By David Oxford
Special to The Nation
As Thailand is gradually easing movement and business restrictions, the question now is: where does the nation go from here? Talk of a ‘new normal’ is commonplace now, but how exactly will Thailand transition towards it, and how can the nation harness new technologies such as 5G to create a smarter and safer society?
Why Thailand’s technological ambitions are not derailed
Before the pandemic, countries around the world were moving full steam ahead with digital transformation to bring societies to the future and unlock new economic possibilities.
From the outset, it may seem that the Covid-19 outbreak dampened Thailand’s digitalisation ambitions, but the pandemic is, instead, accelerating them. This includes the creation of mobile apps that can identify Covid-19 hotspots and allow people to self-assess their health, in addition to the development of chatbots that the public can communicate with to find out information on the coronavirus and steps to prevent its spread.
These efforts are solidifying the robustness of Thailand’s national healthcare system, which is ranked sixth in the 2019 Global Health Security Index and has been vital to the country's readiness to weather the pandemic.
Thailand is already working towards building a smarter world. Yet, the challenge now – as the country gears up for its ‘new normal’ – is jumpstarting digital transformation across other key sectors, especially enterprises, although that may require more radical changes.
Adapting for efficiency
Going the radical route is often precipitated by critical periods such as the current pandemic. We have seen drastic changes by global enterprises to support relief efforts, such as scent manufacturers reworking operations to make sanitisers and luxury automakers retooling production lines to create respirators. These may be novel, unprecedented circumstances borne by the Covid-19 spread, but it highlights how important it is for manufacturing and supply chain actors to adapt their resources quickly to solve pressing societal problems.
We need to double down on what these enterprises are already doing, yet at speeds which can help improve their adaptability and supplying solutions to society more quickly. This requires communication service providers (CSPs) – and the enterprises they work with – to harness the move to 5G.
This is – as 5G can give connected enterprises the flexibility and adaptability that provides the gift of time – a valuable commodity under normal circumstances, but an extremely vital one in times like now. With 5G, the digitalisation of industries will reduce the time taken to design and build solutions.
A ‘connected’ enterprise gives it flexibility to quickly retool and change systems on demand. That ‘on-demand change’ can mean leveraging automation and remote operations to rapidly increase output, improve employee safety, and ensure the business continuity that is crucial to the production and distribution of essential products and services.
Network slicing – the essential ingredient to 5G transformation
‘Time to market’ is just as important as ‘time to manufacture’, and the key to 5G enabling rapid deployment of solutions is network slicing. Slicing is not a new concept. Virtual network capabilities have been part of packet networking for decades. However, 5G deployments will extend this virtualisation to an end-to-end and top-to-bottom functional scope, and then embed slicing as a core function of the network. The benefits include the ability to differentiate broad classes of services that require certain characteristics or resource parameters with performance characteristics that fit the needs of new segments – something that conventional one-size-fits-all networks cannot achieve.
With network slicing, 5G can support diverse and extreme requirements for latency, throughput, capacity, and availability. It will enable services that were impractical with previous wireless technologies.
For instance, 5G networks will connect ‘factories of the future’ by creating fully automated and flexible production systems – something that Thailand’s automotive manufacturing sector can leverage to improve its competitive regional position. In healthcare, hospitals can arrange greater telemedicine distribution and even arrange robotic surgeries whereas city governments can use 5G to transform urban transport management via real-time traffic management.
All of this will be possible with 5G – with network slicing support – as it helps aggregate vast amounts of data from multiple, dispersed sources for better insight into operational status. It also allows for new levels of supply chain visibility and transparency, an attribute that could prove highly valuable in pandemic tracing.
Coming out better, faster, and stronger
Fortunately, CSPs in Thailand are taking advantage of 5G’s potential to support efforts to flatten the curve and provide relief to those impacted by lockdown measures.
Such efforts should be lauded, and we are doing our own part to help CSPs and their enterprise customers stay prepared amid the pandemic. Through our Covid-19 network traffic dashboard, we are analysing global network traffic to help them anticipate capacity requirements and optimise resources.
Right now, we must all remain steadfast in enduring Covid-19, but I am confident that we will come out stronger. When we do, 5G is there to help us create a world that is smarter, safer, and – most importantly – prepared to weather this sort of challenge more effectively in the future.
The writer is country director, Nokia Thailand