Can 5G save Indonesia?

This file photo shows female motorbike taxi drivers learning how to take orders from their smartphones at an office in Jakarta. (Bay Ismoyo / AFP Photo)

While Indonesia may not have the best internet connectivity in Southeast Asia, one thing it is certainly doing well compared to some other ASEAN countries is providing 4G availability to its estimated population of 269.54 million. 

According to a recent report by London-based Opensignal entitled “The State of Mobile Network Experience”, after Singapore and Thailand, Indonesia performs the best in ASEAN in terms of providing 4G availability. The report, published in May, notes that 4G availability shows the proportion of time Opensignal users with a 4G device have a 4G connection. It is not a measure of coverage or the geographic extent of a network.  

The fact that Indonesia does well in providing 4G availability is especially pertinent considering the fact that (perhaps by sheer numbers alone) more Indonesians are on smartphones compared to any other ASEAN country in the region. 

Unfortunately, the report also notes that while Indonesia does well in terms of 4G availability, unsurprisingly, the country’s scores pale when it comes to such things as download and upload speeds, and online video experience. 

Indonesia…still buffering

Opensignal isn’t the only one to note that Indonesia has a problem with internet speeds. A recent analysis by discount code portal CupoNation Indonesia found that Indonesia ranks low among Southeast Asian countries in terms of fibre optic internet connection speeds, which heavily depends on a country’s infrastructure, geography, and many other factors. Being able to only provide a mere 200 megabytes per second (Mbps) to its internet users, Indonesia is placed fifth out of six countries, only managing to outperform Cambodia. 

According to the Speedtest Global Index, as of March 2019, Indonesia is placed 118 out of 139 countries for its mobile internet speed of 10.51 Mbps, and 111 out of 178 for its fixed broadband speed of 16.65 Mbps. Earlier in February, Opensignal found that in terms of the best 4G speeds offered in each country, Indonesia ranked 68 out of 77 countries with an average of 18.5 Mbps during off peak hours.

But 4G availability may be a saving grace for Indonesia as far as internet speed goes. 

Source: Opensignal

A 5G era

Recent reports have noted that Indonesia intends to tap into 5G soon after the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2019, slated to take place in Egypt this October.

“The conference that is held every four years decides a frequency band of a technology. We are waiting for the WRC event,” said Ismail, Director General of Resources and Equipment of Post and Information Technology (SDPPI), at the Qualcomm Forum in Jakarta on 23 April.

The implementation of the advanced digital cellular network would not, however, be arranged for public consumers immediately and will instead be used by industry sectors first. The commercialisation of the latest network would depend on telecommunication operators in the country, such as Telkomsel, XL, Indosat, and Tri.

The good news for Indonesia is that many experts say that 5G will initially operate in conjunction with existing 4G networks before evolving to fully standalone networks in subsequent releases and coverage expansions. According to Bain & Company, a global management consultancy headquartered in Boston, 5G-capable devices will seamlessly – and nearly instantly – connect to 4G cells when they cannot get a 5G signal. This will allow operators to “deaverage” their approach to cell building and fine-tune the creation of new cells to specific areas with the highest demand density.

Therefore, if Indonesia already has 4G hardware in place providing strong availability, then 5G can be integrated. 5G, by its very definition, provides a more stable and faster internet connection which can, in-turn, take care of Indonesia’s internet speed problems. This logic is something Opensignal concurred with back in February in its report entitled “How 5G will solve the congestion problems of today's 4G networks”.

There is little doubt that Indonesia still has a long way to go in terms of providing strong internet connections parallel to that of its neighbour, Singapore. Being better than most within the ASEAN region is not really saying much considering other ASEAN countries (with the exception of Singapore) aren’t doing as well as some other countries in the world. However, as the future of 5G is quickly becoming the present, hopes are high that Indonesia and the rest of the region will not be lagging behind for long.

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