In January, Malaysia was set to leap into the future with plans to deploy 5G networks and technology. More than three months on, with the COVID-19 outbreak soon to be behind us and a new normal ahead of us, we find ourselves still at the beginning.
Before the outbreak, Malaysia was set to adopt 5G technology and was on track to commercially launch 5G in Q3 2020. The global pandemic arrived in Malaysia in January and the nation is now bracing for the impact on the economy that many economists have predicted. A recession in 2020 as a result of the pandemic could lead to a slowdown in schedules and eventual slower rollouts of 5G networks in Malaysia.
If we can put aside the fears of the upcoming economic downturn, we will see that the coronavirus outbreak has actually highlighted the urgent need to upgrade digital infrastructure and deploy 5G networks. It has also brought to light that all our assumptions about what our people and our industries need may warrant a revisit. The new normal is upon us and it will include new behaviour, new needs and new preferences.
Despite the slowdowns in 5G network rollouts globally, some countries have pushed for 5G to support the healthcare industry. The realization that there is a need to prioritize the healthcare sector to support the current pandemic and to be better prepared for future pandemics could put 5G network rollouts on track again. However, while the healthcare industry can potentially drive early 5G adoption, more innovative use cases will be dependent on releases 16 and 17, expected in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Delays in releases will be counterproductive at this juncture.
I am optimistic that the coronavirus outbreak will have a short-term impact on 5G. Demand for 5G is expected to pick up again once the critical stage of the outbreak is over and countries such as Malaysia can flatten the curve of new infections. Speaking with mobile operators, vendors, and end-user companies, the majority agree that there is a clear need for 5G in the industry.
However, a traditional weak point of the telecommunications industry is its ability to understand and address needs. Mobile operators and vendors say their biggest challenge with driving 5G adoption is the lack of sufficient industry partnerships to build solutions that capitalize on 5G. End-user companies within vertical industries say they are struggling to come up with innovative ideas that can unlock the potential of 5G. In particular, the perspective of end-user companies on the need for 5G to solve pain points is unique to them. The gap between the two sides is glaring and needs to be addressed for 5G to scale.
It is not a bad thing that we are still at the very beginning. It will be a bad thing if we do not finally learn what we should have learnt about needs and addressing those needs at the start. If we can, I envision that 5G can eventually drive the much-anticipated innovative, end-to-end services that have the potential to transform our nation and the world as we know it. Isn’t this what we wanted from the start? Let’s leap into the future prepared. Let’s brace for the new normal by making 5G work.