The Race for 5G In Asia

Dec 7, 2019 | Asia, BIZ, NEWS, TECH, US

The Race for a Smarter Future – Ken Hu – Deputy Chaiman – Huawei ©Fortune Global Forum

Unsurprisingly, the 5G race in Asia sees South Korea and China leading the pack for fifth-generation mobile interconnectivity.

5G or fifth generation mobile interconnectivity is all the rage these days. While 4G services have experienced wide success, especially in third world nations like the Philippines, Asia as a whole is raring for a chance to experience unprecedented speeds the likes of which Asia has not seen before in the mass market.

We’re talking about speeds in excess of 200 mbps. In the United States, telecom giant Verizon surprised everyone by offering 5G interconnectivity to consumers in April 2019. Techradar’s report gave us the impression that Verizon’s rollout of 5G is still pretty much in its infancy as the telecom giant unfurled its 5G services in Chicago.

Techradar reported clocking speeds of up to 1 Gbps consistently, though they had to move around the city to get this speed. In the United Kingdom, London is gestating 5G, but the speeds there are well below what Verizon in the US is offering. Speeds were between 200 mbps – 500 mbps, which are higher than what 4G currently promises, but well below what 5G is supposed to deliver.

The Internet of Things?

The global rollout of 5G, whenever it should happen, is supposed to herald the Age of the Internet of Things, where interconnectivity and sharing of information will become unprecedented due to the speed and ease at which digital data can be exchanged between people.

Ian Fogg of OpenSignals, a mobile data analytics company, states that we should start thinking of smart glasses featuring augmented reality, mobile virtual reality, and higher quality video, which theoretically should make cities ‘smarter.’ He clarifies that what is truly exciting are the things that ‘we cannot foresee.’ Well, we can’t argue with that kind of excitement. But what about Asia? When will Asia have a taste of the wonders of 5G?

Huawei is the Odd One Out

Last May, embattled Chinese tech giant Huawei unveiled its 5G lab in South Korea. However, the opening ceremony was low-key as Huawei continued to be locked in a tussle with the US government over its telecom equipment. South Korea is a key security ally of the United States. The tech giant pledged that it will invest $5 million in the 5G lab, which is located in the Junggu district in Seoul. The tech giant did not invite any media to the launch. However, in a statement, Huawei clarified that it would like to build a 5G ecosystem with the help of South Korean ICT companies, including small to medium enterprises.

As of this writing, only LG Uplus Corp. is using Huawei’s telecom equipment to build 5G base stations. Much larger rivals, SK Telecom Co. and KT Corp. have decided to work with other vendors who are not locked horns with the US government, namely, Samsung Electronics, and Nokia. However, it appears that Huawei is having a tough time making a permanent mark on South Korea as LG Uplus Corp. also conscripted Ericsson and Nokia to help expand its 5G network coverage. Huawei equipment will only be used for Seoul and Gangwon Province only.

A press release also announced that Japanese telecommunications operator KDDI selected Samsung Electronics as a partner. Samsung will be providing 5G network solutions for KDDI’s 5G commercial service launch. KDDI slated the rollout in March 2020. This was not the first time that KDDI had partnered with Samsung. In 2015, the two companies proved that it was possible to provide reliable 5G commercial services to cities using end-to-end 5G solutions.

5G Laggards: Indonesia and the Philippines 

In developing countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, the fever for 5G has begun its initial heating up, but the conflagration is yet to be seen. Indonesian mobile operator XL Axiata, in a statement to the Nikkei Asian Review, said that they ‘continue to prepare [themselves] for to adopt 5G technology,’ and that ‘[their] preparations are very serious across aspects.’ 

While President Joko Widodo has definitely signaled his approval of 5G in the region, the lack of available frequency spectrum may actually physically halt efforts to do so. Communications Minister Rudiantara also said that the 3.5 Ghz band, which is needed for 5G interconnectivity, will only be available in 2024 – half a decade from now. In the Philippines, BusinessWorld reports that Globe Telecom is interested in rolling out 5G services to the country, and promises up to 100 mbps, up from its average 4G speed of 50 mbps.  The company has already earmarked 63 billion PHP in capital expenditures to reinvest in data services this year.