Globally, stakeholders in the telecom sector including governments, telecom operators, and telecom equipment and infrastructure providers are striving to enable 5G roll-outs. This is true of the Southeast Asian (SEA) region too, with some countries already enjoying the benefits of commercial 5G networks while others are eager to jump on to the 5G bandwagon. A look at the key developments in SEA’s 5G space.
Brunei, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam
Brunei has launched a 5G pilot project at The Mall in Gadong, a commercial area of the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan. The Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications has reportedly commissioned the project.The Mall is one of five strategic locations where the proof of concept 5G infrastructure has been deployed as part of the pilot project. In September 2020, Lao Telecommunications Company launched its 5G network making it the Laos’s first telco to do so.
In Thailand, AIS and Samsung jointly launched voice over 5G new radio service enabling voice calls on AIS’s 5G standalone (SA) network in October 2021. In Vietnam, Samsung Electronics and Viettel announced the launch of 5G commercial trials in Da Nang in December 2021. Viettel is piloting 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 Indonesia, Telkomsel (Telekomunikasi Selular) launched 5G services in eight Indonesian cities – Balikpapan, Medan, Surakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Bandung, Batam and Denpasar in June 2021. With this, the telco became the first operator to launch 5G services in the country. Following this, other telcos announced the commercial launch of their 5G networks.
Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison (IOH) launched 5G in the city of Surakarta while XL Axiata launched it in Depok, South Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. During 2021, IOH expanded its 5G coverage to Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Balikpapan; XL Axiata expanded its services to Medan; and Telkomsel launched services in Papua. Recently, in March 2022, IOH and Ericsson announced they had signed a contract to expand further the former’s 5G footprint in Indonesia.
Under the plan, Ericsson will extend IOH’s coverage to Jabotabek, including in the cities of Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi, augmenting its presence in a number of other cities such as Balikpapan, Surakarta, Jakarta, Surabaya and Makassar.
In February 2021, the Malaysian government revealed its plans to invest MYR 15 billion ($3.7 billion) over a 10-year period on the nationwide deployment of 5G. Further, the government announced a special purpose vehicle (SPV) under the Malaysian government would undertake the roll-out of next generation 5G broadband connectivity. The SPV will be given the necessary spectrum for 5G roll-out and will manage the nation’s infrastructure, to which all licensed telcos will have equal access.
In November 2021, Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB), Malaysia’s sole 5G wholesale service operator, integrated five mobile network operators (MNOs) into its 5G network. DNB incorporated Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications, Maxis, Telekom Malaysia, and U Mobile in its 5G network. Recently, in March 2022, the Malaysian government confirmed its plans to deploy 5G technology 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, the company rolling out the new 5G mobile infrastructure.
The Philippines has been among the first movers in terms of launching 5G services in the SEA region. The efforts to launch 5G in the country started as early as 2018 with PLDT, Inc.’s mobile arm, Smart Communications, activating its first 5G cell sites in the Makati Central Business District (CBD) and at the Clark freeport zone in Pampanga, Philippines.The 5G cell sites were 3GPP standard compliant and were the first to be activated in the Philippines. Later, in 2019, Globe Telecom launched what it claimed was Southeast Asia’s first fifth-generation fixed-wireless broadband service, branded “Globe at Home Air Fiber 5G”.
The service was initially launched in select areas in Pasig, Cavite and Bulacan. In February 2020, Globe Telecom announced the successful completion of a 5G video call with Thailand’s mobile counterpart Advanced Info Service (AIS). Globe then launched 5G services in the Bonifacio Global City, Makati CBD, and Rockwell Center, Ortigas CBD, and in strategic areas along two major highways – EDSA and C5.
As of February 2022, Globe Telecom has reported a 35.2 per cent month-on-month increase in data traffic on its in-deployment 5G network. The telco has more than 2,000 5G cell sites and upgraded 12,900 towers. Meanwhile, Smart Communications has reported the deployment of 75,400 base transceiver stations (BTSs) as of December 31, 2021, of which, around 7,200 were 5G BTSs. Further, DITO Telecommunity, the third Philippines telco, is leveraging its 5G infrastructure to launch a wireless home broadband service in select areas in Metro Manila.
In Singapore, 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 full-fledged 5G SA capabilities with at least 50 per cent coverage by end 2022, and nationwide coverage by end 2025.
The way forward
Overall, operators, governments and telecom equipment vendors across the SEA region are excited about the 5G opportunity and are actively undertaking initiatives to hasten 5G roll-outs. As per a report by Kearney, 5G offers huge wealth potential for telecom operators in the SEA region. In fact, 5G could add 6 to 9 per cent to consumer revenues and 18 to 22 per cent to enterprise revenues by 2025. Of the Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia is expected to capture the biggest share of these revenues, followed closely by Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Telecom operators are expected to invest close to $10 billion in the SEA region’s 5G infrastructure by 2025. However, the region also faces the challenge of slow availability of 5G spectrum and consequently, a suboptimal network roll-out. The presence of satellite networks in the mid-band spectrum (3.5 GHz) is also likely to slow down widespread adoption of 5G. Besides, spectrum issues, regulatory hurdles with regard to active and passive infrastructure sharing and setting up new infrastructure models will also hamper growth of the 5G ecosystem.
In this regard, all relevant stakeholders including governments, regulators, telecom operators, telecom equipment and infrastructure providers need to coordinate to formulate policies that enable the holistic development of Southeast Asia’s 5G ecosystem.