Earthquake in the making with arrival of 5G

opinion November 23, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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Thailand will be among the early adopters, but everyone must be ready for the immense impact ahead



Thailand is braced for the advent of fifth-generation (5G) cellular technology, whose impacts on the economy, society and politics are expected to be unprecedented.

The National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission (NBTC) has granted permission to two telecom companies to test 5G and prepare the country for the next wave of disruptive technologies, which will impact industries, businesses and workers, as well as politicians.

At this stage, only AIS and True are allowed to provide 5G service and only on an experimental basis. They began doing so yesterday and will continue the trials through December 15, making Thailand one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to test the technology, which will soon force a major upgrade of the current 4G network. There are now more than 100 million phone numbers in Thailand using the 4G network, a dramatic figure given the country’s population of 69 million. The penetration rate of smartphones here is among the highest in all of Asia. 

NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith has said Thailand needs to prepare for both the positive and adverse effects of all new technology, especially with the advent of 5G. The obvious upside is that the country will soon be riding the bandwagon of early 5G adopters, thus boosting its international competitiveness.

However, there will also be undesirable consequences – namely the loss of routine jobs and business displacement, especially among those whose roles are intermediary. The 5G technology, with its super high-speed, will facilitate the wider use of robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in manufacturing industries. But this will further trim jobs, especially those involving routine and repetitive work.

In addition, more manufacturers in the Thai and global supply chain will adopt the “platform economy” to directly link with consumers online, enabling them to better meet customers’ demands, offering them more personalised products and services, and at faster speed. The use of “big data” regarding customers’ preferences and spending habits will become more practical and widespread, allowing manufacturers to more accurately forecast their production output, thus increasing efficiency and lowering costs and waste.

The 5G network will allow consumers and businesses to bypass various forms of intermediaries more conveniently due to its much faster speed. In banking, for example, AI software will be used to analyse and approve loan applications much faster than humans, whose roles will be shifted. More importantly, there will be new business opportunities resulting from the disruptive forces of technology, the magnitude and pace of which will surpass those of 4G.

Retraining and other measures are required to help the workforce adjust to the new reality, while those with the entrepreneurial spirit and technology skills will begin creating business startups that use technology to help consumers, industries and existing businesses.

The advent of 5G technology will revolutionise government services, as well as the way politics and elections are managed. The widespread use of social media in Thailand is expected to upend the role of political parties’ traditional canvassers, who will have to go online to solicit votes due to the widespread use of smartphones in this country.

At this stage, it is likely that South Korea, China, Japan and the United States will be among the first countries to offer 5G on a commercial basis, while Thailand is expected to be one of the earliest adopters in Southeast Asia.