Panellists sound off on 5G revolution
Broad-based structural shake-up anticipated
The upcoming 5G wireless broadband technology will not only reshape Thailand's economy and politics, but also promises high-speed connectivity changing the workforce, operational structures and supply chains of vertical industries.
The 5G network should also improve the voting processes and lead to more digitised political campaigns via social media and virtual reality, said panellists at a seminar titled "5G: Shaping Thailand's Economic and Political Landscape", hosted jointly by the Bangkok Post Group and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
Telecom operators are concerned about spectrum availability and whether regulatory conditions will fully facilitate 5G adoption, especially if spectrum costs are too high.
Academics insist the 5G spectrum must be auctioned to optimise public benefit.
The regulator has been urged to efficiently recall unused spectrum to prepare for a 5G auction, paving the way for real liberalisation of the telecom industry.
NEXT GENERATION THAILAND
NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said Thailand's economy has gradually seen an increase in value-added growth driven by digital infrastructure that has been rolled out since the adoption of 3G technology in 2012, with 4G ushering greater network expansion nationwide in 2016.
In 2012, the number of mobile subscriptions were 79.2 million, of which 3.7 million were using 3G technology.
There are 125 million subscribers, of which 123.5 million are using 3G and 4G networks.
"When 5G is adopted in 2020, it will create a wave of change to vertical industries, meaning the economy will transform from an industry-driven model to innovation-driven such as smart industry, smart city and smart people," said Mr Takorn.
Mr Takorn said the NBTC board will allow Advanced Info Service Plc (AIS) and TrueMove H to carry out the first round of 5G demonstration testings via a 26-gigahertz spectrum between Nov 22 and Dec 15.
AIS and TrueMove H previously asked for 5G equipment tests, while Total Access Communication Plc (DTAC) is in the process of meeting NBTC requirements and the telecom regulator may approve DTAC's testing during its next board meeting.
"Testing 5G equipment will help initiate 5G adoption in early stages," he said.
BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER
Weerawat Kiattipongthaworn, chief corporate officer of AIS, said 5G tech will provide 100 times faster speeds than 4G, from 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Industries will drive 5G uptake, while 4G has been driven by mass demand.
Mr Weerawat said the critical issue for 5G is finding the right time to deploy the infrastructure, as Thailand is not a technology leader internationally.
INTERNET OF EVERYTHING
The adoption of 5G is expected to boost the number of connected devices by over 1,000%, up from the current mobile penetration of 140%, fuelled by massive adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT).
The 5G infrastructure will be a critical factor that will enable innovative technology usage, especially in IoT adoption.
Vichaow Rakphongphairoj, co-president of True Corporation, said 5G technology could provide up to 100 times faster data rates than 4G, creating opportunities for new use cases in IoT, augmented reality and virtual reality, smart vehicles, remote healthcare and robotics.
Mr Vichaow said the company is concerned about 5G spectrum availability and cost. He said 5G adoption needs at least 100MHz of bandwidth to provide 5G service efficiently. Each operator has already made extensive investments to roll out 3G and 4G networks nationwide.
SEEDS OF INNOVATION
With 4G technology, only thousands of devices can be connected simultaneously, but 5G can connect millions, said DTAC chief executive Alexandra Reich.
"In the mass market of the future, everything will be connected," said Mrs Reich.
The future 5G infrastructure can further digitise operations and increase efficiency, particularly in smart farming.
"5G is all about collaboration," she said. "This infrastructure is very costly and we need to work with each other, hopefully through public-private partnerships."
Farmers' lives have already been improved with 4G, particularly by providing precise location information for farms, but 5G infrastructure can further digitise these smart farms.
"Productivity and quality of farms will grow substantially with 5G in ways not possible with 4G," Mrs Reich said.
RACE TO ADOPT
Terasak Jerouswapong, director of Jasmine International, said the commercial adoption of 5G will be widespread by 2020 through industries such as automotive, manufacturing, utilities, and healthcare sectors.
Several countries have already allocated spectrum ranges for 5G adoption, including Australia and South Korea. Other countries have plans to auction spectrum for 5G in place for this year.
Kasikornbank president Predee Daochai said from the perspective of banks, 5G technology enables every transaction to be embedded into the system, including cash payments that banks still shoulder the cost.
Banks have tried to incorporate QR codes to reduce cash payment, and there are nearly 10 million people using QR codes in Thailand, from over 10 million bank accounts registered in the banking system, said Mr Predee.
Although QR code usage has been deemed a success, the cost is still shouldered by commercial banks, he said.
"This is not the first time there has been a change in technology. There will be more technological changes occurring in the future," said Mr Predee.
"The commerce landscape has changed, and so has consumer behaviour."
HUGE JOB LOSSES
Annual GDP growth in Thailand averages around 3% per year from "non-disruptive" technology, said Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute.
If Thailand does nothing to handle the advent of disruptive technology, 3 million jobs will be eradicated over the next 20 years as disruption rolls over all sectors, said Mr Somkiat.
For instance, media and advertisements have migrated to Facebook and Google, with the giants taking up 98% of total market operations, he said.
If IoT comes into full force, more businesses will be affected, Mr Somkiat said.
Thailand needs to adjust to this changing landscape. The government's Thailand 4.0 policy can help reduce job losses by half of the expected 3 million, but will not entirely safeguard job losses, he said.
Thailand must eke out unique strengths that other countries cannot compete with, said Mr Somkiat, adding that the "caring economy" such as hospitality, creative economy and craft economy will be three strongest sectors in terms of revenue creation for Thailand going forward.
ONLINE IS EVERYTHING
Pawoot Pongvityapanu, founder and chief executive of Tarad.com, said this year has been the first when e-commerce has truly become part of the economy. Thais have shown themselves to be highly responsive to e-commerce as they are exposed to more advertising.
Online purchasing power is not confined only to Bangkok, but has spread into provincial markets, said Mr Pawoot. Money has been migrating from offline to online commerce platforms, especially in China.
Thais also pay more for services offered by the digital economy, said Mr Pawoot, citing logistics, travel bookings, digital content, software, games, infrastructure, financial services and gambling as examples.
"We may not feel that we pay much for [services offered by] foreign companies, but the total combined value for each year is several trillions of baht," said Mr Pawoot.