Etisalat aims to cover about 30% of the populated areas of the UAE with 5G this year with 1,000 base stations planned.
“We have deployed 70% or 700 bases stations in the UAE so far and on target to deploy 1,000 base stations,” Saeed Al Zarouni, senior vice-president for mobile network at etisalat, said.
Etisalat, which operates in 15 markets across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, is the first operator to launch a commercial 5G wireless network in the Middle East and North Africa territory by installing a 5G base station at Dubai Expo 2020 site in May last year.
Al Zarouni said that the Dubai Expo 2020 site alone will have 200 base stations for 5G.
“We are making sure that our network will be able to support and enable all the technologies and services that visitors will use and enjoy at the expo site,” he said.
Etisalat had signed agreements with Ericsson and Huawei to roll out 5G networks in the UAE.
The telecom operator expects to have 40% of the populated areas covered with 5G next year but Al Zarouni said that further coverage will depend on the demand.
He admitted that the demand for 5G smartphones from Huawei, Oppo and ZTE have been slow but expects demand to pick up as more vendors join the bandwagon.
Samsung is expected to launch its 5G device by the end of this month.
Moreover, he said that the demand for 5G services will grow further with more use cases for both customers and enterprises set to increase.
Critical enabler for fourth industrial revolution
Etisalat is collaborating with customers on 5G to deliver a long-term value across entertainment, logistics, automotive, smart cities, energy and utilities.
“We firmly believe that 5G is a critical enabler for the fourth industrial revolution, providing opportunities in both connectivity and beyond connectivity. It will also create new opportunities and novel use cases and improve productivity across key verticals such as public safety, surveillance, smart city, ports, logistics, oil and gas, transportation, manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, energy and utilities,” he said.
Many operators across the globe are beaming 5G over the existing 4G infrastructure, known as non-standalone architecture, as the final frequency for 5G is not yet fixed. The standalone architecture means beaming 5G over the dedicated spectrum.
TRA has allocated the C band (3.3GHz-3.8GHz, where satellite operators also use these frequencies) for 5G deployment in the UAE.
“We have two spectrum ranges now (3.5GHz and 2.6GHz) which gives us wider coverage. We are also working with 3GPP for allocating different lower-band spectrums, instead of the higher bands, for wider coverage and high speed,” Al Zarouni said.
The 3.5GHz and 2.6GHz are used worldwide for 5G but some countries in North America have deployed millimetre-wave (between 24 GHz and 86GHz) and they are pushing for the C-band with ITU to have wider coverage.
The new frequency bands for 5G deployment will be finalised when ITU (International Telecommunications Union) members meet at the World Radio Communication Conference (WRC) 2019 in Egypt.
The WRC takes place between October 28 to November 22 and is organised by the ITU to review and revise radio regulations.
When asked how important is millimetre-wave for Etisalat, he said that it will bring added capacity to the UAE but right now the focus in on other spectrum ranges.
“We have been working for the 2.6GHz spectrum four years ago and we have started to work for the 700MHz and 1,400MHz with the ITU and 3GPP for the future,” he said.