South Korea and the United States were amongst the first countries to introduce 5G in early 2019. Many countries have since jumped onto the 5G bandwagon and have continued to speed up their 5G adoption. By the end of 2021, Ookla reported 5G deployments in 116 countries, compared to 99 countries at the end of 2020. The GSMA estimates that by the end of 2025, a quarter of mobile connections will be operating with 5G, increasing threefold from the end of 2021, accounting for 8% of all global mobile connections.
While 5G connections are expected to surge, much of this growth will be dominated by 5G penetration in China, where Asia Pacific will continue to witness significant 5G growth compared to Europe, the United States, and Canada. By the end of 2025, Asia Pacific is expected to lead the world in 5G connections. The GSMA estimates that China will record 828 million 5G connections — or half of all global connections — surpassing 236 million 5G connections in Europe and 219 million in the United States and Canada combined. Meanwhile, the remainder of Asia Pacific will contribute to another 202 million 5G connections.
While 5G adoption in new markets is likely to bring down the global average 5G download speed and lead to wider disparities across markets, Opensignal noted that 5G has risen the average download speeds in most countries where it has been deployed. Between the first quarter of 2019, before 5G was introduced, and the last quarter of 2021, smartphone users in 95 out of 100 global markets have witnessed incremental average download speeds.
Home to some mature 5G countries, as well as countries that have yet to formally roll out, Asia Pacific understandably offers a mix in terms of overall 5G experiences, connections, and speeds.
In the region, South Korea ranks top spot for all three measures of speed, namely 5G download speed, 5G peak download speed, and 5G upload speed. In the region, South Korea is the sole country to provide smartphone users with average 5G download speeds over 300 Mbps, with speeds reaching 438 Mbps.
Notwithstanding, South Korea offers the best 5G games experience globally, followed by the Netherlands. South Korea reports the best 5G voice app experience, trailed by Indonesia and Taiwan, in second and third place, respectively. In South Korea, smartphone users can access 5G in almost two-thirds of locations they visit, with users spending roughly 30.7% of their time with an active 5G connection.
Indonesia has one of the fastest-growing digital economies in the region. To improve the country’s digital competitiveness, the Indonesian government rolled out the “Digital Indonesia Roadmap for 2021-2024,” offering directions to build the country’s digital infrastructure, digital administration, digital community, and digital economy.
However, spectrum holdings in the country currently do not include key 5G bands, forcing operators to rely on less supported bands. Three operators, namely Indosat, Telkomsel, and Axiata XL, have launched 5G in major cities around the country in mid-2021, with 5G download speeds reaching 69.3 Mbps, hence placing Indonesia tenth in the region. Compared to other markets such as Australia; Singapore; Japan; Thailand; and the Philippines, Indonesia is clearly still in the infancy stage of 5G connections, with much room for improvement as operators ramp up on 5G services. In a recent report, the GSMA recommends that policy-makers allocate the entire 700 MHz band IMT to meet the future growth of 5G.
Following South Korea, Taiwan claims the second spot for 5G download speeds in the region, with speeds reaching 263.1 Mbps. According to Opensignal, Taiwan tops the region for 5G video experience, with a score of 83 on a 100-point scale, marginally ahead of South Korea with a lower score of 80.3.
By the end of last year, 5G penetration rate reached about 30%. Compared to 4G, 5G mobile networks offered Taiwan users average download speeds that are 7.2 times faster. Taiwan also ranks amongst the top few in 5G games and voice app experience. In the first quarter, Taiwan’s largest network operator, Chunghwa Telecom, reported higher post-paid ARPU owing to rising 5G adoption.
The Philippines secures the top spot for the greatest uplift between the 4G and 5G mobile network experience, with users in the country experiencing average 5G download speeds that are 8.9 times faster. This is followed by Thailand.
5G adoption is growing rapidly in the Philippines. According to Viavi Solutions, the Philippines ranks third globally with the majority of 5G cities, falling behind China and the United States with 356 and 296 5G cities, respectively.
Thailand ranked second on the chart for the greatest uplift between the 4G and 5G mobile network experience, with users in the country experiencing average 5G download speeds that are 7.5 times faster. Comparatively, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Singapore saw download speeds of 7.2, 6.3, 6.0, and 4.0 times faster.
In Thailand, all operators have been using 700 MHz spectrum to broaden 5G coverage, which has helped given Thailand 5G when compared to countries such as Singapore and New Zealand. 5G deployment is underway; however, at differing paces throughout the region. As a result, 5G experiences and speeds vary widely.
Even as 5G adoption widens, 4G will continue to co-exist in many of the countries well into the 2030s. In the Asia Pacific, where countries such as Cambodia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have over half of all subscribers on 2G or 3G mobile networks, favorable policy-making and spectrum planning are important to facilitate a gradual transition to 5G. While some countries including South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan have progressed well in their 5G journeys, India; Vietnam; and Malaysia are lagging behind and need to play catch up.
Comprehensive government policies towards 5G must be enhanced and much needs to be done to close up on gaps with 5G forerunners in the regions as they make the “5G leap” in the coming years.