The deployment of 5G has proceeding apace in Southeast Asia’s telecom industry. Today, 5G is commercially available in several countries of the region. With the rapidly growing adoption, 5G connections are expected to reach 430 million by 2025 across the broader Asia-Pacific region. A look at the key developments in the 5G domain in Southeast Asian countries…
Brunei launched a 5G pilot project at The Mall in Gadong in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, in April 2021. The project was commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications and spearheaded by the Authority of InfoCommunications Technology Industry (AITI), with the deployment of 5G base stations by Unified National Networks (UNN) at selected locations. Recently, AITI announced its collaboration with UNN as well as Datastream Digital, Imagine and Progresif to conduct a 5G mobile network trial over a period of up to eight weeks, ahead of the commercial launch of 5G technology in the country. Furthermore, UNN is in the final stages of completing the full modernisation of its entire infrastructure to be 5G-ready.
All telecom operators in Indonesia have launched 5G services. Telkomsel (Telekomunikasi Selular) was the first to launch 5G services in Indonesia, starting with eight cities – Balikpapan, Medan, Surakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Bandung, Batam and Denpasar – in June 2021. Following this, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison (IOH) launched 5G in the city of Surakarta while XL Axiata launched it in Depok, South Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya. Further, IOH expanded its 5G coverage to Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, and Balikpapan; XL Axiata launched its services in Medan; and Telkomsel expanded services to Papua in 2021.
In September 2020, Lao Telecommunications Company launched its 5G network, making it Laos’s first telecom operator to do so. However, the telco had a very limited commercial 5G service in select parts of the capital, Vientiane, including Chanthabouly dstrict and near the National University of Laos. Unitel had tested 5G but not deployed it commercially in the country.
Malaysia announced its plans to invest MYR 15 billion ($3.7 billion) over a 10-year period in the countrywide deployment of 5G in February 2021. In November 2021, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), Malaysia’s sole 5G wholesale service operator, integrated five operators – Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications, Maxis, Telekom Malaysia, and U Mobile – into its 5G network. Further, in March 2022, the government confirmed its plans to deploy 5G via a single wholesale network (SWN), while also revealing that it would offer local MNOs an equity stake of up to 70 per cent in DNB. According to the government, this public-private partnership approach would facilitate DNB to achieve its target to cover 80 per cent of the country’s populated areas with 5G by 2024. In October 2022, six telcos – Celcom, Digi, Maxis, U Mobile, YTL, and Telekom Malaysia – agreed on terms on leasing DNB’s 5G network in their respective access agreements.
The Philippines has been one of the first movers in launching 5G in the Southeast Asian region. In 2018, PLDT, Inc.’s mobile arm, Smart Communications, activated its first 5G cell sites in the Makati Central Business District (CBD) and at the Clark freeport zone in Pampanga, Philippines. The telco now claims to have 5G available in 4,400 sites in metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other major cities. In 2019, Globe Telecom launched SEA’s first 5G fixed-wireless broadband service. The service was initially launched in select areas in Pasig, Cavite and Bulacan, and was later extended to the Bonifacio Global City, Makati CBD, Rockwell Center, Ortigas CBD, and strategic areas along two major highways – EDSA and C5. In March 2022, DITO Telecommunity leveraged its 5G infrastructure to launch a wireless home broadband service in select areas in Metro Manila.
Another company, NOW Telecom, inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SBA Towers Philippines in July 2022 as part of its planned 5G rollout and network expansion plans.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) awarded provisional 2.1 GHz spectrum for 5G services to domestic operators Singtel, the M1-StarHub Consortium (Antina [JVCo]) and TPG Telecom (TPG Mobile) in November 2021. According to the government, both Singtel and the M1- StarHub consortium are on track to establish two nationwide networks with fullfledged 5G standalone (SA) capabilities with at least 50 per cent coverage by the end of 2022, and nationwide coverage by the end of 2025. In May 2022, Singtel extended the reach of its 5G network to the underground mass rapid transit tunnels of the North East Line from Harbour Front to Punggol stations. In September 2022, M1 announced a multiyear project to provide far-reaching 5G SA offshore coverage for the southern coast of Singapore, including the surrounding waters of the southern islands.
In Vietnam, Samsung Electronics and Viettel announced the launch of 5G commercial trials in Da Nang in December 2021. Viettel piloted 5G services in 11 provinces and cities, namely, Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc, Dong Nai, Ho Chi Minh City, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Binh Phuoc, Thua Thien-Hue and Da Nang. In May 2022, Casa Systems signed an MoU with the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group to explore 5G technologies, including cloud-native 5G core, radio access network and fixed wireless access solutions. MobiFone launched its first 5G test network in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2020. In August 2022, the telco expanded its 5G trial network to the city of Hue in Thua Thien-Hue province.
The progress of 5G in the region is hindered by several constraints. Operators have limited availability of suitable spectrum with the presence of satellite networks in the midband spectrum (3500 MHz) and the use of low frequency spectrum (700 MHz) to support broadcast television. Key spectrum bands have to manage complex coordination between countries and operators, satellite and broadcast businesses, which is a constraint on available spectrum resources. Moreover, the average revenue per user in the SEA region, except Singapore, is significantly lower than in other countries, making the deployment of business cases even more challenging.
The way forward
5G has significant potential for all players in the SEA region’s telecom industry. According to a report by A.T. Kearney, 5G could add 6-9 per cent to consumer revenues and 18-22 per cent to enterprise revenues by 2025. Indonesia is expected to capture the biggest share, followed closely by Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Operators are likely invest around $10 billion in the region’s 5G infrastructure by 2025.