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Thailand Demonstrates How a Developing Country Succeeds in 5G

by Guang Yang | Aug 29, 2022

Major Operators’ Performance Rebounded with Increasing 5G Adoption

Major Thailand mobile operators reported their Q2 results recently. Even though their businesses were hit by a new wave of COVID pandemic in Q1, the performance of major operators rebounded in Q2, mainly thanks to the fast-growing 5G adoption. For example, the largest mobile operator in Thailand, AIS, reported a 1.3% QoQ / 0.4% YoY mobile revenue growth in Q2, while its 5G subscribers reached 3.9 million, a 39.3% increase from the last quarter. 

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The second and third largest mobile operator, TrueMove H and DTAC, also reported QoQ revenue growth with strong subscriber net-adds. TrueMove H reported 227K postpaid subscribers added and 542K prepaid subscribers added, which made the total subscribers reach 33.3 million, including 3.4 million 5G subscribers. DTAC reported a record high subscriber net-adds in Q2 with a 5.4% YoY subscriber increase. A rebound in the crucial tourism sector, the increased consumption, and exports will help Thailand keep its economic growth target this year. Mobile operators are expected to benefit from the economic recovery, and 5G will play a key role in the recovery process.

The 5G rollout has significantly improved the mobile user experience in Thailand. According to an OpenSignal report, Thailand is the No.8 in the “Global Top 15 5G vs. 4G Download Speed Improvement” and No.4 in the “Global Top 15 5G vs. 4G Video Experience Improvement.” The two improvement ratios were up to 7.6 and 64% in the test period of March to May 2022, respectively. Ookla’s report also pointed out that “Thailand’s 5G performs well compared to its regional counterparts.” According to the report, Thailand is “on par with its regional peers such as Australia and China and ahead of the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, and New Zealand in terms of 5G Availability.”

Supportive Policies

Behind the progressive 5G rollout, there is a supportive policy environment. Thailand was one of the first countries in the Asia-Pacific region to issue the 5G spectrum licenses. The spectrum of 700 MHz, 2600 MHz, and 26 GHz bands was auctioned in February 2020. The well-balanced spectrum portfolio enables leading Thai operators, AIS and TrueMove H, to provide a premium mobile broadband experience and extend 5G availability simultaneously. 

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The Thai government plays an active role in ensuring 5G can bring economic and societal benefits. The government has made the Action Plan for Promoting the Adoption of 5G Technology in Thailand Phase 1, which targets to stimulate the innovations utilizing 5G capabilities and support the transformation toward “Thailand 4.0 whereby the economic and social developments are driven by digital technologies and innovations.”

The action plan set a seven-year plan for 2021-2027 (see the chart below) and specified indicators for overall goals by the end of the period, such as the 5G network covering 98% population, the 5G mobile adoption rate up to 80%, the adoption of 5G technology in the vertical industries increasing the GDP by at least 6.6%, etc.   

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According to the announcement of Prime Minister Prayut at the recent Thailand 5G Summit 2022, the nation’s ambition is to become a digital hub in Southeast Asia and the cooperation between the public and private sectors will “commercially drive Thailand’s 5G technology development in every industry.” These supportive policies will create a friendly environment for industry players to grow 5G businesses in Thailand.

Leveraging regional resources

The Asia-Pacific region has become a center of 5G innovations, as China and South Korea are the 5G pioneer markets worldwide. The 5G development in Thailand has significantly benefited from the mature 5G ecosystem in the region.

Thai operators' 5G networks, either in 2.6 GHz band or in 700 MHz bands, can benefit from the sizeable economic scale of China Mobile. So far, China Mobile has deployed one million 5G base stations, including 30% in the 700 MHz band and 70% in the 2.6 GHz band. Thai operators can get the advanced 5G network solutions that have been thoroughly tested by China Mobile and are mature enough. This can significantly accelerate the 5G rollout pace in Thailand.  

Since 5G commercial services were kicked off, Thai operators have introduced various 5G devices, based on the rich device ecosystem in the Asia-Pacific region, including high-end 5G phones from Samsung, Huawei, etc., affordable 5G phones from Xiaomi, OPPO, VIVO, etc., and also VR devices. The broad 5G device portfolio, particularly those affordable 5G devices with starting prices of Bt5,690 – 8,290 (USD 160 – 230), helped operators rapidly improve 5G adoption.

Thai operators also leverage South Korea and China’s content and application ecosystem to develop value-added 5G services. For example, AIS signed an agreement with South Korean LG U+ to import VR/AR 5G content; True Move H partnered with China-based cloud tech provider Bifrost Cloud to provide cloud gaming services. Thai operators bundled these iconic 5G content and other popular OTT content platforms – such as Disney, YouTube, iQiYi, etc. – with their 5G service plans, making the 5G services more attractive and accelerating the 5G adoption successfully. 

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“5G+” empowers the Thailand 4.0 transformation

In the Action Plan for Promoting the Adoption of 5G Technology in Thailand Phase 1, Thailand's government set goals for the economic and social developments based on 5G innovations and prioritized key sectors, including Industrial Sector, Transportation and Logistics Sector, Agricultural Sector, Tourism Sector, Financial  Sector, Wholesale and Retail Sector, Public Health Sector, Education Sector, and Smart City Sector. For example, the government targets to make 5G networks cover at least 500 Tambon Health Promoting Hospitals and 100 Community ICT Learning Centers/Digital Community Centers by 2022 and at least 7,800 Tambon Health Promoting Hospitals and 1,800 Community ICT Learning Centers/Digital Community Centers by 2027.

Actually, the public healthcare sector has become a pioneer in Thailand in utilizing 5G and digital technologies. As the first 5G Smart Hospital project in ASEAN, Siriraj Hospital demonstrates “a new model for modern medical facilities, with 5G providing the high-speed connections needed to ensure seamless transfer of patient data and operation of telemedicine equipment, which will contribute to patient care and operational efficiency,” according to a news report. So far, nine innovative subprojects have been launched for the 5G smart hospital, including Smart Emergency Medical Services, Smart Emergency Room, Pathological diagnosis system with 5G and artificial intelligence, 5G AI Platform for Non-Communicable Diseases, etc. The Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, and Huawei Technologies also established a Joint Innovation Lab to “develop new innovations and create new value by utilising new digital technologies.” “Siriraj aims to be a blueprint for all other Smart Hospitals in Thailand and at a global level,” according to Prof. Dr. Prasit Watanapa, MD., Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University.

The combination of 5G and industrial digital transformation has boosted the demand for cloud and ICT solutions. AIS reported that its CCIID business (Cloud, Cybersecurity, IoT & ICT solutions, Data center) grew by 140% in Q2 2022. The operator has built a partnership with leading public cloud providers, including AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Huawei Cloud, to strengthen its service portfolio and meet the growing demand.

Not only in Thailand but also in China and South Korea, the cloud business is becoming a key engine for telecom operators’ growth. Either China Telecom, China Mobile, or KT reported strong growth in cloud business in 1H 2022. The development of 5G industrial applications is expected to create more opportunities for the operators’ cloud businesses, particularly for the edge cloud. 

In summary, the supportive policy environment and the rich regional ecosystem play key roles in the successful taking-off of Thailand’s 5G market. The healthy development of the 5G business lays out a solid foundation for operators’ growth in the post-COVID era. 5G networks are expected to empower the transformation toward Thailand 4.0 and further benefit Thailand's economic and social developments.

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