5G Updates in ASEAN – Q3 2020: Mixed Developments, but Still a Solid Growth Forecast

A. Amir

Summary Bullets:

  • There have been mixed 5G developments in the region. While the 5G race is heating up in the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore, the launch is still unclear for Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • 5G subscribers are expected to grow from 0.2 million in 2020 to 127 million and account for 17% of the total mobile subscribers in 2025.

Key Announcements

July 2020 – Philippine PLDT/Smart 5G Goes Live: The incumbent launched its 5G services in key business districts in Metro Manila about one year after its rival, Globe. While PLDT may have lost some very early opportunity, the launch is timely in the Philippines considering the ecosystem and market readiness. The launch will also increase the competition and hence drive the adoption of 5G in the country. PLDT is also leveraging its strength in the enterprise segment to stay ahead of competitors. It has integrated the technology in its enterprise portfolio and is collaborating with various industry players to co-develop 5G use cases, such as partnerships with TV5 to modernize news operations and with Ateneo de Manila University on 5G smart campus.

August 2020 – StarHub Begins 5G Live Trial with Selected Customers: The carrier takes the lead in the country by offering 5G trial services to selected users. The 5G service runs on non-standalone (NSA) network using its existing 2.1 GHz spectrum and covers 70% of the Singapore population. Like other carriers, StarHub is also deploying its SA network on the recently awarded 3.5 GHz frequency band and plans to launch the service by mid-2021. The move offers StarHub not just brand advantage and customer retention, but also platforms to gain an early understanding of market demand and challenges as well as to explore enterprise 5G opportunities through collaborations with industry players.

August 2020 – AIS Extends 5G Leadership in Thailand: Since the launch in February, AIS continues to extend its 5G leadership in the country by launching FWA services in July and expanding its standalone (SA) coverage nationwide (all 77 provinces) in August. Apart from offering the service to the consumer, AIS has integrated the technology into its enterprise network portfolio, including as an access option for SD-WAN. It also supports network slicing and collaborates with industry players for vertical applications. This includes partnerships with SCG and PSU to develop remote forklift and Port Authority of Thailand on smart ports.

August 2020 – Malaysia Postpones 5G Launches: The 5G spectrum award was previously scheduled for Q3 this year, but a recent announcement by the government on a new digital infrastructure plan reveals that 5G will only be available in the country in 2022. However, most local carriers have indicated their readiness to roll out the technology and may push for earlier launches. For global updates and ecosystem developments, please see 5G Watch Q3 2020: Rollouts Slow in Some Regions While Technology Advances,” September 29, 2020.

Market Outlook

There have been mixed 5G developments in the region. While the race is heating up in the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore, launch dates are still unclear in Indonesia and Malaysia. Despite a slight downward revision compared to the previous forecast, 5G subscribers are still expected to grow strongly from 0.2 million in 2020 to 127 million and account for 17% of the total mobile subscribers in 2025, as shown in Figure 1 below. The opportunity in the next couple of years will be largely driven by mobile users and FWA as a fiber alternative. Apart from Singapore, fiber coverage is still very limited in the region. This will drive the carriers to leverage 5G to close the gap and expand their shares in the fixed broadband market. The opportunity from vertical 5G use cases such as autonomous vehicles and remote healthcare is only expected to come later, as most collaborations and applications are still in the early development stage.

Figure 1: 5G Subscriptions in ASEAN: 2019 – 2025

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