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Can the 5G Roll-out Reboot the Downturn in the Mobile Economy?

With the growth of the mobile sector stalling in all but the least-developed markets, attendees at the recent ConnecTech Asia event were pinning all of their hopes for resurgent sales on the global adoption of the new hyper-fast 5G standard.

Photo: 5G: A new standard in mobile communications and a technology set to transform several industries. (Shutterstock.com)
5G: A new standard in mobile communications and a technology set to transform several industries.
Photo: 5G: A new standard in mobile communications and a technology set to transform several industries. (Shutterstock.com)
5G: A new standard in mobile communications and a technology set to transform several industries.

In recognition of the current pace of technological change, two of Asia-Pacific's leading digital communications and content events – CommunicAsia and Broadcast Asia – are now running concurrently with NXT Asia, a new, emerging technology event, under the combined branding of ConnecTech Asia. Explaining the rationale behind this, M. Gandhi, Group Managing Director (ASEAN Business) and Vice-president of event organiser, UBM Asia, said: "We are now in a new age of convergence, one where the lines between telecoms, media and technology have become increasingly blurred."

Overall, the focus of this year's event was the rollout of 5G, its implementation and its implications for a number of other sectors, including the internet of things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cloud computing and cashless / mobile payments.

Warning that any telco that didn't embrace this new standard ran the risk of being left well behind, Bill Chang, Chief Executive of Group Enterprise at Singtel, the operator of Singapore's largest mobile network, said: "The traditional telco provider business has faced disruption on several fronts, from voice to data roaming to competition from new entrants to the industry. As a result, telcos now need to have their fingers in a number of non-telco related businesses.

"In the case of Singtel, 46% of our revenue now comes from add-on businesses, such as cybersecurity. In today's business environment, telcos need to fail fast, skill fast and learn fast."

Despite the expected uptick likely to be triggered by wider access to 5G, some attendees believed that this might not suffice to wholly reboot the mobile communications sector. Citing research carried out by her own company, Marina Koytcheva, Vice-President of Forecasting Data for CSS Insight, a UK-headquartered research group with a focus on mobile technology, said: "With global demand set to continue to slow until 2022, the telco industry is banking on 5G to reignite sales. Consumers in the more mature markets, however, have been underwhelmed by the latest crop of flagship smartphones, though there's still growth potential in number of the emerging markets, notably Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

"Although we expect the first 5G smartphones to hit the market in 2019, really significant demand won't start until 2021. By 2022, though, we expect that 600 million of these phones will have been sold globally, accounting for 31% of the market overall."

Looking more specifically at the Asia-Pacific market, a recent report by Frost & Sullivan, a Texas-headquartered market consultancy, predicts that, by 2022, the Asia-Pacific region will have 28 million 5G subscribers, collectively representing US$4.5 billion in revenue. Expanding on the company's findings, Quah Mei Lee, its Industry Principal Analyst, said: "Asia is a unique setting for 5G. It is a populous region with fast-growing and increasingly-digital economies and one where there is growing demand for speed and connectivity. The arrival of 5G in this region will fundamentally change a number of sectors, including transport, healthcare, communications and supply chains.

Photo: ConnecTech Asia: Some of 2018’s 40,000 visitors.
ConnecTech Asia: Some of 2018's 40,000 visitors.
Photo: ConnecTech Asia: Some of 2018’s 40,000 visitors.
ConnecTech Asia: Some of 2018's 40,000 visitors.
Photo: Well-represented: Asia’s leading digital businesses.
Well-represented: Asia's leading digital businesses.
Photo: Well-represented: Asia’s leading digital businesses.
Well-represented: Asia's leading digital businesses.

"Faster internet speeds at more cost-effective pricing per gigabyte will enable new business models and contribute towards economic growth and digital economy transformation. For businesses, this presents new monetisation opportunities – at 1,000 times the speed of 4G, 5G could deliver smooth, HD content in seconds, while redefining audience engagement with real-time targeting."

