5G Opens Huge Opportunity in Middle East and Africa

This article originally appeared in SAMENA Trends and is republished here with permission.

Imagine a future where nearly every machine is connected to ubiquitous, high-speed mobile networks that empower a new world of real-time experiences. Think of cars that safely drive themselves, buildings that regulate their electrical and water systems, and doctors that monitor patients’ vital signs and make diagnoses remotely in real time. This is the promise of the next generation of mobile technology known as 5G, and it’s already being rolled out in some parts of the world.

Syniverse has been right in the thick of helping both mobile operators and enterprises prepare for 5G, and as one of our most recent initiatives, we unveiled the results of a major 5G study at MWC Barcelona earlier this year. To prepare for the seismic shift this technology is bringing to the mobile landscape, we conducted a study to assess one of the big unknowns with 5G: How will mobile operators actually begin to make use of 5G to provide new services for enterprises, and how important a part will these services play in operators’ business models?

The findings from our 5G study along with other recent customer work point to several crucial insights that Middle East and Africa (MEA) operators should use to prepare as they proceed with their 5G rollouts. MEA’s large population, surging mobile data use, and lack of fixed-line internet connectivity in regions such as Africa offer a sizable opportunity for 5G in the next few years, and we’re looking forward to helping mobile operators and enterprises make the most of this new technology standard.  

Study: Operators Looking Forward to 5G, but not Prepared for It
To find out how operators will use 5G to deliver new services for enterprises and how important these services will be in operators’ business models, we partnered with Heavy Reading to conduct a global survey of operators and better understand their 5G preparations. We found that despite operators’ enthusiasm for opening new revenue streams with enterprises and their optimism in taking a leading role in providing new 5G enterprise services, there are several concerns about whether these operators are in a position to realize these goals.

Here are some of our findings:

  • A majority of respondents (69%) expect to launch 5G commercially before end 2021; but 72% don’t expect 5G to be a mass-market commercial service until 2022 or later.
  • Operators expect 5G commercial strategies to be evolutionary (63%) rather than disruptive (33%).
  • The survey shows a clear swing from consumer to enterprise in 5G, with a combined 59% of the response expecting enterprise to grow in importance. A cohort of market leaders (20%) say they are already well-advanced and confident in their enterprise strategy; a further 26% feel they have a “well-formed strategy,” but are not yet “very confident.”

What this means for MEA is that many operators are optimistic about driving new revenues from enterprise 5G opportunities. At the same time, many have yet to develop the underlying payment, partnership, and interoperability systems that will allow a 5G ecosystem to monetize itself and flourish.

Importantly, 5G represents a significantly expanded ecosystem in terms of technology components, stakeholders, and spheres of influence for both the enterprise and consumer domains. For this reason, building effective partnerships across the board will be key to the full monetization of 5G.  

Key Factors for 5G Rollout
In addition to our study, through our recent customer work and industry participation, we have identified several additional factors that will be critical to successful 5G rollout in MEA.

  1. Availability – Timely availability of spectrum, chipsets, modems, routers, platforms and devices will be crucial to an early launch of 5G services and applications.
  2. 5G and LTE co-existence – As operators start to deploy 5G, they will likely leverage their existing LTE coverage alongside 5G in the short to medium term through 5G and LTE co-existence options. To do this, most operators are deploying 5G in what is called a Non Stand-Alone option. This allows operators to maximize the return of their LTE current investment. But to do this, operators need to have a clear strategy and well-defined road map in place to ensure 5G-LTE interworking.
  3. Migration paths to 5G – There are several migration paths to 5G. They will  depend on how much spectrum operators have available to roll out 5G in a wide area and what their business models are for launching initial 5G services.
  4. Managing the impact – Once operators have determined the migration path to 5G, they will have to carefully assess and manage the impact on devices, networks and service continuity and determine how IMS services like VoLTE and RCS will work. 
  5. Global reach – Operators must also continue to focus on expanding their reach to as many LTE networks to offer the widest coverage for their users. IPX has emerged as a fundamental backbone for LTE and other next-generation services, and this technology will play a crucial role in allowing operators to efficiently achieve this global reach.
  6. Ensuring roaming and interoperability – Enabling ubiquitous LTE roaming has presented big challenges to operators because roaming and interoperability require the testing of a number of processes. These have included signaling processes between new technologies and legacy systems, wholesale clearing and settlement processes, and exchange of payment records. How well operators are able to solve these challenges for 5G will be a key factor in the success of their rollout.

MEA will soon see a dynamic phase of mobile development with unprecedented demands for high-speed, high-capacity networks. 5G will be crucial in enabling this phase. However, based on our latest study and recent customer work, despite operators’ enthusiasm for new 5G enterprise services and revenue streams, it’s important that they prepare for 5G’s future challenges as much as its present ones. 

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    #WeAreSyniverse, the world’s most connected company.

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