Asia Pacific’s 5G revolution is now in full swing and poised to lead the world for 5G connections by 2025.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have initially dampened 5G rollout plans, several countries across the region managed to overcome one of the most challenging periods in our history to become ‘5G-ready.’
The ongoing crisis has exposed the current limitations of connectivity and digitalisation – especially in the region’s emerging markets – and now societies, businesses and governments are ramping up their efforts to make their economies more resilient.
Research has shown that 5G-enabled industries have the potential to deliver $8 trillion in value to the global economy by 2030, driving sustainable economic growth and defining the next decade of innovation. As the Asia Pacific region moves to the next normal, 5G is certain to play a transformative role across the region.
5G is gaining momentum in Asia Pacific
According to the GSMA, the Asia Pacific region is already home to some of the most advanced 5G countries, and it is estimated that the region’s 5G market will continue to grow rapidly over the next four years. Already, 2.8 billion people in the Asia Pacific region (roughly two-thirds of the region’s population) are subscribed to mobile services, and this figure is set to grow to 3 billion (or 70% of the population) by 2025.
Internet and mobile penetration will be crucial for Asia Pacific’s future as related technologies and services have been determined as key socio-economic contributors. It was even projected that the market for such services generated around US$1.6 trillion for the region’s economy in 2019 – which is 5.3% of its entire GDP.
With 663 million additional new mobile internet users expected to come and stay online in the next 4 years, the economic impact of more sophisticated mobile technologies like 5G will be tremendous.
During this period, there will be accelerated demand for services such as digital commerce, payments, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Additionally, more enterprises are expected to incorporate the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies such as AI, ML, cloud automation and IoT to boost their productivity, digitalise their processes, and reinforce their operations for future crises.
However, 5G’s potential is not purely economic. The ultra-fast and low-latency connectivity it has can significantly transform the delivery of socially focused sectors such as public services. This will underpin improvements towards smart city development, digital healthcare delivery, emergency responses and mitigating the social effects during disruptive periods – as COVID-19’s impact has demonstrated.
Supporting the Fourth Industrial Revolution
As we enter the next phase of the global economy – one where innovation and automation will be more pivotal than ever – 5G and associated private wireless solutions have the power to transform industries and enterprises.
Their impact will be especially profound for more asset-intensive areas such as transportation, manufacturing, energy, and logistics. This is because, unlike information-based and/or digital native industries such as e-commerce, asset-intensive industries predominantly rely heavily on physical assets that cannot be digitally replaced. For these sectors, transformation will happen via the digital control of physical assets.
In factories of the future, 5G and private wireless can power sensors, raw data, autonomous robots, additive manufacturing systems, VR and AR, and AI-enabled manufacturing platforms to increase production capacities and improve productivity – in some cases by up to 30%. They also can improve worker safety and optimise usage of finite resources.
One reason why the Asia Pacific region is at the climbing end of the curve with 5G proliferation is that many of the region’s leading economies are already implementing 4IR technologies (which can be enhanced by 5G in the future), especially for key logistics hubs such as warehouses and ports.
Improving digital governance
The COVID-19 pandemic exemplified how unprecedented crises can significantly disrupt societies, especially in the way that governments deliver essential services to the public. However – as many governments in the Asia Pacific region continue to tackle environmental concerns and social change – there will still be crises in the future. Societies, therefore, must be made more resilient.
One key area where 5G can improve public sector operations is in smart city applications, for both advanced and emerging cities. For example, in Tokyo, there has been a focus on using 4IR technologies to improve the city’s energy and environmental sustainability, as well as preparing societies and enterprises for business continuity planning (particularly during crises).
For fast-growing cities like Jakarta where urban sustainability is a particular concern, there are now government efforts pushing for big data proliferation for real-time analysis, integration, and application in relation to urban planning and management.
Beyond infrastructures, 5G will play a big role in improving healthcare delivery. Specifically, 5G’s higher capacity and improved response time can facilitate efficient telemedicine consultations and remote CT scanning to overcome a shortage of healthcare workers – which came to a fore during the COVID-19 crisis. This application was already realised in Thailand, where 5G-enabled telehealth services were introduced to support healthcare facilities and reduce the strain on frontliners during the pandemic.
Future is bright in the Asia Pacific
5G is already being rolled out across the Asia-Pacific region. In the coming years, its presence will only be solidified further as more of the region’s governments race to sustainably prepare their societies and industries for future crises and to make the most out of long-term digital transformation and economic opportunities.
Already, many of the region’s nations are laying the technological foundations to welcome the implementation of more advanced technologies. This shows that the Asia Pacific region is on the cusp of transforming itself, and 5G will be the catalyst to help its countries take part in a once-in-a-generation revolution.
John Harrington is Senior Vice President & Head of Asia-Pacific and Japan at Nokia.
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