It’s been a little over a year since COVID-19 transformed the world. During this time, we have seen more than 40 million new internet users in Southeast Asia alone. This means that 70% of the region’s population now uses the internet, with more than one in three consumers being new to digital services.
We see signs of possible green shoots in the economy being fuelled by small and medium-sized enterprises embracing digital transformation, incorporating sustainability goals and adopting a mobile-first approach. Regional governments have launched several initiatives to help SMEs keep up with the digitalisation race. For example, Malaysia launched the Digital Economy Blueprint, which aims to accelerate adoption of digital tools and foster inclusion among the rakyat – ordinary citizens – and across all levels of businesses to eventually position Malaysia as the regional producer for digital products and solutions.
The key enablers of a mature digital ecosystem include payments, telco connectivity and digital adoption. We are seeing a liberalisation of mobile data price points as Mobile Virtual Network Operators come up with cheaper data-only plans for everyday mobile users. Handsets are also being launched at ever-more affordable price points globally. The proliferation of e-wallets and the subsidies doled out by competing companies serve to accelerate even more digital participation from all consumers.
Amid this growing digitalisation, 5G network capability, if it can live up to its promise, will have a significant impact in the region through the following ecosystem of technologies, as outlined in a KPMG report:
Artificial intelligence (AI):
As more consumers join the online ecosystem, more data is created by their daily activities. With cloud computing costs exponentially reducing, AI is well-poised to offer more turnkey solutions and unearth deeper actionable insights. Increased 5G internet bandwidth can improve decision-making with machine-driven insights and support to help make sense of these new waves of data.
Internet of things (IoT):
New production capabilities have made sensors and their implementation more affordable. With a greater variety and volume of data collected, we are able to enjoy lower costs of operations with predictive maintenance capabilities and automate more tasks with smarter appliances. Coupled with the ultra-low latency that 5G brings, we could start commercialising a new wave of products, including semi-autonomous driving and healthcare robots.
With better and smoother internet connectivity, we can enjoy more applications with finer precision, such as robotic surgery and multipurpose response drones. With the unprecedented benefits of network slicing, when 4G networks get disrupted by urban fires, 5G offers the potential to continue disaster response with drones operated on a safe, secure and segregated spectrum band that continues to power essential communication.
With its higher speed and lower latency, 5G offers consumers opportunities to enjoy more immersive experiences as they work, study and play, even in remote areas. Schools can teach with simulations of real-life situations; sport events can have detailed overlays to feature fun statistics and work environments can be augmented with virtual reality meetings.
Enabling an inclusive and secure 5G ecosystem
While the universal roll-out of 5G technology may still take a number of years, we need to be mindful that its advent does not widen the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. With a deeper integration of technology into our everyday lives, we need to work collectively to ensure that the game-changing potential of 5G is inclusive and benefits the entire population. Sufficient support and educational opportunities must be incorporated to redirect gains from the digital ecosystem towards helping underserved populations also be part of the economic growth.
Security is critical here to protect the increasing amount of activity performed and logged on digital ledgers. With 5G technology bringing new dimensions of network slicing, fuelling more use cases running synchronously and autonomously with negligible impact on network latency and workload requirements, data security has to expand its role in safeguarding different authentications. Our increased internet dependency has to be corroborated with an elevated level of cyber defence.
With the right safeguards in place, the 5G ecosystem will not just be the fundamental underpinning of the fourth industrial revolution but can also deliver seismic benefits of edge computing. By allowing vast amounts of data to be parsed in mobile data centres at the edge of the data source and only passing back the results over the network to the corporate cloud, the technology increases features available on electronic gadgets.
While 5G’s ability to unlock a wider ecosystem of capabilities is revolutionary, the ability to leverage this ecosystem of technologies to empower brands and sellers, help consumers and ensure that communities live better is the real game changer. That is the true power of digital transformation.
Daryl Teo leads the regional government affairs and portfolio management functions at Lazada Group.
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