• United States
Contributing Writer

The state of 5G in Southeast Asia 2022, country-by-country guide

Mar 15, 20228 mins

Despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 5G networks are progressing apace in many Southeast Asian countries.

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Credit: Twinsterphoto/Shutterstock

In its August 2021 report on the Asian mobile economy, the cellular industry association GSMA noted that 4G will remain the dominant technology in Asia-Pacific for the foreseeable future, but it said “a second wave of 5G network rollouts has begun in Asia-Pacific”.

And in fact that 5G deployment wave is under way, to varying degrees. Network World Asia has surveyed the state of 5G across Southeast Asia.

5G in Brunei Darussalam

Brunei launched a proof-of-concept 5G network in April 2021, supported by the ational Authority of Info-Communications Technology Industry (AITI) and the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunication (MTIC). It provided limited coverage in selected hot spots: outdoor coverage at the Airport Mall, Mulia Hotel, and Universiti Teknologi Brunei and indoor coverage of the mall’s ground floor and the design and technology building in Anggerek Desa.

In January 2021, Norshahrul Nizam Othman, a member of the National 5G Task Force, said that the country aimed to launch commercial 5G services in mid-2022. There have been no further announcements.

But the 2G network was shut down in June 2021 and the spectrum reallocated to 3G and 4G in anticipation of its subsequent use for 5G services.

5G in Cambodia

In 2020, Cambodian telcos trialled 5G but were awaiting licences to enable them to provide services. Nothing has changed since, except that the licences enabling those trial services have been withdrawn.

The government is concerned that allowing full-blown infrastructure-level competition will be wasteful and inefficient. In 2020 the country was reported to have 10 mobile network operators.

5G in Hong Kong

Following assignment of the first tranches of 5G spectrum in 2019 and 2020, commercial 5G services were launched in Hong Kong in April 2020 by three of Hong Kong’s mobile network operators: Hong Kong Telecom, China Mobile Hong Kong and 3HK. The fourth, SmarTone, followed in May 2020.

By March 2021 there were more than 1 million 5G customers in Hong Kong’s population of 7.5 million. By November 2021, 5G coverage had reached more than 90% of the population, including all major business districts, shopping centres, and local Mass Transit Railway stations.

The 5G rollout had been accelerated by a government subsidy launched in May 2020. The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) offered to subsidise 50% of cost of approved 5G deployments, up to HK$500,000; a total of HK$50 million was allocated to the scheme. The subsidy was set to run until 31 July 2021 but earlier that month, with 103 projects subsidised, the subsidy was doubled to HK$100 million and the deadline extended to 31 July 2022.

5G in Indonesia

Indonesia doesn’t possess key 5G spectrum bands like the 3.5GHz band, which is used there for fixed-satellite system (FSS) applications. That’s why Indonesia uses the more limited 2.3GHz and mmWave spectrum instead for 5G services.

All mobile operators in Indonesia have launched 5G, starting with Telkomsel in May 2021 using 20MHz of that 2.3GHz spectrum. Others soon followed, but their ability to provide coverage was curbed by the lack of spectrum.

This must be frustrating for operators because, according to YouGov data, Indonesians are willing to pay more for 5G than consumers in other countries and, by late 2021, about a third of Indonesians had 5G-capable phones.

5G in Laos

In January 2021, state-owned Lao Telecom had a very limited commercial 5G service in parts of Vientiane’s Chanthabouly District and near the National University of Laos, and Unitel had tested 5G but not deployed it commercially.

There has been little progress since then.

When the 1035 Laos-China Railway opened in December 2021, the supplier of communications infrastructure, Huawei, said it was working with Laotian telecom operators to build a 5G network along the railway, and coverage would be available in the near future.

5G in Malaysia

In 2020, the Malaysian government had deferred the introduction of 5G until 2022. Its plan then was for a single 5G network to be built by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), a company established for that purpose. However, that plan has come in for considerable criticism in the 12 months since.

In the most recent development, in early February 2022, Brett Haan, an independent US-based 5G consultant was reported telling media in Malaysia that a single network would be the best option. But a consortium of other operators comprising Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications, Maxis, and U Mobile is lobbying to be allowed to build a second wholesale network.

