Asian countries see mixed 5G progresses

Alex Chen, Taipei; Jill Lai, DIGITIMES Asia 0

5G subscriptions are growing at a rate of about one million per day. 5G is expected to become the fastest adopted mobile generation in history, compared to 4G LTE. It is estimated that by the end of 2021, 5G subscriptions will reach 580 million, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report 2021. However, the penetration rate of 5G in Asia still varies greatly from country to country and now many countries are aiming to win in this 5G rollout competition.

The Ericsson report pointed out that Northeast Asia is expected to account for the largest share of 5G subscriptions by 2026, with an estimated 1.4 billion 5G subscriptions.

Mobile subscriptions in Southeast Asia and the Oceania region have now exceeded 1.1 billion, with 5G subscriptions below two million, according to the report. But 5G subscriptions are expected to grow strongly over the next few years with a forecast total of about 400 million by 2026.

In Asia, Singapore is in the leading position in terms of 5G adoption, followed by South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Japan; while India, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan are still lagging, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In Asia, nine markets have completed 5G spectrum auctions and launched 5G commercial services. What mainly affects the 5G development in a country is the availability of the 5G spectrum and government policies. The latter plays an important role in promoting the country's adoption of 5G. In fact, in some Asian countries, operators are still focusing on improving 4G connectivity, so the development of 5G may not start until 2022.

In countries that have launched 5G networks in Asia, government financial support is essential to help network expansion and promote industrial application trials. Regulators in Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and South Korea have encouraged companies to increase network speed, coverage, and use cases in the corporate sector. For example, regulators in Australia and Hong Kong particularly set up low base prices for appropriate radio spectrum. However, high spectrum costs have always been a concern for Indian companies, as local regulators and operators are still arguing about basic prices.

However, in the countries that have not yet released 5G spectrums, their governments may have to focus on freeing up radio frequency bands currently occupied by other media or defense services.

5G applications in Asia

The success of 5G should not be only limited to the number of subscriptions. Its value will also depend on use cases and new applications for certain industries. For example, along with 5G development, some critical IoT applications can be realized, especially for some time-sensitive applications that need to deliver data within a specified time to consumers, enterprises, and public institutions.

South Korea, which launched 5G technology in April 2019, had a total of more than nine million users recorded by its service providers by the end of 2020, and each user uses 27GB of data traffic per month, which is three times the amount they consume when using 4G. South Korea is one of the fastest-growing 5G markets in the world.

South Korea's SK Telecom has improved the customer experience to a new level by providing high data speed and rich content in the fields of gaming, ultra-high-definition video, AR/VR, and so on.

Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines are about to use 5G for live broadcasting. The adoption rate of fixed wireless access (FWA) is also growing significantly in some countries in Asia.

In Vietnam, three major mobile operators, Viettel, VNPT, and MobiFone, have cooperated with mobile network equipment providers to provide consumers with the first 5G experience through commercial pilots. The launch of 5G services will make the Vietnamese government one of the earliest adopters of 5G in the entire industry and society. 5G will enable Vietnam to unleash the full potential of Industry 4.0 and to initiate the digital transformation of the country.

5G deployment facilitates the social and economic development of a country, to further improve the productivity and efficiency of its business operations. New emerging technologies, like AI, automation, and big data, and digital transformation, also rely on 5G for technological advancement. Asian countries now are acting proactively to achieve their 5G rollout.