With 62m 5G subscriptions by 2026, the GCC will be the second-highest in the world after North America in the adoption of the latest mobile network technology, according to Swedish telecom firm Ericsson.
Additionally, 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580m globally by the end of 2021, driven by an estimated 1m new 5G mobile subscriptions every day.
As of mid-2020, 5G subscriptions in the Gulf countries had already passed 500,000, although 4G remained the dominant technology, accounting for about 80pc of subscriptions at the end of 2020.
In speedtest results from Ookla, 5G networks throughout the region have average download speeds six to 10 times greater than 4G.
GCC service providers are using 5G network performance as a key to differentiation in a highly competitive market. In 2026, 80pc of total mobile data traffic in the GCC countries is forecast to be carried by 5G networks, as per the report.
The forecast enhances the expectation that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation and about 3.5bn 5G subscriptions and 60pc 5G population coverage are expected by the end of 2026.
The report features breakout statistics from GCC markets for the first time where government-sponsored digital initiatives are accelerating both technological innovations and the expected 5G uptake. In 2019, GCC markets were among the first in the world to launch commercial 5G services.
Driven by Saudi Vision 2030 and its digital initiatives to fulfil the strategic themes of Building A Thriving Economy and Fueling an Ambitious Nation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is utilising technologies such as 5G to transform the economic and social landscape of the nation.
As one of the leading economies in the GCC, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is supporting the use and growth of technologies such as 5G in a region where mobile data consumption is the highest in the world. According to the report, at the end of 2020, the GCC had the highest average monthly data traffic per smartphone in the world, exceeding 18GB.
Globally 5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone. Key factors behind that include China’s earlier commitment to 5G and the earlier availability and increasing affordability of commercial 5G devices. More than 300 5G smartphone models have already been announced or launched commercially.
This commercial 5G momentum is expected to continue in coming years, spurred by the enhanced role of connectivity as a key component of post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
Commenting on the report, Mathias Johansson, Vice President and Head of Ericsson Saudi Arabia and Egypt, said: “The 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report is a landmark edition which, for the first time, includes specific GCC data. The report is a testimony to the fruition of the Kingdom’s hard work to realising the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, particularly in the vision of a developed digital infrastructure. 5G-powered digitalisation is vital, especially with the world of digitally-enabled experiences like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and Internet of Things (IoT).”
Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks at Ericsson, added: “This landmark 20th edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report shows that we are in the next phase of 5G, with accelerating roll-outs and coverage expansion in pioneer markets. Now is the time for advanced use cases to start materialising and deliver on the promise of 5G. Businesses and societies are also preparing for a post-pandemic world, with 5G-powered digitalisation playing a critical role.”