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What does 5G herald for the region?

EVERY 10 years or so, mobile technology gets refreshed. In the early days, digital mobile telephony – also known as GSM or second generation (2G) came to Malaysia in 1994. About 10 years later, vendors were touting third generation (3G) mobile telephony, and 10 years after that, the market began talking about fourth generation (4G).

By extrapolating this somewhat oversimplified formula, fifth generation (5G) should arrive in 2023/ 2024.

But that isn’t the case, as vendors are already drumming up the notion of 5G coming to town as early as 2018 in some limited way in advanced markets, including the United States, Japan and South Korea. Vendors are optimistic that adoption will pick up quickly from then on.

Case in point: According to Swedish vendor Ericsson, the world will see more than half a billion 5G subscriptions worldwide by 2022, covering about 15% of the global population.

North America was projected to lead the adoption of this new technology, with 25% of mobile subscriptions set to be 5G by 2022, noted its latest Mobility Report released in June. This was expected to be followed by Asia Pacific with 10%, it added.

In Japan, telcos and other corporations are racing to commercialise fifth-generation mobile technology ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, reports the Nikkei Asian Review.

The business daily also noted that drones, in conjunction with 4K-ready cameras, artificial intelligence (AI) and smartphones, are being tested for use at the game’s opening ceremony.

Similarly, South Korea’s KT Corp (KT), the official network partner for the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games next year in Korea, will offer 5G trial services during the Games. Together with another major player, SK Telecom, both operators have already announced goals to commercialise the 5G network by 2019.

So is 5G going to come soon? Some believe 5G should come sooner rather than later while others remain more cautious.

In an email response to DNA’s queries on 5G, Stephen Wilson, principal analyst at Analysys Mason  said there remains a good deal of uncertainty around investing heavily in a new technology in a challenging business environment for global MNOs.

Wilson said one option would be to use millimetre wave spectrum but the cell range for such high frequencies is low and this will mean significant investments will need to be made in fibre backhaul.

Wilson argued that in general further spectrum releases will be required to meet the growing demand in traffic and the launch of 5G. He added that a further area of uncertainty is with regard to the value of 5G IoT.

“IoT forms an important part of the 5G vision but it is unclear at this point which IoT applications will actually require 5G as opposed to existing IoT technologies,” he said.

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