Rapid Stunning Growth of 5G Network in Asia

The 5th generation of mobile network standard, or the 5G, has been widely deployed around many countries since its introduction a few years ago. The reasons behind the increased deployments are simple — 5G promises faster internet. 

Reports have been saying that the 5G’s faster speed and lower latency compared to its previous standard can create new business opportunities and benefit the tech industry, which heavily relies on wired connectivity. For example, the latest tech trends, such as the metaverse or non-fungible tokens, can reach out to a wider audience and increase their user base with the help of 5G.

Governments and businesses that wish to pioneer the industry, therefore, went after the expansion of the 5G network. The global mobile penetration rate will reach 70 percent, and the 5G penetration rate will record 21 percent by the end of 2025, according to the GSMA Mobile Economy report presented at the last year’s MWC. 

Asian countries, especially spearheaded by China, will be showing higher growth of 5G networks than other regions. China will account for almost half of the 5G subscriptions worldwide by 2025. Other Asian countries, like Thailand and Malaysia, are also taking initiatives to expand the coverage of 5G across their territories.

4i Magazine reviews some of the latest policies and issues around the 5G standard in the Asian region.

Thailand: ‘Thailand 5G Alliance’

Last June, Thai announced at the Thailand 5G summit that the government agencies would work with organisations and businesses from the private sector to make the “Thailand 5G Alliance”. It is the first 5G alliance that has been established in the Southeast Asia region, according to GSMA. 

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the alliance would accelerate the network to promote next-generation technologies and economic growth from a wide range of business sectors, from education to transportation. He added that the alliance would help the nation to become the centre of digital industry and investment hub amongst the ASEAN member states. 

The alliance will promote using 5G and roll out relevant guidelines and policies to “commercially drive Thailand’s 5G technology” and “elevate the country’s competitive advantages towards Thailand’s 4.0 era”.

According to the reports, the alliance will be led by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. The ministry will provide a policy framework and action plans to secure wider coverage of the 5G network and find more applications. It will also look for ways to establish an infrastructure supporting the relevant technology.

The alliance’s founding members will be governmental agencies and private organisations, including Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency, and industry associations and private sector businesses, such as the Office of the Digital Economy and Society Commission, the Office of The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the Federation of Thai Industries, Advanced Info Service plc, and Huawei. 

As one of the founding members, Huawei said in a press release shortly after the announcement that it will actively participate in the alliance to boost the country’s 5G capabilities.

“5G technology is a critical element in digital transformation, but it’s not a full solution in and of itself,” Huawei Asia Pacific president Simon Lin said. “So, beyond connectivity, Huawei will work with the industry to build a range of capabilities in areas like industry application, end-to-end system integration, and innovation ecosystem.”

Thailand first sold 5G services to the operates in February 2020. The first company that launched its 5G service in the market was AIS.

5G Asia

Malaysia: Focusing on Applications of 5G Networks

The mobile service operators in Malaysia offer over 90 percent population coverage in urban areas as of today. The number of 5G network stations skyrocketed from 100 in late 2021 to over 800 this May, and industry experts expect the numbers to approach 1,300 by July.

The government has also been very active in deploying the 5G network nationwide. It founded the Digital Nasional Berhad, run by the country’s Communications and Multimedia Commission and owned by the Ministry of Finance, to lead the development of 5G infrastructure in March 2021. The state-owned company delivered the marketable 5G network to the customers in 11 months.

YTL Communications, one of the biggest mobile network operators in the country, says that the growth of 5G is not driven by the mere numbers of stations but by “industry verticals” — businesses and organisations that seek ways to apply the network, like as in IoT or artificial intelligence. 

Wing Lee, the CEO of YTL Communications, said that the network’s quality and coverage are good enough for commercialisation. “We launched a smart ambulance service using 5G. YTL will continue to drive meaningful use cases. 5G is not just cheap SIM cards, which is just a consumer point. The real point about 5G is about transformation for various industries,” Lee was quoted as saying by Mobile World Live

Mobile World Live reported that the telecommunication company recently started to target schools and smart manufacturing services. The company recently launched a smart ambulance service powered by the 5G network.

“5G is not just cheap SIM cards, which is just a consumer point. The real point about 5G is about transformation for various industries,” Lee said in the interview.

China: Reaching 900 Million 5G Subscriptions

The latest report from the GSMA showed that the growth of 5G penetration was slower than expected in Europe and North America. The report predicted the rates to reach 87 and 85 percent by 2025, with a one percentage point increase in each. The subscriber penetration rates of Europe and North America were 86 and 84 percent in 2020, respectively. 

The report said that the country was already the largest 5G market in 2021, as over 75 percent of the total global subscriptions were from China. On the other hand, China’s penetration rate in 2020 was 83 percent, and the expected rate in 2025 is 85 percent. Moreover, the report forecasted that the market share of the 5G network will grow up to 48 percent by 2025.

The number of 5G subscribers has been growing quickly since the country started its 5G service in September 2019. The report said there will be more than 820 million 5G connections in China by 2025, accounting for more than half of the estimated global connections by then.

Rapid 5G development in China owes to the government’s support, the large population, and mobile network suppliers like Huawei. The suppliers have been actively introducing subscription plans for their customers, and they’re on the verge of hitting the 900 million subscriptions mark, reports say.

By the end of May, China Mobile (18.2 million), Rival China Telecom (7 million), and China Unicorn (4.9 million) added another 30.1 million subscribers to their 5G services. The subscription number in China then becomes 899.3 million, making up the majority of the global subscriptions.

The numbers may continue to grow — China plans to deploy more 5G base stations for even better coverage. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that it will triple the number of 5G base stations aiming to have more than 3.6 million stations by the end of 2025.

Sunny Um is a Seoul-based journalist working with 4i Magazine. She writes and talks about policies, business updates, and social issues around the Korean tech industry. She is best known for in-depth explanations of local issues for readers who need a better understanding of the Korean context. Sunny’s works appeared in prominent Korean news outlets, such as the Korea Times and Wired Korea. She currently makes regular writing contributions to newsrooms worldwide, such as Maritime Fairtrade, a non-profit media organization based in Singapore. She also works as a content strategist at 1021 Creative. A person who holds a Master’s degree in Political Economy from King’s College London, she loves to follow up on news of Korean politics and economy when she’s not writing.