadiums and big events, where much higher throughput or uploads is needed in a limited coverage area, then mmWave will be much needed but the pitfall is that the coverage will be very limited and the waves do not pass through walls.

However, investments on mmWave are between 5 and 10 times more than the C-band to get the same coverage.

In the US, 5G is beamed on mmWave.

A viable option

Krishna Chinta, Program Manager for Telecoms and IoT at International Data Corporation (IDC), said that the millimetre wave spectrum is emerging as a viable option for 5G connectivity. 

“It is being tested by a few international telecom operators and the initial test results are proving to be promising. The millimetre wave allows for high bandwidth data communication, supports low latency applications, however, it is known for experiencing signal loss when passing through foliage or buildings,” he said. 

To overcome this challenge, he said that telecom operators are deploying closely spaced base stations called ‘small cells’. By combining this with the capabilities of massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology, he added that telecom operators are aiming to cover densely populated areas and support very high bandwidth and low latency applications.

However, Chinta said that the 5G technology is not fully evolved yet as 3GPP’s release 16 standards on carrier aggregation are not expected to be available before March 2020 and release 17 standards on common API framework will only be available in 2021.

As part of the 5G strategy, Al Awadi said that TRA will start working will all the different verticals and hold workshops this year and see what latency and throughput they are looking for, where they want to do it and how.

 “It will take time to attain a latency of one millisecond with 5G as the standard is not yet ready. Our target is to attain 1ms or 2ms in five years. Right now, the latency on 5G is about 30ms. We will study where to put what kind of frequencies and it all depends on the use cases and the development of the standardisation (GSMA, 3GPP, ITU),” he said.

Moreover, he said that each vertical will have a steering group which consists of TRA, government entities, vendors, telecom operators.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest 5G market in the region, is not yet ready for mmWave.

Mohammed Al Janoobi, Director for Frequency International Coordination at Communications and Information Technology Commission, Saudi Arabia, said that the Kingdom does not have use cases for mmWave yet.

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