Saran Paloprakarn, Head of Mobile and Consumer Products Department of AIS, outlined the company’s 5G network and business strategy at the Global Mobile Broadband Forum, held this week in Bangkok.
The foundation of AIS’ network strategy is a multi-band spectrum holding that combines 30MHz at the 700 MHz band, 100 MHz in the 2600 MHz band and 1200 MHz at the 26 GHz mmWave band. This blend means that AIS can achieve nationwide coverage at 700 MHz, with its mid band serving metro areas. The 26GHz holding will add even more capacity and speed in dense urban environments.
The target is for 88% population coverage by 2023 – the operator is already at 81% – with almost 100% population coverage in Bangkok and EEC areas. That is the widest coverage of any operator in Thailand. At the moment 5G rollout has been achieved in Bangkok and surrounding areas, as well as in a number of other cities and along key routes.
Unlike its main competitor, AIS started with the midband spectrum rollout, Paloprakarn said. “In our first year we focussed on speed, using the 2600 MHz spectrum. Because of that, customers would feel a big difference between 4G and 5G, even if coverage was not so wide. Then later we added 700 MHz to have wide area coverage.”
A customer must also have a 5G contract to be able to access 5G, meaning that the 5G bands are not congested with 4G users.
“Our competitor allows all customers who get a 5G handset to attach to 5G, to relieve 4G congestion,” he said. “What we do, if a customer gets a 5G phone, they need a 5G plan to use 5G signal.” Although 5G plans are only a little more expensive than 4G plans, the operator has seen a 15% increase in ARPU from 5G customers, driven by more usage as they benefit from a better network experience.
The rollout strategy has already been enough for AIS to win awards in all 5G categories from user experience company OpenSignal’s. In a May 2022 report produced by OpenSignal, AIS won best video, gaming, voice experience in 5G, as well as fastest upload and download speeds.
The network rollout is being built with a purpose. AIS’ aim is to drive leadership via the quality network, using it as the foundation for immersive consumer experiences, and as part of a next generation enterprise platform.
Paloprakarn said that delivering the best network will drive adoption of immersive entertainment, travel, education, wellness and gaming applications.
In order to make 5G more attractive to consumers, AIS launched 5G along with new AR/VR services, and boosted those with a TV advertising campaign emphasising how 5G can enable the blend of reality and virtual worlds.
A FLEXIBLE ENTERPRISE PLATFORM:
“Another challenge for 5G is how to deliver the service to the business sector. The challenge is when we deploy to factories and manufacturing, there is customisation to do for each one. So the roll out to factories is very slow,” Paloprakarn said.
To overcome this, AIS is building a single enterprise platform that aggregates its 5G network with edge compute, public cloud and an applications ecosystem. The platform will enable a range of new business services, and partnership and revenue opportunities for AIS.
The platform is based on a hybrid cloud platform – along with an integrated edge compute capability.
Importantly, it can be rolled out in a replicable way, but still allowing for flexibility for customer requirements.
“This is a reproduceable solution for enterprise customers, that runs on public and hybrid cloud, comes with MEC and can be customised for each customer easily. So this is one of our first attempts to try to scale up 5G in order to speed up the deployment,” he said.
The platform will bring application deployment times down from months to weeks or even days. It can also save businesses 20-50% of hardware costs, and allow them to enter markets more simply by starting at a small scale and then scaling up, with the possibility for regional expansion via the edge cloud. With its edge capabilities at multiple locations, it also gives the possibility of much lower latencies at the 5G network edge. The service also includes an application marketplace from Global SaaS partners, and an orchestrator.
Paloprakarn said that as the company makes progress on its journey, there are still a few challenges ahead. These include penetration of 5G devices, especially at entry-level, availability of chips for mid-tier handsets, a wider economic recession affecting demand and aggressive competition on data plans. He also highlighted the higher power consumption of 5G network equipment, but added that he was encouraged by recent solutions from Huawei that addressed the issue.
“The longer-term challenge” he said, “is that today customers see 5G as a faster 4G. They have not yet realise the full potential of 5G. Let’s show the potential in both the consumer and business markets.”