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A wave of commercial 5G launches by operators in the advanced Gulf markets has put them among the first in the world to offer the new technology.

At the beginning of June, Etisalat became the first operator in the Middle East to offer a commercial 5G service with the launch of a 5G-enabled smartphone, the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G, in its home market of the UAE. Etisalat said its 5G network was available in central districts of several of the UAE's main cities including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. Within a couple of weeks, Etisalat's local rival in the UAE, Du, had also launched commercial mobile 5G with the same ZTE smartphone.

In mid-June, two operators in Kuwait – Zain and Viva – began to sell 5G routers, made by Huawei, for 5G-based fixed-wireless broadband (FWB). A few days later, STC, Saudi Arabia's incumbent operator, also started to sell 5G routers for FWB. At the beginning of July, Batelco, Bahrain's incumbent operator, said it had launched commercial mobile 5G services with a 5G smartphone from Xiaomi, the Mi Mix 3.

The high average incomes in the Gulf markets combined with official backing for technologies that encourage ambitious national development plans made it almost certain that they would see early launches of 5G. Factors such as the current scarcity of 5G devices will constrain initial take-up of 5G in the Gulf markets, but those constraints will ease and within a few years 5G will account for a significant share of the mobile market in the advanced Gulf Cooperation Council bloc (the GCC, which comprises Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE).

Ovum forecasts that there will be 21.86 million mobile 5G subscriptions in the GCC at end-2023, representing 21.2% of the 103.17 million mobile subscriptions in the bloc.

Initially, the main use of 5G in the GCC markets, as elsewhere around the world, will be for faster broadband services. But from 2020 onwards, as 5G technology evolves and incorporates additional capabilities, new 5G-based services are expected to emerge.

In the GCC, there are good prospects for using 5G in intelligent transport and logistics systems; for managing public infrastructure; and for automation in oil and gas and other industrial sectors.

In addition, two major public events coming up in the region – the Expo 2020 exhibition in Dubai and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022 – are expected to give impetus to the development of 5G services.

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