Industry Thought Leadership

Cross-Industry Synergies in the Enablement of 5G

July, 2020
Fahad Al Ali
Chief Technology Officer

stc Kuwait

The rollout of 5G networks is progressing rapidly around the world and bringing new value to communities as well as industries of all sizes. By the end of May 2020, over 380 operators in 125 countries and territories had announced they were investing in 5G. In Kuwait, stc announced the 1st nationwide launch of commercial 5G networks in June 2019. Today there are over 3,000 5G base stations covering over 90% of the population in Kuwait, and stc will keep enhancing the network capabilities and the digitization to improve the online sales/delivery efficiency for consumer, home, and businesses in the country.

As part of that rapid progress, a mature ecosystem is now helping accelerate 5G commercialization. Consumers may see this as more affordable 5G smartphones and hundreds of other devices leverage 5G connectivity-such as cloud gaming, and AR/VR. On a business front, 5G is inspiring new industrial models around the world, and we are learning from those experiences. In places like China, industries from education to agriculture are being supported by hundreds of 5G-powered applications, with more under validation every day. Meanwhile in Europe, logistics, manufacturing, and other domains are swiftly building their own 5G model. Global telecommunications operators are also capitalizing on a “3C approach” (Camera + Connection + Cloud) to drive revenue growth, again underscored by the 5G network.

Regional 5G strategies
The Middle East has been home to pioneers in 5G commercialization and service innovation since 2018. That immense power of 5G connectivity and services are now well and truly a reality. We believe 5G will be part of the entire region’s future in the near term as all the necessary stakeholders, including government, operators, and industries, have been working together to nurture 5G commercial applications and mature industrial chains. This is helping to push the whole 5G industry forward in a steady and sustainable way, and has encouraged the gathering of operators, vendors, and vertical industry partners to jointly explore 5G use cases from around the world. Today more than 70 partners are actively working to bring diverse 5G services into the Middle East through that program, while promoting closed-loop business models between operators and partners.

Approximately one year on from the first 5G networks being unveiled in the Middle East, we now have a breadth of use cases at our fingertips. These include the success of Fixed Wireless Access for home, 5G private lines for businesses, and smart campus enablement networks. Many others are being explored such as gaming, VR/AR, autonomous vehicles, and so on. In particular, the combination of 5G and AI solutions is proving incredibly beneficial to the region. We have seen this in 2020 in the context of COVID-19 as smarter, 5G-enabled technologies such as zero-touch 5G + AI temperature detection, remote collaboration systems, and more are helping in the fight against the pandemic.

While we have clearly built momentum, accelerating 5G development across the region still requires a concerted effort by governments and policymakers to release appropriate and affordable mobile spectrum. As per industry experts and proven experiences in other parts of the world, the spectrum for 5G should ideally start in what is called the 100MHz bandwidth, with additional spectrum bands considered so that there is a seamless transition between today’s networks and future 5G networks. We have great confidence that this allocation can be done smoothly and will bring the benefits of 5G to more people and businesses over the next 12 months.

Enabling future digital transformation
Knowing that there is great momentum for 5G both globally and in the Middle East today, I am often asked about what the future holds for Kuwait specifically, and what will be stc’s role in that future.

As a leader in enabling the digital transformation of Kuwait, we are constantly exploring new services and platforms that can bring value to the society. We are proud that Kuwait was among the pioneers of countries in the commercialization 5G network in the Middle East. stc has led 5G network development and commercialization in Kuwait with over 1,750 5G sites, 300Mbps average service speed, 180,000 TDD users and 20,000 5G users, and over 170TB of 5G traffic by May 2020.

For consumers, stc is the market leader in MIFI package, which is designed to bring 5G Giga experience to customers, and 5G indoor coverage already started in top malls. Now stc’s 5G network is being optimized for the 5G smartphone boom, which is expected to accelerate in Q3 of this year. The target is to provide continuous and seamless 5G coverage in a network that will be heavily dominated by 5G mobile users. Indoor 5G coverage in top malls has already become a reality, for example.. In areas like gaming, stc is also currently talking to TENCENT on ways to collaborate, and how to guarantee the best 5G network experience for popular games such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (a.k.a. PUBG) in Kuwait.

For homes, a speed-based 5G fixed wireless solution now empowers homes with Giga-level internet connections. This is being complemented with the mesh Wi-Fi solution in order to provide seamless and continuous Giga-throughput coverage at homes, especially in larger and 2-3 level homes. Volume-based packages are increasingly competitive in the whole region as well as in Kuwait, but speed-based and experience-based packages still have good space to improve. We believe that wireless, speed-based packages in particular will be key to providing the stable experiences people expect, and will also have a much shorter time-to-market compared to fiber.

Services tailored for businesses are also incredibly important in the 5G era. Back in August 2019, stc launched the world’s first speed-based 5G Data Access commercial service, which aimed at creating high-quality broadband access to local enterprises. Currently more than 150 businesses are using stc’s 5G data access solution, which features low costs and fast time-to-market compared to microwave offerings. 5G “Dedicated Access” through SA is covering SME’s requirements during this pandemic period and supporting top banks’ mobile data access, such as the mobile ATM branch. Thanks to 5G “Dedicated Access”, users can now directly talk to an NBK Agent using audio and video conferencing to conduct transactions like issuing a debit card, depositing or cashing a check, and more.

In the oil and gas sector, the traditional solutions such a SCADA data transfer used in the exploration, drilling, production and refinery of oil and gas, are now being replaced with 5G-based applications such as CCTV monitoring, drone inspection, AR assistants, and so on. With data security of particular importance, 5G MEC support is now a key mandatory requirement for that industry.

In short, we feel well prepared to lead 5G network development in Kuwait and the wider Middle East. stc was among the first operators in the MENA region to launch a 5G standalone network, and we will keep improving our services and delivery efficiencies, implement network slicing strategies, all while extending network capabilities to end-users in consumer, home, and business scenarios. This will ultimately be centered on product and solution innovations to enhance the user experience.