Southeast Asian countries eyeing the promise of fifth-generation (5G) connectivity to boost economic development are sticking to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei among others.
Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, all members of Asean, have indicated that they may allow Huawei to help build their 5G mobile communications networks. The 10-member regional bloc also includes Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.
Economic considerations and a strategic foreign policy element are among the reasons why Southeast Asian countries have adopted a relative openness toward Huawei, said Amalina Anuar, an analyst with the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
“Huawei’s 5G technology is generally reputed to be both advanced and relatively more affordable,” said Anuar. “Having a multivendor approach and avoiding exclusion of Huawei is considered a more balanced policy option so [that] Asean members don’t have to choose sides.”
Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Co is the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and second-largest smartphone vendor. It has been targeted by the US on allegations of espionage even with no evidence amid the Sino-US trade conflict. Huawei has denied all the accusations.
In May, the US banned the company from buying components and technologies from US companies without prior government approval. In late June, however, the US agreed to loosen the restrictions.
In June, Globe Telecom of the Philippines launched Southeast Asia’s first 5G broadband service, backed by Huawei equipment.
Jake Saunders, vice-president of Asia-Pacific advisory services at ABI Research, a market intelligence company, said: “Frankly, I can’t really see any sort of ground [for these allegations] in terms of security.”
“If you really want to make communications more secure, individual companies can put [on] their own encryption layer to secure traffic,” said Saunders.
Fifth-generation mobile technology enables gigabit speeds and more powerful connectivity. It is expected to account for 15 per cent of global mobile connections by 2025, while Asia-Pacific is on track to becoming the world’s largest 5G region, according to telecoms lobby group GSMA.
Compared with previous mobile technologies like 3G and 4G, the network upgrade cycle has shortened greatly with 5G, said Saunders, noting that a number of countries in Southeast Asia have plans to roll out 5G in the years to come.
The advancement of 5G not only brings benefits to consumers. What is really interesting is how the technology “sets up the ability for the mobile operators with their equipment to help energise enterprises, industries and logistics”, said Saunders.
The development of 5G and cloud technology increases systems’ computing prowess, said Farlina Said, analyst with the Foreign Policy and Security Studies programme at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia.
“It becomes necessary for Southeast Asian countries to explore the possibilities offered by 5G for the next generation,” said Said, noting 5G can be conducive for Asean to build the Smart Cities Network, as it will benefit disaster management, education delivery and sustainability.
Asean countries, which collectively form the world’s sixth-largest economy, have always been important markets for world business, and Huawei has been active in the region for 20 years.
At a conference earlier this year, Huawei Southeast Asia president James Wu said 5G was expected to provide Southeast Asia with industry opportunities worth $1.2 trillion, with the number of 5G subscribers likely to reach 80 million.
In Malaysia, Huawei has signed memorandums of understanding with major telecom companies Maxis and Edotco to cooperate on 5G technology.
In May, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad offered a forceful defence of Huawei, saying the country will use Huawei technology “as much as possible”, Xinhua News Agency reported.
In February, Thailand launched a Huawei 5G test network in Chonburi, a province in the country’s industrial estates strip along the Gulf of Thailand.
In Indonesia, local mobile telecom service operator XL Axiata partnered with Huawei to build a 5G-ready simplified transport network that will cover the whole country.
After an agreement signed in April by Cambodia’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on the development of 5G during the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, Cambodia’s Smart Axiata announced it had partnered with Huawei to build the country’s 5G network.
The aim initially is to roll out the 5G service to the country’s major cities by the end of this year, according to Xinhua.
But around the region, attitudes toward Huawei still vary. Viettel, Vietnam’s biggest carrier, is working on its own to develop a nationwide 5G network, while Ooredoo Myanmar and Indonesia’s Smartfren have partnered with ZTE, also a Chinese telecom giant.
“The current attitudes can be reflected by the individual states’ national security concerns and development priorities,” said Said.
Some might prefer developing indigenous industries at the core.
Saunders at ABI Research said: “Most of the operators will make decisions based on the level of capability of the equipment and pricing, [while] in certain countries where there is a more connected political scene between the US and its allies, then that is a more complex equation.” CHINA DAILY