Saturday, July 20, 2019

Every step towards 5G will be crucial

Mar 08. 2019
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By The Nation

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The challenges are tremendous but there is no room for error when the potential benefits are so enormous

Our governing authorities are walking a tightrope amid fast-breaking advances in 5G technology. There will be large and influential private concerns involved, and crucially so if the public is to gain anything from the array of new and interesting platforms being created. 

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and whoever forms the next government will have to be sharp to avoid even minor mistakes that could lead to all the benefits going to corporations and the public being denied what it rightfully deserves.

There have been worrying claims that the major telecom players – True Corp, Advanced Info Services and Dtac – are not yet fully prepared to invest in 5G as much as will be required. They are still grappling with the costs of previous state concessions, and enormous bids will be needed to secure 5G licences. The sums involved could boggle the mind of the average citizen, leaving the general public unable to fairly judge who should do what and how much should be paid.

Thus, it’s the authorities that will have to make the judgements and, if they don’t have public interests foremost in mind, the situation will become precarious. They need to determine whether the existing major telecom investors would be getting an adequate return on their outlay, and whether any newcomers who emerge can be trusted with the 5G revolution, and if so how. They will oversee tricky bidding that will dictate not only the future of the firms participating, but also Thailand’s progress on the world stage.

Telecommunications represent the next big development. Analysts have linked the importance of telecom to current tensions between the United States and China over electronics giant the Huawei. Global politics complicates the situation in Thailand, where Huawei’s products have been welcomed. Count on seeing shifts in our relations with Washington and Beijing in the near future.

The Thai authorities will have to try and carefully balance public interests, diplomatic ties and corporate survival – three areas among which clashes are inevitable. It certainly doesn’t help matters that domestic politics is so divisive and at the same time focused so much on the power and wealth tied up in telecommunications. 

Honesty and integrity must be the guides through an increasingly difficult period. The end results of proper 5G development will obviously be worth setting aside personal ambitions and differences over ideology. It will enhance Thailand’s global competitiveness, education and social wellbeing. Any blunders committed will leave Thailand lagging behind other nations, saddled with high service fees and riddled with loopholes for more corruption.

The Constitution is clear about telecom frequencies belonging to the people and entrusts the NBTC to make sure there is no diversion from that tenet. It will be another mammoth challenge for the commission, which has stumbled in the past in telecom bidding and the introduction of digital TV. How the NBTC prioritises its constitutional obligation will be under the microscope.

For all the ongoing political bickering that often seems of the utmost importance, Thailand’s future relies in fact not on election outcomes but on new technology that benefits the citizenry. 

If wireless connections become faster, cheaper and more efficient, politics will be rendered less significant. Genuine knowledge will be more prevalent, skills easier to acquire and opportunities more evenly shared. This is the equality that represents true democracy. 

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