Again addressing the transformational nature of 5G, Mikio Iwamura, Executive Research Engineer and Group Leader for the 5G Radio Access Network Research Group, said: "The implementation of 5G is clearly critical, as 4G will not suffice for future applications – in terms of latency, throughput, connections, mobility or network architecture. In very high-density traffic areas, 4G is already lagging.

"In another plus, 5G will also create new businesses through collaboration. Essentially, 5G is all about enhancing mobile broadband services, enabling massive machine-to-machine communications and providing ultra-reliable, low-latency communications. It's also the bedrock for many future industries, most notably IoT and robotics.

"At the moment, the US and Canada are leading the way in terms of 5G adoption, with trials already under way in both countries and road maps to commercialisation due by the end of this year. A number of other markets – South Korea, Japan, Europe and China – are all planning for a roll-out in the 2020s. In Japan, for instance, its road map sees initial and limited deployment in the urban centres by 2020, with a wider deployment into the suburban and rural areas soon after."

Looking more at 5G's implications for technological development, rather than its prospects in various geographical markets, Rohit Dhawan, Consulting Director for New York-headquartered Accenture Applied Intelligence, highlighted its likely impact on AI, saying: "Although AI is still at an early stage of adoption, it will rapidly permeate all levels of society. In fact, AI is projected to double annual economic growth rates by 2035.

"The amount of data available is expanding exponentially and AI will allow enterprises to make sense of that data, facilitating in-depth analysis and providing a guide to new business directions. From the boardroom to the trading floor, AI is already transforming industries with intelligent, data-driven insights.

"To drive efficiencies and new growth, companies should embed AI into the core of their business in conjunction with advanced analytics, human ingenuity and industry expertise. The combined effect of AI, the cloud, sophisticated analytics and other technologies is already starting to change how work is done by humans and computers, as well as how organisations interact with consumers.

"As AI matures, in combination with 5G, it will propel economic growth and potentially serve as a powerful remedy for the stagnant productivity and labour shortages of recent decades in many of the developed countries. To fulfil the promise of AI, relevant stakeholders must be thoroughly prepared – intellectually, technologically, politically, ethically and socially – to address the benefits and challenges that can arise from artificial intelligence."

Focusing on the enabling nature of 5G for the cloud computing sector, Dr Derek Wang, Chief Cloud Architect at Singapore-headquartered Alibaba Cloud International, the world's third-largest cloud-services provider, said: "As the world becomes increasingly global, the cloud offers the ideal platform for organisations to manage and store their data, together with the flexibility to operate without borders, a facility that 5G will clearly enhance.

"Beyond the benefits of agility and cost savings, the cloud will enable organisations to tap into integrated data analytics and AI solutions. By 2020, we believe that a corporate 'no cloud' policy will be as rare as a 'no internet' policy is today."

Sounding something of a warning note, Melissa Lim, Territory Sales Manager at Darktrace, a UK-based specialist in cyber-defence, emphasised the need for companies to upgrade their data security in line with the changing technological; landscape. Outlining the scale of the risks involved, she said: "According to our research, 59% of threats start internally, both malicious as well as non-malicious. This is partly because there are now so many connected devices that most companies have no idea how many they actually have. They may, for instance, have a connected coffee-maker, but is it protected? The number of devices a company actually has is typically triple the number they believe they have, with their IT security team frequently unaware of many of them.

"Now, coming over the horizon, are yet more threats, partly because so many aspects of IT are now outsourced. Is your outsourced cloud a blind spot? Who controls the traffic? Who sees the data? Companies need to ask all of these questions.

"In the future, as 5G gains traction, we will see more AI-driven attacks, with algorithms fighting algorithms and machine-on-machine attacks. What is needed is an AI response to attacks, one that gives the humans involved enough time to catch up."

Photo: Testing times: Already being trialled in the US and Canada, the first 5G networks should go live in 2019.
Testing times: Already being trialled in the US and Canada, the first 5G networks should go live in 2019.
Photo: Testing times: Already being trialled in the US and Canada, the first 5G networks should go live in 2019.
Testing times: Already being trialled in the US and Canada, the first 5G networks should go live in 2019.

ConnecTech Asia 2018 took place 26-28 June at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre and Marina Bay Sands.

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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