The GSMA, while not opposing the single network model, in September 2021 released a report commissioned from DT Economics that recommended a series of measures to ensure the single network model would support a healthy and competitive 5G services market.

Although in December 2021 the Malaysian Cabinet was widely reported to be considering options and promising a decision by January 2022, no decision has yet been made. On 22 February 2022, Communications Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa injected a sense of urgency into the debate saying 5G needed to be available in at least 80% of populated areas within three years and promising the issue would be resolved in March 2022 “once and for all”.

5G in Myanmar

The government of Myanmar had expected 5G rollouts to begin slowly in 2022. But then Myanmar suffered a military coup that has disrupted many aspects of life, including internet services, and there has been no 5G progress since.

5G in Papua New Guinea

5G trials planned for early 2020 had been halted by the government over health concerns fuelled by baseless conspiracy theories linking 5G to cancer and the spread of COVID-19. Also, telecoms minister Timothy Masiu said 5G was too expensive and of limited value. Therefore, he said trials and rollout would not proceed.

However, in April 2021, the National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) opened public consultations on draft band plans for 5G.

In December 2021, Japan’s Kyodo news service, citing “sources close to the matter”, said Japan, the United States, and Australia would jointly fund 5G networks in several South Pacific countries, including PNG, in an effort to hedge against China seizing control of critical infrastructure in the region. It said the 5G rollout would be achieved through Digicel, recently acquired by Telstra.

5G in the Philippines

The Philippines was early with 5G. Globe Telecom had been given the go-ahead in 2018 to deploy 5G in Manila, and progress has been rapid: Globe Telecom lists 17 areas where 5G is available.

And Globe is not the only carrier offering 5G in the Philippines:

  • Smart now claims to have 5G available in 4,400 sites in metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other major cities nationwide.
  • Dito Telecommunity lists 25 5G coverage areas.

5G in Singapore

Singtel began 5G trial services in September 2020 in the central and southern parts of Singapore and launched commercial services in May 2021. Unlike many telcos, it launched with standalone 5G, meaning it was not relying on the 4G network core. Today it claims its network has more than 1,000 sites and covers two thirds of Singapore, indoors and out.

Carrier M1 claimed to have 75 percent coverage in December 2021 and to be on track to achieve 100% of the country by December 2022.

StarHub claims coverage in almost 50 areas, but its list is dated “as at January 2021”. It started trials of standalone 5G in August 2021.

TPG is lagging somewhat. Its trial in several locations was still ongoing in December 2021, and the company said it was “working hard to roll out 5G island-wide”. The Singapore government awarded TPG 2x5MHz of spectrum in the 2.1GHz band in November 2021 with the proviso that it roll out a 5G standalone network with at least 50% coverage within two years, and nationwide within five years.

5G in Thailand

Thailand became the first country in the ASEAN region to have commercial 5G service when AIS launched 5G in February 2020, followed shortly after by TrueMove H. Dtac followed in the first quarter of 2021. But, as of January 2022, state-owned operator National Telecom (NT)—formed from the merger of CAT and TOT—had yet to launch 5G.

Thailand has also gained what is claimed to be ASEAN’s first 5G smart hospital, the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. And in January 2022 the government announced plans to convert the city of Ban Chang into Thailand’s first smart city, enabled by 5G.

5G in Timor-Leste

In April 2021, according to a post on Reddit, the Timor-Leste government announced it was seeking an infrastructure partner capable of rolling out 5G networks in the 25GHz-39GHz band covering 80% of the country by 2028 and 100% of Dili and the Tasi Mane oil city by 2026.

The post elicited responses from Indonesia, Ericsson, China Mobile, Huawei, and Reliance Jio Infocomm all expressing interest in the project. But there has been no indication of any progress since.

5G in Vietnam

Viettel Group became the first telco in Vietnam with 5G in December 2020 when it launched a commercial trial offering free service in the Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, and Hai Ba Trung districts of Hanoi. By December 2021, the trial had expanded to include Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc, Dong Nai, Ho Chi Minh City, Ba Ria–Vung Tau, Binh Phuoc, Thua Thien–Hue, and Da Nang.

MobiFone and Vinaphone have also been conducting 5G trials around the country.

The government is expected to issue licences for full commercial 5G services later in 2022, and all three operators are reported to have agreed to share network infrastructure.