Mid-band 5G spectrum crucial to economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa

5G is developing across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Gulf countries have acted as 5G pioneers and their governments and regulators have awarded 5G launch spectrum for mobile operators to deploy some of the world’s first and fastest 5G networks. Looking beyond the Gulf at the whole MENA region, we see different phases of development and, in places, a need for robust spectrum capacity plans.

New data from GSMA Intelligence shows, for the first time, the specific economic impact of 5G using mid-band spectrum. MENA’s diverse economies will benefit greatly from 5G, with mid-band expected to contribute $16 billion in additional GDP in 2030, or 0.35% of the region’s GDP.

As the region seeks to emerge from the uncertain environment of the pandemic, mobile will continue to have a role to play in delivering economic opportunity. Productivity gains made in the 2010s, through the development of 4G, helped the world to teach, talk, carry out transactions and do business more efficiently. Today these benefits are bound tightly into the global economy and a new phase of development can now come from the deep integration of 5G into our lives, societies, and businesses.

The GSMA Intelligence report outlines how, with the right regulatory tools, 5G can become a central pillar of MENA’s economic development strategies and benefit sectors including oil, gas and manufacturing. Healthcare, education and public administration – including smart cities – can start a new wave of economic growth.

Spectrum capacity for GDP impact

An average of 2 GHz of mid-band spectrum is required in the 2025-2030 timeframe for 5G. In MENA, that goal leaves a shortfall of 0.85 GHz beyond today’s assignments. While the region is starting to move closer to the 2 GHz figure already, there is still work to be done. The upper 6 GHz band will be one important source of spectrum capacity while the upper 3.5 GHz band (3.8-4.2 GHz) may provide some of the extra bandwidth.

GSMA Intelligence analysed the impact of assigning less than the 2 GHz average mid-band need. The analysis shows that, under spectrum constrained to today’s assignments, up to 40% of the positive economic impact could be lost.

If spectrum is limited to current levels as demand for services grows, increased network congestion and deployment costs will stifle 5G. Network quality and speed will suffer, limiting 5G adoption and its economic impact.

Manufacturing delivers 5G promise

In terms of economic sector contribution, 5G mid-band is expected to drive significant benefits in manufacturing, public administration, oil & gas and services across MENA. The fact that 5G will deliver the strongest growth in this manufacturing is not surprising. The sector is continually looking to improve the productivity of its processes, reduce costs and remain competitive on the global stage. It is well-placed to take advantage of the expanding deployment of 5G and the services and opportunities that will arise from pervasive and ubiquitous connectivity. Predictive maintenance, machine vision and XR are all elements of a wide range of 5G applications that manufacturing can exploit.

Public administration will produce 15% of the GDP impact of mid-band 5G in MENA. Smart city projects across the region are expected to herald an era of digital transformation with fully automated ecosystems powered by 5G smart city grids, e-government and autonomous vehicles. Here, intelligent traffic systems (ITS) can use AI-based traffic monitoring and real-time video analysis to make our cities less congested, cleaner and more productive.

The coming years will decide the extent to which 5G can deliver on its promise in the MENA region. Spectrum is required to provide fast, affordable services. Governments and industry need to work together on this – through WRC-23 and in national processes – to ensure that 5G can power a new phase of economic growth.

To find out more about the socio-economic benefits of mid-band 5G services, download the report here.