Don’t underestimate the transformative power of 5G in Asia

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The value of 5G shouldn’t be measured simply by subscription numbers, but the technology’s role in transforming mobile as we know it. Not that it’ll be easy …

There will be 280 million 5G subscriptions in Asia Pacific by 2022, with service revenue reaching $4.5 billion. That’s actually not a lot in terms of raw numbers, but what one must watch is how those numbers are going to shift and transform the industry in the coming years.

Compared to previous generations of networks, 5G’s significance lies in its capability to offer real time end-to-end service offerings. Alongside the emergence of technologies such as the Internet of Things, drones and smart devices – as well as increased uptake of mobile devices – 5G is seen as a key enabler of all these by providing the infrastructure to carry large amounts of data, creating a smarter and more connected world and also driving the digital economy.

For Asia Pacific – a region with one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world – the potential for 5G to transform the region and advance the development of smart cities is an exciting possibility set to become a reality soon. Asia Pacific presents a unique setting for the technology – a populous region with fast-growing and increasingly-digital economies that have the desire for speed and connectivity. 5G will fundamentally change industries including transport, healthcare, communications and supply chains. Faster internet speeds at more cost effective pricing per gigabyte could enable new business models and contribute towards economic growth and digital economy transformation.

For businesses, this presents new monetization opportunities. With data speeds 1,000 times faster than 4G, 5G could not only deliver smooth, HD content in seconds, but also redefine audience engagement with real-time targeting. For consumers, 5G technology could mean a real perceivable difference over 4G. By providing the processing capability and ultra-low latency required for the consumer to fully experience a service offering, it could change the face of AR/VR, as well as gaming in the most fundamental way, particularly in Southeast Asia that is home to a booming e-sports and gaming industry. A fully connected world could also be made possible where a massive number of devices can be connected simultaneously. The capability of 5G networks to manage large quantities of data at high speeds will help industries realize the full potential of IoT in smart sensors, wearables, and other devices.

5G success is not guaranteed

Countries like China, South Korea and Japan are in the process of rolling out 5G across their cities, with other countries across Asia Pacific expressing keen interest to do so. However, successful implementation within each country is an open question. While countries such as China are well placed to develop and implement 5G, for developing countries this could prove to be a challenge, where demand for 5G services is finite or limited. Though it’s possible for developing nations to leapfrog to the next generation, a key question to consider is the need for 5G within and beyond government-driven initiatives, particularly given that costs remain a limiting factor and that mobile network operators are assessing the capabilities of 4G before deciding to invest in 5G to supplement it.

Getting everyone on board with such initiatives could prove to be a hurdle too. Although 5G is fast gaining momentum, businesses have yet to see an immediate need for it until its full benefits and opportunities for monetization become apparent. This could delay the technology’s integration into solutions and service offerings.

Similarly, consumers still take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach until compatible devices and solutions are able to transform their lives in an impactful way – or perhaps in a dramatic way, such as an augmented reality helmet to help a blind person navigate around town safely in real time, or sensor-triggered braces that aid mobility for disabled people.

Despite the hurdles, early developments in 5G are already revealing new, exciting opportunities that are proving its potential in various use scenarios. Mobile network operators will of course play a crucial role in the success in its implementation. However, it is necessary for them to understand the need – and therefore demand – for 5G and focus on industries that can bring them the best returns, especially in developing countries. In line with this, support from governments and working with other stakeholders within the ecosystem will be crucial to pushing 5G in their markets.

In the future, the possibility of a mobile network that is seamless, converged and offering end to end services at the right price points could be a reality. Along with this, the leading edge use of artificial intelligence to drive safe and secure real time service offerings could also become a real possibility. The dream of an ultra-connected, efficient society is already in the making, and if a smarter and more connected world is the future, then 5G could be the highway to get us there.

Quah Mei Lee, industry principal at Frost & SullivanWritten by Quah Mei Lee, industry principal at Frost & Sullivan

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