April 30, 2019

Asia Pacific Sets Sights on 5G Networks and Services

Operators across the Asia Pacific region are planning for or already deploying 5G environments to make way for the next wave of services and devices.

April 2019 was big for the mobile industry, with the launch of commercial 5G mobile services in both the United States and South Korea. This year, 5G announcements have been coming thick and fast as operators, regulators and nation-states shepherd 5G into the marketplace. New technologies normally come first in economically prosperous markets. However, this is clearly not the case for 5G, particularly in the Asia Pacific. In addition to Australia and South Korea, operators in Cambodia, Pakistan and the Philippines have articulated strategies to deploy 5G in 2019.

5G is vibrant in the Asia Pacific, with many deployments planned for both emerging and mature markets.

Although commercial 5G services are not expected in China until 2020, China is aiming to be the first with nationwide coverage in 2023. To achieve this, Chinese operators are capitalizing the assets of China Tower, an entity that was created when China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom consolidated their tower portfolios. China Tower now has more than 1.9 million towers throughout China to leverage for 5G.

5G Trailblazing Kicks Off in 2019

In the Asia Pacific, Korea Telecom (KT), SK Telecom and LG Uplus all gained notoriety for launching 5G services in 2019, albeit with limited coverage and targeted customer bases. These operators have all announced 5G data plans and KT is perhaps the most aggressive in pursuing plans that allow for unlimited usage.

In Australia, Telstra and Optus aim to commercialize 5G in 2019. Although Vodafone Australia plans to launch 5G at a later date, it has deployed extensive dark fiber and is seeking regulatory approval to acquire TGP Group’s assets in Australia. TGP recently abandoned plans to enter the Australian market as the fourth 5G operator.

Even though 4G was launched only a little more than four years ago in Cambodia and Pakistan, bold strategies are afoot in both countries to shepherd 5G into the market in 2019. Cambodia’s CellCard has announced plans to commercially launch 5G in the second quarter of 2019. Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Technology has set an ambitious target for 5G commercial availability in Pakistan during 2019. But since 4G is still relatively nascent in both Cambodia and Pakistan, we expect that 5G will be deployed in targeted areas to complement existing 4G networks.

Since welcoming commercial 4G services in 2012, the Philippines has seen strong demand and tremendous market competition for 4G data services. In response to this demand and market competition, Globe Telecom announced plans to offer 5G services by mid-2019. Meanwhile, Smart Communications is aiming to have a 5G-ready network deployed in the 2020 timeframe.

Massive 5G Momentum Expected in 2020 and Beyond

Most mobile operators in the Asia Pacific plan to deploy 5G after 2019. In 2020, networks are planned for China, Japan, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Taiwan. In addition, 5G networks are planned for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia in the 2021-2022 timeframe. 5G operator strategies are impacted by a variety of factors, which include the maturity of 5G ecosystems in the context of existing 3G and 4G, radio spectrum licensing and availability, profitable 5G use cases, fixed network and backbone infrastructure capacity, and key market events. For example:

  • NTT DoCoMo, Softbank, KDDI and Rakuten all plan to launch 5G services in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Rakuten is a new entrant in Japan and is taking advantage of its green-field status with disruptive deployment strategies for both 4G and 5G.
  • 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) services have been launched with a handful of high-end mobile devices, including Samsung’s S10 and LG’s V50 ThinQ. Throughout 2019 and 2020, the portfolio of high-end and mid-tier 5G devices will increase dramatically as demand grows. This will ease future 5G commercialization challenges.
  • Radio spectrum and relevant regulations are crucial for 5G to flourish and is generally a lead indicator for 5G adoption in a particular market. In most cases, the C-band spectrum in the 3.4-3.6GHz bands and millimeter wave spectrum in the 24GHz and 38GHz bands are being allocated in markets across the Asia Pacific. In addition, there is a growing interest in other spectrums, including the 2.6GHz and 4.9GHz bands to complement 5G C-band allocations.

5G is vibrant in the Asia Pacific, with many deployments planned for both emerging and mature markets. Although current network deployments are focused on eMBB services, there are numerous use cases that will capitalize on 5G once it becomes available. In addition to their networks, it is crucial that operators upgrade their business and operational support software and business processes to capitalize on the opportunities that future 5G use-cases will create.

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