Thailand urged to drop 2G for 5G use
The Thai telecom regulator needs to reduce the spectrum space designated for 2G in order to allocate more frequency for 5G development, says a leading US communication network firm.
"Thailand ranked second among Asean countries in terms of 5G development, behind Singapore," said Navin Vohra, vice-president, service provider sales, Asia-Pacific, CommScope.
5G technologies are taking a key role in the government's plan to promote a competitive economy through digitisation.
But Thailand needs to speed up its overall 5G broadband framework. Singapore has already identified several suitable spectrum bands for 5G use, for example.
Singapore, South Korea and Japan have already shut down 2G services to free up spectrum and redeploy it to higher speed services like 3G, 4G and 5G.
"In Thailand, the 5G spectrum auction, originally planned for 2017, was delayed to next year, in part due to technical issues," said Mr Vohra.
In order to stay at the front of the regional 5G development pack, Thailand will need to speed up the process of identifying suitable spectrum and its availability.
Spectrum is a valuable and limited commodity, and it is important that it be put to the most efficient use, said Mr Vohra. Only 1.4% of Thailand's 95 million mobile subscribers are 2G subscribers. Few would be affected by efforts to allocate the space currently occupied by 2G to fuel the development of 5G.
Bandwidth will be a challenge for mobile operators, as subscribers demand more of it in order to stream video, use augmented reality, peer-to-peer gaming and Internet of Things (IoT) applications to serve self-driving cars, he said.
Moreover, consumers in Thailand are becoming more connected. For example, Thais spend almost three hours a day on social media, almost twice the global average of 1.7 hours, according to Deloitte. This number is only expected to grow further as tech-savvy Generation Z comes to the fore.
One of the most pressing challenges facing operators looking to introduce 5G is matching their infrastructure to meet 5G requirements, he said. The 5G frequency is a "network of networks" and perhaps the most complex part of implementing it is to make sure that the 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and wireline protocols all work together seamlessly.
Since clear frameworks for operators on spectrum choices and availability of spectrum are still being introduced in Thailand, it is difficult for operators to begin laying out plans for their 5G investments.
To transition into a 5G and Thailand 4.0 era, Thailand must develop a comprehensive and sustainable spectrum roadmap.
"Hence, regulators need to speed up the process of 5G spectrum auctions for Thai operators to enable them to actively plan for their 5G services," said Mr Vohra.
As the country transitions to 5G and more businesses go digital, the legal aspects associated with digitisation, including data privacy and sovereignty, will come into place.
A clear and definite legal framework is necessary to ensure that people can embrace smarter living in a digital society without compromising safety. Cybersecurity will be a key component as 5G technologies are deployed.
It is critical for Thailand to continue investing in broadband infrastructure. Other governments in Asia are already encouraging investment in high-capacity networks.
Mobile operators will need to support denser networks and get closer to users by adding more antennas and small cell sites. Upgrading to MIMO and sector-splitting technologies will also be important stepping stones in mobile operators' race to offer speeds 10 times faster than those offered by 4G technology.
Mobile networks will need to shift the work of physical equipment to virtualised environments operating in centralised data centres using solutions such as centralised radio access networks, network function virtualisation and cell virtualisation.