Rajiv Bawa
Rajiv Bawa

What it really takes to make 5G a reality in Thailand

Economy July 26, 2018 01:00


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5G in Thailand is not yet around the corner. On the one hand, there is talk of spectrum without laying out a clear roadmap as to when and how it will be made available. On the other, telecom operators are trying to outshine one another with isolated trials that they claim set them on a path to being the first to 5G. None of this constitutes a credible 5G strategy.

5G initiatives in Korea, Europe and Australia all demonstrate that 5G is much more than just good intentions and sporadic use cases. Its implementation calls for a thorough regulatory overhaul, a clear spectrum roadmap and a deep collaboration between all industry players.

If Thailand does not correct its trajectory, we will be late to 5G the same way we were late to 3G and 4G. The Australian government estimates that 5G could add A$1,300-2,000 (Bt32,000-49,000) in its gross domestic product per person after the first decade of the rollout. The EU has similarly predicted between two to four per cent of GDP growth thanks to 5G alone. And in Thailand, The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) estimates failure to implement 5G by 2030 could cost the country Bt 2.3 trillion. 

Indeed, delays to 5G may be much longer than those that plagued 3G and 4G. Compared to the previous decade, 5G comes at a time in telecommunications history when consumer spending has flattened. Moreover, 5G requires a much higher density of sites than 3G and 4G do. Given that Total Access Communication (DTAC) estimates that a 5G rollout would cost Bt100-200 billion in the next 3-5 years, the economic model that powered the network rollouts of 3G and 4G can in no way support this investment.

Instead, the industry will need to reinvent itself to achieve the efficiencies 5G requires. In South Korea, for example, local governments and infrastructure agencies are facilitating the installation of network systems in street lights and transportation structures. And the top cellular carriers are also collaborating on a single 5G infrastructure. Similarly, Telenor has been appointed to lead the European Union’s 5G project, with trials spanning six countries and 23 partners. Can Thailand really afford to ignore the comprehensive 5G strategies being implemented in these markets?

The telecom operator Telenor’s experience teaches us to look well beyond one-off trials and think big picture instead. The 5G Verticals Innovation Infrastructure initiative that Telenor is spearheading for the EU is a 20-million-euro project to build several interworking 5G sites, develop vertical use cases demonstrating 5G capabilities, and demonstrate the value of 5G solutions to a wide range of stakeholders. 

Its crowning jewel is the town of Kongsberg, in Norway, where Telenor is supporting the roll out of a wide range of 5G services, from ultra-reliable drones to low-latency remote health services. It is the kind of far-reaching initiative Thailand needs, and dtac is willing to lead such a project.

Moreover, DTAC is already pioneering foundational 5G technology. Much of the network equipment we are currently rolling out is so advanced, it would require a simple software upgrade to switch to 5G. We are the first, for example, to use a virtual core network for 100 percent of our data. And will be the first to deploy massive MIMO antennas for commercial use. In these fields, it is in fact dtac who is leading the way for the Telenor Group.

DTAC therefore welcomes the Thai government’s and the NBTC’s plan to prepare for the adoption of 5G by 2020. We are committed to working closely together with the public and private sector to make 5G happen in Thailand and help accelarate the Thailand 4.0 vision. Although the road ahead is long, Thailand’s 5G journey begins with simply realising that 5G will require a level of collaboration hitherto unseen in the Thai telecoms industry. Then, we can work together on removing the practical barriers that stand between Thailand and its 5G future.

Contributed by RAJIV BAWA, |Chief Corporate Affairs and Business Development Officer, Total Access Communication.