In the past ten years, Southeast Asia has established itself as a pioneer of technology adoption and has risen as a world leader in digital transformation. From robotics to artificial intelligence and Fintech to Proptech, the region has become a hotspot for tech-driven developments across various industries. Among the main factors responsible for Southeast Asia’s drastic digital shift is a rising middle class, and an ever-increasing mobile usage as well as internet penetration.

This year the entire Southeast Asian region seems to be gearing up for a new wave in the telecommunications industry with the emergence of the 5G technology. 5G is the latest generation of cellular mobile communications that promises high data rate, energy saving, reduced latency, higher system capacity, cost reduction, and massive device connectivity. It is expected to open up a whole new set of opportunities while driving the uptake of new-age technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality. 5G is the next big revolution that is already starting to happen in the communications industry across different countries in Southeast Asia.

Singapore is leading Southeast Asia in 5G adoption

people standing inside train station

Singapore has been a front runner in the region since the beginning of the 5G race. When most countries were struggling to implement the shift between 2G and 3G in late 2014, Singapore was already laying out an ambitious groundwork for the deployment of 5G.

In August 2016, Singapore became the first country in the region to complete tests for 5G with Singtel and Ericsson project “Making 5G Innovation a Reality”. For the first time in the world, an end-to-end live low latency (high volume with minimum delay) video-streaming over 5G was demonstrated in Singapore by the two telecom giants. In November 2016, StarHub and Nokia came together to conduct 5G trials while later, in January 2017, M1 Limited conducted 5G trials in collaboration with Huawei.

2019 has begun, and Singapore has already taken significant strides towards bringing the technology closer to reality by opening the first live 5G facility in the country in the month of January. The facility, known as 5G Garage, is connected to Singtel’s latest pilot 5G network, which runs on a trial spectrum granted by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA). 5G Garage will serve as a test bed, training centre and ideation lab for developing and fostering 5G adoption by different enterprises in Singapore.

Malaysia is getting 5G ready

Malaysia is not far behind Singapore when it comes to being open about embracing this new telecom technology and is already running tests for 5G. Multinational telecom company Huawei and Malaysian telecommunications giant edotco came together last year to get Malaysia 5G-ready. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir gave a statement earlier in January this year that Malaysia has no intentions of banning Huawei’s 5G rollout like other countries where it has been banned due to security concerns. Malaysia seems to be eager to roll out the technology by next year and ready to take 5G adoption to the next level in 2019.

Developments in Cambodia and Thailand

Companies like Cellcard in Cambodia and AIS in Thailand are leading the 5G revolution. Last year in October, Cellcard announced that they are ready to upgrade their infrastructure to 5G and the network might be available commercially by the second quarter of 2019. Last year in November, AIS became the first Thai mobile network company to start 5G tests in the country. They also made it available for trial runs at the “5G the First Live in Thailand by AIS”.

Additionally, in January this year, the Thai government announced plans to test 5G services in the Eastern Economic Corridor, which covers the country’s eastern provinces of Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao. The installation of required equipment for tests is already being conducted at the Kasetsart University Sriracha Campus in Thailand.

Indonesia, the Philippines and Brunei in the 5G race

In Indonesia, mobile network providers Telkomsel and XL conducted 5G trials during the 2018 Asian Games. It will be interesting to see what the next steps will be taken this year. While Indonesia has yet to come out with an official announcement on their 5G adoption plans this year, the Filipinos have already declared their plans in this regard.

The Philippines-based telecommunications firm Smart has announced plans to deploy a 5G pilot network in the first half of 2019, while Globe Telecom promises that 5G network could be available in the country by the second quarter of 2019.

Interestingly, despite a high internet penetration, Brunei still hasn’t come out with concrete announcements about 5G adoption. Although according to reports, Brunei plans to roll it out by 2021 or 2022. It is anticipated that Brunei will take strong strides this year to escalate the adoption of this technology.

2019 seems to be a pivotal year for the emergence of 5G technology in Southeast Asia as countries across the region seem to be rolling out plans, and many, even running tests. It will be interesting to see how things pan out by the end of the year and in what ways this emerging communications technology trend impacts other industries.