While Thailand has been among the many countries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact to date has been relatively low. This isn’t by luck – the Thai government has been taking proactive measures to combat the coronavirus, to include leveraging digital technologies to prevent its spread and mitigate the effects. We talked to Vunnaporn Devahastin, Secretary-General of the Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission (ONDE) of Thailand, which is collaborating with Huawei Technologies on various fronts to not only fight COVID-19 with digital technologies but advance and accelerate Thailand’s efforts to become a digital nation.
WFH for government agencies
One key ONDE initiative to combat COVID-19 has been to enable government agencies and state enterprises to implement work-from-home (WFH) policies. To this end, ONDE has been working with local ISPs and application service providers to develop and support an online meeting platform, which all government staff can use free of charge.
This is no minor feat – 865 government agencies and state-owned enterprises are using the online meeting platform, with just over 682,150 staff members registered to use the site so they can do their jobs at home.
Realizing that WFH requires more than technology solutions, ONDE also served as a preliminary consultation center to promote both the platform and guidelines for managing WFH environments. ONDE has provided WFH manuals and users manuals for all related applications, which agencies and state enterprises use as a guideline for WFH operations.
E-commerce and rural connectivity
ONDE’s efforts to combat COVID-19 extend to Thailand’s citizens as well. For example, a major strategy for curbing the spread of the coronavirus is for people to stay home as much as possible. Yet people still need to get their daily shopping done, while merchants need to sell goods and services to stay afloat. This is particularly challenging for sellers with little to no experience with online sales.
Thus, ONDE is collaborating with e-commerce app Shopee to train up sellers and increase their skills, knowledge, and ability to sell their products online. ONDE is also offering support for fees and marketing tools.
Of course, e-commerce isn’t much use for people in rural areas where broadband connectivity is either rare or expensive by local standards. That’s why ONDE have also been working with ISPs to enable free internet services in remote areas, as well as the “Smarty City Project” in Phuket. The solution enables people to use free Wi-Fi by registering with a single ID that can be used to log on to any access point provided by any ISP.
ONDE is also providing financial support for fighting COVID-19 with the creation of the Digital Economy and Society (DES) Development Fund. ONDE has allocated 1 billion baht (authorized by Article 26 (6) of the Digital Economy Development Act) to help provide doctors and nurses with sufficient medical tools and equipment to treat patients, as well as reduce the burden for medical personnel.
The DES Fund Board – which oversees the fund – is accepting special program proposals to support government agencies, state enterprises, government hospitals, university hospitals and medical schools that are affected by COVID-19. As of 12 June, 42 projects across Thailand have been approved at a total allocation of 393 million baht, with the benefits reaching some 4.6 million people.
5G, AI, cloud and big data
Meanwhile, Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has been working with Huawei Technology (Thailand) Co Ltd to find ways that medical staff can leverage advanced digital technologies powered by the integration of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and cloud computing.
For example, in April 2020, MDES and Huawei deployed a solution for Ramathibodi Hospital and Siriraj Hospital that combines these technologies to diagnose COVID-19 cases. Using AI, hospital staff can now analyze CT scans and compare them with over 4,000 cases stored in a database that is accessed using a local high-speed 5G network. This solution enables COVID-19 diagnoses to be processed in just 25 seconds.
Thailand 4.0, accelerated
The benefits of applying digital technologies to the COVID-19 fight are enormous, but perhaps the biggest benefit is that these solutions will continue to serve Thai citizens long after COVID-19 is gone as Thailand progresses towards the goal of becoming a digital economy: “Thailand 4.0”.
Thailand began pursuing its digital strategy well before the coronavirus emerged, but the pandemic has actually accelerated its execution, given that digital technologies that were on the roadmap anyway have proven to be essential now.
The Thailand 4.0 plan comprises five pillars: (1) hard infrastructure (i.e. networks), (2) soft infrastructure (i.e. security, data privacy protections), (3) promotion and innovation, (4) service infrastructure (i.e. e-government) and (5) and society and knowledge.
Huawei is working with the Thai government to help achieve its digital goals in three phases, starting with enhancement of digital infrastructure with 5G, cloud data centers and fiber internet backbones in rural areas.
Phase 2 involves remote digital transformation of different vertical industries to help with economic recovery. Examples include:
- Tourism: utilizing new disruptive innovations and sharing economy apps such as Airbnb to create added value for the economy
- Healthcare: i.e. telemedicine and e-health services to check people’s health conditions and prescribe treatment while maintaining social distancing
- Agriculture – i.e. IoT and drones to help farmers increase their productivity and crop quality.
Phase 3 will focus on finding ways to use digital technology for sustainable economic and social development, helping Thailand establish itself as a global digital leader.
As noted earlier, 5G will be a central enabler of Thailand’s digital landscape. In fact, rollouts of 5G are now underway, enabled by three key government policies.
The first, of course, is the 5G spectrum auctions carried out by the NBTC in February 2020, which lays out the foundation for 5G industry development.
Thailand has also established the National 5G Committee to promote vertical 5G development and ensure optimum benefits of 5G adoption for the economy and end-users. To achieve that, the 5G committee aims to promote a clear roadmap for 5G infrastructure development and adoption by ensuring the participation of representatives from key ministries.
ONDE also has a role to play in 5G – namely, developing a 5G action plan to establish a policy framework for the use of 5G that contributes to the development of high-performance digital infrastructure.
This is key because, at the end of the day, 5G is just one of several technologies that will enable the digital future. Huawei and ONDE will continue to collaborate to help every sector utilize digital technologies to ensure the needs of Thai people are served by the digital economy. After all, a digital economy is only beneficial if everyone can access it.