Thailand leads ASEAN in 5G rollout due to pandemic (Nikkei Asian Review)

AIS has launched 5G-operated robots for telemedicine services at hospitals, helping reduce direct contact between doctors and COVID-19 patients.
Photo: Nikkei Asian Review/AIS

The novel coronavirus pandemic has prompted Thailand’s major telecom operators to rev up deployment of fifth-generation technologies, making it the first country in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to have commercial 5G services.

Thailand’s top two mobile operators Advanced Info Service and True Corp. are racing to deploy 5G networks at hospitals to lend support to doctors and medical personnel fighting the coronavirus.

AIS on May 11 revealed that the company had set aside up to $1.2 billion for investment in 5G network expansion, aiming to cover around 13% of the total Thai population by the end of this year.

Analysts had expected previously that Thailand’s mobile operators would need more time before investing in the new generation network since they spent billions of dollars in 2015 on 4G licenses — the rights to use spectrum designated for the previous generation of services. Demand for ultra-fast networks was also expected to remain thin, making a rapid deployment of 5G very unlikely.

However, the spread of coronavirus infections has quickly reversed these earlier predictions, generating a range of new telecom service needs.

“The coronavirus pandemic has pushed demand for telemedicine and robots [that operate in hospitals] and finally accelerated the commercial 5G [launches],” said an analyst at Asia Plus Securities.

GSMA, a telecom industry body that produces highly-recognized MWC (formerly known as the Mobile World Congress) events in cities including Barcelona and Shanghai, certified AIS as the first mobile operator in ASEAN to have launched commercial 5G services.

AIS, Thailand’s largest operator with 42 million subscribers and which is backed by Singapore Telecommunications, has launched 5G networks in 158 hospitals in Bangkok and major cities across Southeast Asia’s second largest economy. The 5G network is helping hospitals launch telemedicine services and robots that help prevent direct contact between doctors and patients.

“This is a crisis [in which] everyone in Thailand should lend a hand to help others get through it. AIS is playing its role as a digital infrastructure provider of a platform for everyone to use 5G to fight against COVID-19,” said Somchai Lertsutiwong, AIS’s chief executive officer.

The robots, which are operated via 5G, are helping cutting the risk of infection among medical personnel, Dr. Sukrom Chi-Charoen, deputy medical director of Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok, explained.

“These robots are very useful, particularly at a time when we are short of self-protection sets. Even though we lack surgical masks and personal protective equipment suits, we can do our jobs as [the robots allow us to minimize] direct contact with patients,” said Dr. Sukrom.

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Nikkei Asian Review

20 May 2020

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