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Innovating across a nation – a testbed for the future

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5G is one of the most used buzzwords in technology today. Its potential is vast, possibly turning entire cities and nations into giant laboratories. Given that, next generation technologies can be rapidly introduced and scaled across increasingly large populations thanks to higher bandwidth, lower latency and reduced costs.

Both countries and companies alike are racing to be the first to introduce commercially viable 5G services. Pilot projects are numerous and the rhetoric over 5G’s impact is soaring. Some estimate that 40 per cent of the world’s population will be covered by 5G networks by 2024.

Enabling next generation technology

The benefits of 5G are probably vast. It is with consumers, and their mobile phones, where the lowest hanging fruit can be found. For example, in 2017, the mobile industry contributed around four per cent of the Middle East and North Africa’s GDP. This $165 billion is expected to grow to over $200 billion by 2022, partly thanks to the benefits associated with 5G.

In addition to consumers enjoying faster download speeds and augmented and virtual reality on their mobile phones, 5G will also underpin the next generation of technologies. For example, the amount of data demanded and generated by autonomous vehicles will be too large for current networks. Ultimately, driverless vehicles will only be able to function thanks to 5G technology.

5G could also drive a raft of innovation in healthcare, such as the mass uptake of wearable devices to monitor at risk patients, enabling preventative medicines. At the same time, creating the ability for surgeons to remotely carry out complex operations, increasing efficiency by concentrating expertise, whilst also expanding access for patients.

5G’s introduction could also accelerate manufacturers relying on data collection and predictive analytics, to not only differentiate their products, but to make them more reliable and cost effective. It could also make the manufacturing process itself more efficient as skilled technicians utilise augmented reality to complete complex design and manufacturing tasks.

Overcoming the barriers to adoption

However, there is much to be done to make this vision a reality. Regulators face hurdles in creating a supportive environment for innovation; balancing and maintaining technical standards, encouraging consumer take up, and enabling technological experimentation. In Bahrain, we are committed to designing an agile regulatory environment, not only for 5G, but for other transformative technologies as well, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.

Technology companies must also provide cost-effective and efficient equipment, that gives end-users the confidence that their data is safe and secure. Trust is becoming ever more important and will continue to be central to realising the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including 5G. That is why individual consumers must be put at the heart of all we do when it comes to developing the potential of 5G.

Bahrain as a testbed

Having overcome these barriers, we are delighted that Bahrain will become one of the first countries in the world to offer commercial 5G services in June this year. Bahrain is at the forefront of innovation, not just in pockets or special zones, but spread across our entire country. We are a nationwide testbed.

Such success is testament to our collaborative approach, which we call Team Bahrain, and sees the public and private sectors work hand-in-glove to deliver mutually beneficial projects. Collaboration was not only key to the successful launch of 5G, but it will also be crucial to its future success. Governments, regulators, startups and multinationals must work together to design the new products and services that take advantage of 5G’s potential.

Early adopters will have an advantage, enjoying the benefits of higher growth and employment quicker than those rolling out 5G at a slower pace. Early adoption will also accelerate the transition of nations to crucibles of innovation, moving from a disparate collection of pilot projects to an integrated technology ecosystem fit for the future.