Thailand 4.0? A digital recovery powered by 5G

Businesses and consumers in can look forward to more innovations and transformative trends to form in local industries, driven by 5G networking capabilities as part of the country’s 4.0 economic stimulus plan.

This despite recent setbacks to prior, widely-held expectations that 5G would dominate the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, and Southeast Asia in particular. At the start of the year, it looked likely that 5G rollouts would pick up momentum in Southeast Asia next, following successful introductions in South Korea, China, Australia, and now Japan earlier in 2020.

With several 5G pilot tests around Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, market researchers like GlobalData were expecting countries in APAC would make up the lion’s share of 5G adoption by 2024, estimating 65% of global 5G subscriptions to be from this part of the world.

But that was before the coronavirus pandemic swept the region, causing widespread disruption to 5G rollout plans. With existing plans in disarray, most operators in Southeast Asia have delayed 5G introduction to next year, but not Thailand.

Having already auctioned off its 5G spectrum allocations by mid-February, telco operators in the Land of Smiles forged ahead with 5G, with the nation’s major mobile operators Advanced Info Service (AIS) and True Corp. launching 5G networks starting with hospitals across Thailand, to power innovations that were helping to combat COVID-19 on the home front.

With the successful introduction of 5G in various parts of the country, and with some interesting 5G-driven trials such as the smart airport initiative, both the Thai government and local network carriers are optimistic not just about the ongoing 5G infrastructure installations, but about the technology’s ability to ignite significant change across industries as part of Thailand 4.0.

The Thai government wised up to the benefits of 5G-based innovations thanks to Covid-19 diagnosis services offered by Huawei Technologies at Siriraj and Ramathibodi hospitals, which had 96% accuracy.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand has efficiently handled the outbreak thanks to critical infrastructure of the 5G network installation following the 5G license auction in February,” said Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister, Buddhipongse Punnakanta.

Thailand 4.0 now hopes to see the country emerging as a cutting-edge hub in Asia Pacific, and to that end is funding a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite and expanding its submarine cable capacities to provide better infrastructure for the country. The LEO satellite, for instance, is a unique challenge for Thailand’s space program, but at only 500 – 2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface compared to the 36,000km height of regular geostationary satellites, should dramatically improve 5G latency issues.

“The advantage of the lower orbit is lower latency. It will benefit everyone with access to high-speed internet services via 5G technology, IoT [Internet of Things] devices, M2M [Machine to Machine] technology,” commented Buddhipongse.

The DES minister said the COVID-19 “new normal” had not just impacted the socio-economic situation in the country, but had driven the proactive development of healthcare services using technology – which was now attracting the attention of foreign investors.

After years of failing to meet productivity targets at both the federal and private business levels, 5G tech had become a pivotal axis of the Thailand 4.0 digital recovery plan, and was also helping to drive renewed collaboration between the public and private sectors, according to Minister Buddhipongse.

Vichaow Rakphongphairoj, the executive vice-chairman of the second-largest mobile carrier True Corporation, concurs. “5G can help forge the country’s recovery through low latency, ultra-high-speed connectivity and wider bandwidth,” he said, adding that 5G would transform industry in Thailand including in the arenas of supply chains and logistics, production, product innovation, sales and marketing, and service and support.

Some of the tech-driven areas that 5G will make a substantial dent is in monitoring and tracking, maintenance, smart surveillance, augmented reality, connected vehicles, remote operations, and autonomous robotics.

Vichaow said that True Corp is committed to expanding its 5G investment to create a new infrastructure for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) projects that are part of the Thailand 4.0 plan plus other core sectors, to help navigate Thailand’s recovery in a post-pandemic world.

Last week, Nokia won a IP/MPLS network contract with True Corp, to deliver higher throughput, lower latency, and increased reliability for True’s 5G deployment in the critical EEC region of eastern Thailand. The EEC has been earmarked as a flagship development under Thailand 4.0, which the Thai government intends to be a hub of trade and investment, regional transportation and logistics, and a strategic gateway to the rest of Asia.

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