Northeast Asia is poised to be the leader in 5G adoption, according to the Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2019 report published by the GSM Association (GSMA). The study found that 5G will account for half of all mobile connection in Northeast Asia by 2025.
5G stands for fifth generation mobile network technology. It is the next generation of mobile broadband with exponentially faster download and upload speeds compared to current 4G/LTE standard. Also, latency – the delay in transmitting or processing data – is said to drastically decrease.
South Korea became the first country to launch a nationwide commercial 5G network in April of 2019. Subsequently, Samsung Galaxy 10 became the world’s first available smartphone with 5G. According to the GSMA, five more countries will roll out 5G networks by the end of this year, including Australia and Hong Kong. In Southeast Asia, Cambodia is expected to be the first country with commercial 5G networks by the end of this year. According to Nikkei Asia, telco Smart Axiata has set up 5G structures in the capital Phnom Penh and field tests are almost done.
Furthermore, ten more countries are expected to roll-out commercial 5G networks next year, including China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan.
5G is a big market in Asia. The GSMA forecasts that Asian mobile operators will invest more than $570 billion between 2018-2025, with $370 billion being spent on 5G deployments. The technology itself is expected to contribute almost $900 billion to the region’s economy over the next 15 years. Key sectors such as manufacturing, utilities and financial services will reap the most benefit from the new technology.
5G in Asia: Diverse use cases
5G has a wide range of different use cases and applications in industry, from logistics and robotics, to operations control and the localisation of devices and items. Additionally, 5G will enable augmented reality applications, autonomous driving, and artificial intelligence features.
In China, 5G connectivity has already allowed a neurosurgeon in Beijing to conduct China’s first remote surgery using robotic technology on a patient 3,000 kilometres away in Hainan. CAICT noted that 5G is expected to transform China’s healthcare sector by enabling remote diagnosis and surgery in the near future.
In Malaysia, the government believes that it can roll out 5G technology within the next three years. The Malaysian government identified a total of 66 use cases for 5G including smart city applications, virtual reality for education or manufacturing, and precision farming. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that 5G would impact every industry that was vital to the growth of the economy.
5G transforming China’s tech industry
The tech industry in China is expected to grow by $479 billion in the next five years with the help of 5G technology, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT). 5G network is also expected to boost the digitalisation process of various industries in China, yielding $1.5 trillion in growth within the same period. The CAICT also predicts that the country will spend around $130.8 billion to $218 billion between 2015 and 2020.
By the end of 2025, China is expected to have 460 million 5G connections, which account for about 28 percent of mobile connections in the country. To date, China has granted commercial 5G licences to three of its telecommunications network operators: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.
The Chinese government adopted a 5G roadmap in 2016, following pilot trials since 2014. According to an assessment by the European Parliament, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) of China has committed about $300 million to promote 5G and future technologies, such as the Internet of Things and robotics.
China’s leading mobile phone maker Huawei claimed to be working on China’s first 5G smartphone, pouring almost $1.4 billion into 5G product development in 2017-2018. Meanwhile, China’s largest mobile chipmakers, MediaTek and Unisoc, are also ready to roll out 5G products to the market.
China most ambitious 5G adopter
Compared to 4G networks, 5G requires a much denser network, with around 15 to 20 sites per square kilometre in highly-populated urban environments. In comparison, 4G requires two to five sites. Thus, McKinsey noted that the total cost of ownership of deploying small cells at this density would be four to six times higher than for LTE macro-cell deployment.
Fulfilling its ambition to be the leader in Asia 5G adaptation, China is building network site density at an unprecedented rate. Experts expect total investments in 5G mobile networks to reach $411 billion between 2020 and 2030. China Tower is the leading provider and manages most of the nation’s telecom towers. It currently has 1.9 million wireless sites. In comparison, trade association CTIA estimates the U.S. to have 154,000 cell towers. The costs of installing the needed infrastructure and software upgrades for 5G will be a pressing issue in the U.S. in the coming years. So far, mobile 5G is live in a few cities and areas, operated amongst others by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
Meanwhile, the European Union was quick to begin trial programs. By early 2019, some 138 trials across all 28 member states were recorded. The European Commission adopted a 5G Action Plan for Europe in 2016 with the goal of launching 5G services in all E.U. member states by the end of 2020 at the latest. Spain was among the first member states to roll out commercial 5G mobile services in June this year.