This story appears in the October 2020 issue of Television Asia Plus.

By 2022, there will be 280 million 5G subscriptions in the Asia Pacific alone and 5G service revenue is expected to reach US$4.5 billion. The mass deployment of 5G will change the future for many industries, including over-the-top (OTT) streaming services. Predictably, we are witnessing the transformation of video distribution as big-name players enter an increasingly crowded market.

To stay in the game, all players within the video ecosystem will need to innovate to keep up with the pace set by technological change and consumers’ evolving demands. In many parts of the world, the arrival of a global pandemic slowed down 5G rollout plans. 

AIS, Thailand’s largest telco, has over 42 million subscribers and has helped implement 5G networks across 158 hospitals. It has also played an important role in ushering in a new era of telemedicine. 5G connected robots have removed the need for direct contact between medical professionals and patients when delivering medication, which reduces the risk of contact and infection.

After securing an early advantage over their neighbours, Thailand is surging ahead by expanding 5G throughout other areas, including shopping malls and Bangkok’s financial district. However, if we zoom out to look at the bigger picture, it reveals that 5G rollouts have exploded across the entire Asia Pacific (APAC) region in 2020.

Last year, the world internet usage index revealed that Southeast Asia has three countries in the top five. In the Philippines, users average 10 hours and 2 minutes of screen time every day. Thailand was not far behind with 9 hours and 11 minutes, and Indonesia clocked up an impressive 8 hours and 36 minutes every day.

OTT streaming services rely heavily on technology to keep their offerings up-to-date. Providers are also challenged with meeting the rising demands of consumers who are becoming overwhelmed with the myriad of options at their disposal. 5G promises to open new, exciting possibilities for the kinds of services that can be delivered over mobile networks.  

The arrival of 5G in Asia will also intensify the OTT war and create a virtual land grab. Forward-thinking industry leaders are already paying close attention to predictions that 5G network coverage will support more than 35% of the global mobile user base by 2024. Video will inevitably remain the primary driver in mobile data consumption in a world where fully immersive content with 8K resolution becomes the standard expectation from digital users.

5G infrastructure will unlock a wealth of opportunities for network operators. Content creation is evolving and paving the way for new business models that will drive new revenue streams. Session-based billing of content is a model that will quickly materialise. For example, 5G will enable viewers to access a football game in 8K resolution in a fully immersive experience, making viewers feel that they are in the middle of the action to an extent never seen before. After the game, the 5G connection will be cut-off, and the viewer will be back on 4G. 

Developing nations will leapfrog legacy fixed-line phone infrastructure and skip straight to 5G connected smartphones. In 2018, 360 million people came online for the first time. The accelerating growth in internet users of nearly a million new users a day is changing the digital landscape. But it’s also creating investment opportunities for the OTT services’ big players in Asia.  

Embracing a combination of innovation and emerging technologies such as 5G are the ingredients to the secret sauce required to attract a wave of new customers while also retaining and providing existing ones with new digital experiences that can be monetised. The big question is which service providers will catch the wind first? The big winners will be those who invest in the tech that gives access to more content to a wider range of consumers.

The next generation of networks will enjoy greater streaming capacities while fundamentally changing how and where viewers consume content. Our devices will require networks to transmit massive sums of data in near real-time. These are just a few reasons that highlight how 5G will transform OTT streaming and give network providers options in terms of content production.

After months of being in lockdown, our reliance on a fast network with the bandwidth to stream content has dramatically increased. 5G will turn the challenge of millions of screen-addicted users hungry for more content and bandwidth into an opportunity. For OTT streaming providers, it will open up a vast market across the Asia Pacific region for audiences demanding new digital experiences.

By contrast, audiences won’t care about the technology under the hood that brings these experiences to life. They will be motivated by seamless access to their favourite movies, TV shows, and live events from any device anywhere, and at any time. Southeast Asia is one of the most internet-addicted regions on the planet. But the question is, who will be the providers that invest and open up new markets and services to lead the charge forward?

Paolo has 20 years of expertise and knowledge from the media and telco industries as well as a proven ability to forge long-term strategic partnerships with large and complex accounts both in Asia and globally. Before joining Evergent, Paolo was the Head of Account Management for Asia at Brightcove where he was responsible for customer success and expanding the Asia business across Brightcove’s portfolio of global broadcasters, publishers, and digital native customers. He has also held senior sales and professional services roles at Quickplay Media and Subex Ltd.