5G – a reality but it will not deliver a digital society itself

digital society
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Digital technology is evolving rapidly, leading to the emergence of new services and applications that are transforming the way people live, work, play and communicate. 5G is on everyone’s minds these days: after years of hype and speculation, it has finally arrived. The world’s first nationwide 5G networks went live in South Korea in April this year. Five more countries will have launched 5G networks by the end of the year, and it is anticipated that 24 markets across Asia Pacific will have launched 5G by 2025.

5G is already a reality in Asia Pacific. According to the latest Asia Pacific edition of the Mobile Economy APAC report from GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the GSMA, 5G is expected to contribute almost $900 billion to the region’s economy over the next 15 years, with key sectors such as manufacturing, utilities and professional/ financial services benefitting the most from the new technology.

As digital technology becomes an integral part of people’s daily lives, 5G is expected to provide important social-economic benefits globally, and to become a platform for fostering a new era of innovation. Digital society refers to the seamless interaction between all aspects of an individual’s life via digital technologies. Mobile has become an essential platform for delivery of digital services, other platforms have also developed and will continue to grow from emerging technologies including digital identity and digital payments.

Creation of a successful environment that fosters digital societies requires collaboration between all stakeholders to make these platforms viable – governments, regulators, mobile operators and financial institutions. Three key components crucial for these platforms to accelerate digital societies in Southeast Asia are: 

  • Spectrum resources: Millimetre wave (mmWave) bands between 24 GHz and 86 GHz allows for the increases in bandwidth and capacity that numerous 5G applications require, and will play a key role in meeting the demand for many enhanced mobile data services as well as new wireless broadband use cases. Governments must assign adequate amount of mmWave spectrum to operators, avoiding inflating 5G spectrum prices to allow for heavy network investments and continuous reduction of cost of devices.
  • Digital identity: The cornerstone of a digital society – the capacity to prove you are who you say you are in a digital form – is a fundamental component of economic, financial and social development. Mobile operators have a pivotal role to play: mobile phones and other connected devices can be used to verify and authenticate a digital identity, while mobile operators have identity related data or attributes can be used to reduce risk and cost for digital services delivery.

Governments and businesses in Asia Pacific must work together to create a digital identity programme that can be applied across national domains and disparate legal jurisdictions. With rapid adoption of new, mobile-based technologies and a broad array of countries and regions at different stages of mobile development, Asia Pacific is ideally placed to provide the backdrop for uniting disparate stakeholders to promote the growth and expansion of digitisation.

  • Digital payments: An important enabler for digital commerce, digital payments such as mobile payment and contactless payment are quickly becoming alternatives to traditional financial institutions. These initiatives have been spearheaded by partnerships between banks and mobile operators. Asia Pacific is leading the shift to mobile payments – the region is home to eight of the world’s top ten countries for mobile payments usage, including China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. The mobile payments push is a huge opportunity for mobile operators in Southeast Asia. Operators can look to open up their APIs to build a merchant and developer ecosystem; explore different means of monetisation; and establish partnerships with third parties to help overcome regulatory barriers.

GSMA is committed to bringing together all stakeholders to ensure progress in building digital societies. To examine the components of a successful digital society, and analyse what can be done to progress economies towards this goal, GSMA will hold “Mobile 360 – Digital Societies” in Kuala Lumpur in September. Under the theme “Platforms for the Digital Economy,” the thought-leadership conference will convene governments, mobile operators and the wider tech ecosystem to discuss the development of sustainable digital platforms that can play a pivotal role in a wide range of digital interactions between individuals and institutions.

The inherent benefits of 5G – higher speed, lower latency and more – are apparent, but it is the application of this new technology that will truly enable its benefits to be realised and improve everyday lives. 5G has already arrived in Asia Pacific, and now is the time for the mobile ecosystem to chart a course to unleash its potential.

Written by Julian Gorman, Head of Asia Pacific, GSMA

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