LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 MENA, DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will be among the first to launch commercial 5G services, with the number of connections across the region expected to hit 50 million by 2025, a new report from the GSMA said.

The study estimates 30 per cent of the region’s population will have access to 5G network technology by 2025 – challenging levels predicted in the most developed markets in Asia and North America. The report predicts the first launches during 2020, from the likes of Etisalat and Ooredoo, in the region’s dense urban areas.

In addition to the launch of 5G, the penetration rate of earlier generation technology is also expected to increase. Currently half of all mobile connections in MENA are 3G or 4G. By 2020, this is predicted to rise to 70 per cent.

The figures were published as part of the GSMA’s study The Mobile Economy: Middle East and North Africa 2017, unveiled this morning at the Mobile 360 MENA conference in Dubai.

As well as producing forecasts, the report also revealed the region had 365 million subscribers at end-2016, accounting for 63 per cent of the population. This is expected to rise to 65 per cent (399 million subcribers) by 2020.

Smartphone adoption is also predicted to continue strong growth, with the number in operation across the region tipped to increase to 463 million by 2020, up by 167 million from the end of 2016.

Diverse region
Due to the dynamics of the region, the report said, overall mobile penetration rates are skewed by markets with well above-average numbers of connections and others well below average.

Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE, for example, have rates over 90 per cent – making them among the most advanced in the world, whereas across Comoros, Somalia and Djibouti fewer than a third of people have mobile handsets.

Discussing the findings, GSMA director general Mats Granryd said: “Mobile is having an incredible impact across this diverse region, ushering in an era of innovative tech startups and new mobile services, as well as helping to connect the unconnected.”

“At the same time, we urge operators to continue investment in 4G networks to ensure future growth and encourage governments to set policies that promote technological, social and economic progress to create a society where all citizens can benefit from mobile technology,” he added.