The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many industries on their heads. Across the globe, demand for high-speed internet has skyrocketed, as stay-at-home orders have forced many to work, and socialise, remotely. More urgently, tech companies have been racing to deploy 5G in Southeast Asia as a means to boost healthtech in the fight against COVID-19. 

5G in Thailand is already a reality, and the pandemic has only served to quicken the pace of its deployment. Thailand leads with 5G rollout—it is the first ASEAN country to have commercial 5G in place, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has formed a National 5G Committee to promote its usage. 

5G and COVID-19

black smartphone

It is no coincidence that Thailand has stepped up 5G installation during a global emergency. Its usage in enabling remote healthcare devices, including AI and robotics used in hospitals, has heightened perception that it is instrumental to the national recovery from COVID-19.

Not only is it imperative for healthcare in the country, but also to aid the economic recovery overall. Hailed as the “backbone” of the post-COVID financial regeneration, it will boost Thailand’s digital economy, creating much-needed employment and investment. 

It is a move being echoed across the region, with 5G in Southeast Asia fast becoming the saviour to the 2020 black swan event. Countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also pushing ahead with their 5G technology plans. 

5G operators in Thailand

Thailand is a fast mover with 5G, in contrast with its slow adoption of 4G several years ago. So-called “Industry 4.0” is here, and despite security concerns over 5G’s reliance on Chinese company Huawei’s technology, Thai telecom companies are steaming ahead. 

AIS (Advanced Info Service) and True Corp have the biggest slices of the 5G pie in Thailand — AIS holds 23 out of 49 licences put up for auction, with True Corp or True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) comes in a close second, buying up 17 licences. 

We are seeing a big focus on healthtech right now, with AIS launching 5G services in hospitals across Thailand to help combat COVID-19. From diagnosis to treatment, 5G-enabled robots are revolutionising care, an inevitable development which has only been accelerated by the pandemic. 

Consumer usage of 5G is still some way off, but it is coming. We are likely to see it employed in several industries, from education to farming to construction. However, investment is needed to build sufficient cell sites to meet the demand for the years to come.

Future building

The medical sector is by no means the only one that will be rolling out 5G in Thailand. Real estate is one industry where businesses are making plans to harness 5G technology. The concept of smart homes is becoming popular in construction, the aim being to understand how occupants are using buildings to inform future housing developments. Commercial logistics can also benefit from inbuilt sensors, enabling deliveries to run more efficiently. The introduction of 5G makes the collection of data easier and faster, allowing businesses to be more responsive. 

The software market is another sector likely to benefit from the estimated ฿400 billion THB (almost $13 billion USD) investment in 5G in the next five years. Faster internet speed powered by 5G brings greater cybersecurity threats, so it is probable we will see investment here, as well as in big data analytics and cloud computing. 

The use of robotics will become commonplace, and the Thai electronics and electrical appliance industries, as well as the automobile industry, appear to be early adopters. 5G can aid the automation of many sectors, speeding up internal processes and reducing overheads

A principal aim for telecom giant True, is to bring distance learning to many of Thailand’s rural population. Due to COVID-19, this change is already underway in the country, and the widespread introduction of 5G will only make this new way of learning faster, and more accessible. There is hope that it will not completely replace face to face education; however, if the future of Thailand’s economy lies with the digital industries, the next generation needs to be prepared.

It is safe to say that the COVID-19 crisis has impacted tech industries hugely, and we are likely to see more and more adoption of robotics, AI, and IoT post-pandemic. Thailand is not going to be left behind this time and is making all the right moves in healthcare, education, industry and other sectors to ensure that 5G is here to stay. Whether 5G is the saviour of the Thai economy is yet to be seen, but for better or for worse, it looks like it is on the fast track to ultra-connectivity.