Bahrain is moving towards complete rollout of 5G telecom networks, but it could take time until the technology is available nationwide.
The initial phase commenced in June, after both Batelco and VIVA Bahrain invested in 5G networks.
However, an expert told GDN the cost involved meant it made sense to start in locations with higher potential for returns.
That is because of the expense involved in replacing or upgrading equipment, explained Navneet Sharma, director for IT at the audit and advisory firm Grant Thornton Abdulaal.
He added demand for the service would be driven by the availability of compatible devices and applications.
“As the government works towards creation of a digital services hub across the region, a highly available network is good for business and economic growth”, he added.
Unlike cable-based services, 5G will eventually give operators low entry costs and the availability to serve highly dense urban environments that have traditionally suffered from poor connectivity.
It paves the way for mobile networks with top speeds of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) – a hundred times faster than current 4G technology.
This allows for real-time monitoring and control, which is necessary for Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, ‘smart cities’ and always-connected networks, explained Mr. Sharma.
“A 5G-based mobile ecosystem is a must for industries like 3D printing, smart factories, autonomous transportation, remote healthcare and retail,” he added.
The global 5G services market is anticipated to grow from an estimated $60 billion in 2020 to $125bn in 2025.
VIVA Bahrain launched its home broadband 5G network on June 27, offering speeds in excess of 1 Gbps, greater connectivity and lower latency.
The Company partnered with Chinese technology giant Huawei for the project, which was initially made available in selected areas.
A spokesman said its 5G network was being expanded.
“This is being evolved to expand our reach and increase the number of 5G locations to meet the rising demand of our customers, who are becoming more Internet-savvy and are looking for real-time and on-the-go products and services,” he said.
He added the 5G ecosystem was still developing and needed time to become a mass market technology, due to there being very few 5G devices in the market.
“Within the current 5G locations we have, and with our advanced network and infrastructure readiness, we have successfully been able to provide our customers with faster Internet speed and better gaming and video streaming capabilities, since 5G networks have lower latency facilitating real time applications,” the spokesperson added.
VIVA says its 5G network lets users experience ultimate gaming services and 3D 8K video, while also giving superior access to IoT-enabled smart applications such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
The company is offering the Huawei Mate 20X as a 5G capable smartphone.
Batelco also announced the commercial launch of its 5G network in June, followed by the availability of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 – a 5G supported device.
Batelco signed up with Ericsson for its 5G network, announcing nationwide deployment in phases at key locations.
It added the new technology was set to be introduced gradually over the next three years internationally.
Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has told the GDN it allocated similar amounts of spectrum to all operators, giving them equal opportunity to launch 5G services.
“Their keenness to invest in a new network and rolling it out is partially dependent on the availability of equipment and handsets, which end users would utilise on the network,” a spokesman said.
He added 5G service availability was wholly dependent on the business plans of individual mobile service providers.
The TRA expects that, paired with the rollout of the National Broadband Network, 5G will allow operators to offer new products to bigger market players keen on investing in Bahrain, such as business that can benefit from cyber-physical systems and other IoT applications in smart manufacturing, telemedicine and smart city management systems.