Planning ahead is key to set the scene for 5G in the MENA region

Widespread 5G adoption is growing, with 1.7 billion 5G connections forecasted by 2025. Part of the MENA region has already proven itself as a 5G pioneer. There is now a chance to build up that momentum and fully take advantage of all the opportunities this technology unlocks, ensuring the full region’s future prosperity.

To see how governments and regulators, in collaboration with mobile operators, can help deliver this vision, the GSMA has published the “Roadmaps for awarding 5G spectrum in the MENA region” report. It looks at the current mobile services and spectrum status in non-GCC countries across MENA. The report sets out a roadmap to help governments and regulators enable 5G the most efficient way, also providing recommendations based on international best practice.

While timings may differ, what remains important is to make decisions that promote effective 5G rollouts, in order to prioritise capacity, coverage and affordability. It is an unescapable fact that effective 5G rollouts are only possible if mobile operators have timely access to the right amount of affordable spectrum, under the right conditions. Policy makers should aim to make available 80-100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (e.g. 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in high-bands (e.g. mmWave spectrum, such as 26 and 28 GHz). Spectrum in coverage bands, such as 700 MHz, is also needed to make the 5G vision available to everyone.

The first move on the path to success is a spectrum roadmap, that, step-by-step, sets out the plan from possibilities to awards. Importantly, although the steps may be the same for every country, the detailed activities and timing under each may vary. A vital part of the roadmap process is the spectrum clearance and defragmentation. Consultations with interested parties during the process is, therefore, key to success.

Planning and licensing approaches may vary depending on some factors, such as (i) the density of mobile use in the country, as well as the current development of 4G, (ii) the plan on moving incumbents to alternative frequency bands or technologies, and (iii) the foreseen impact on services and users.

The 3.5 GHz range (3.3 GHz-4.2 GHz) has quickly become the prime option for commercial 5G deployments worldwide. Its ability to provide coverage and capacity combined with global availability makes it the ideal candidate. The initial focus on this range is also leading to a rapidly developing ecosystem, with the launch of increasingly affordable devices.

For already assigned spectrum, it may be necessary to realign the band assignments to provide contiguous ranges. Technology neutrality of spectrum is also critical for a faster 5G adoption, when it is time, in order to maximise spectrum efficiency.

We truly hope our new report can help support guiding this process. You can download it here in English and here in French.

This blog post is also available in Arabic and French.

We also offer a wealth of additional information on 5G spectrum. To dig deeper, we highly recommend you take a look at the following positions papers and reports:

5G Spectrum – Public Policy Position
Mobile Networks for Industry Verticals – Public Policy Position
5G TDD Synchronisation – Guidelines and Recommendations

They are all part of the GSMA’s guide to 5G spectrum, which you can find here.