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The Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry announced plans to roll out free WiFi services for urban communities, starting with 10 communities from 1 October 2020.

CAT Telecom, the state-owned company that runs Thailand’s international telecommunications infrastructure, will be responsible for arranging the services, which will initially target five communities in Bangkok and five in provinces.

The scheme will provide a broadband internet speed at 300 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 100mbps for upload. The programme is aimed at enabling people in dense communities to use WiFi for their daily life, particularly in the post-pandemic period.

The Minister of the DES stated that the ministry aims to give people free internet services to allow them to cope with difficulties doing business and in daily life in the digital era. CAT and the DES Ministry looked at 20 communities for the project, settling on 10 for the first batch. The project does not require much money to install routers, related equipment and platforms linked with CAT’s backbone infrastructure.

The National Digital Economy and Society Committee (NDESC), on 30 August 2020, launched the “smart sign-on” programme where people can carry out a one-time registration of the government’s existing free WiFi services through a web portal or the website.

In the past, people were required to register repeatedly for access to different WiFi service providers participating in the free public WiFi scheme. After being registered, users will receive their usernames and passwords.

The Secretary-General of the NDESC said the approach helps people gain access to free broadband internet services offered by different providers with one set of credentials only. The campaign is a cooperation between CAT, Advanced Info Service, True Corporation and the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. Users can type “@TH Wi-Fi by … (internet provider)” and use the same username and password to log in.

The system will check the qualifications of the registrants for free WiFi services with the Department Of Provincial Administrative’s database. The first phase of the free public WiFi service was launched in 2017. Approximately 900,000 people have registered under the scheme, consisting of 340,000 people aged up to 21; 390,000 people aged 22-39; 130,000 people aged 40-54 as well as 40,000 people aged 55-99.

The aim is to avoid the hassles of using free WiFi that requires multiple registrations through different providers. Users can be assured of internet security when accessing free WiFi services thanks to CAT Telecom guidelines. People can access free public WiFi hotspots in community locations, such as educational institutes, government service facilities and bus stations as well as tourist attractions across the country.

According to an earlier article, The Nong Prue tambon, to the east of Pattaya City, will be the home of 10 new 5G WiFi “Smart Poles”.  The installation began in August 2020. The announcements were made by the Nong Prue Mayor and the team from the company that is installing the new towers and technology.

The Smart Pole setups will be installed near Soi Phon Prapa Nimit, Suthawart Temple Intersection, the Chalerm Phrakiet Intersection, Soi Nern Plubwarn, Soi Marb Yailearb 18/5, the town centre, Boon Sampan Market, Rattanakorn Market, Khao Talo Plaza and adjacent to The Chill. The Mayor stated that the areas have been chosen due to the population concentrations in the local community and providing the high-speed technology advantages of 5G to the broadest cross-section of the people living and working there.

The main advantages of 5G are greater data speed, lower or almost zero latency (lag) and greater capacity of remote execution of services, a greater number of connected devices and the possibility of implementing virtual networks (network slicing). Robust digital infrastructure is a must if Thailand, like all nations across the globe, is to emerge from its battle with the COVID-19 pandemic victorious.

The local government unit (LGU) of Hernani, a fifth-class municipality in the province of Eastern Samar, has installed free Wi-Fi in schools and barangay centres. According to a press release, the project COVID-19 Response to Education and Wi-Fi is one of the Mayor’s priorities.

Through the initiative, residents can freely connect to the internet via their mobile devices. They can access any information they need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as most transactions are online, it will help students quickly and easily share documents and get access to resources, wherever they are.

With the blended learning modality in education, free Wi-Fi can also give students access to the world wide web of information and education, the release stated. The Office of the Mayor said that free Wi-Fi is installed in the municipal hall, public schools, rural health units, barangay halls, and other government institutions. According to the 2015 census survey, Hernani has a population of 8,573 people with a poverty incidence of 43.38%. It has 13 barangays where four of them are in the Poblacion.

Republic Act 10929 or the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access Program Act requires public places like hospitals, transport terminals, public schools, and other government offices to provide free internet access. Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Provincial Head, Dante Rosales, said that the city of Borongan and the municipalities of San Policarpo, Oras, Dolores, Can-avid San Julian, Maydolong, and Quinapondan are now enjoying the free Wi-Fi from the said government service provider.

As Hernani town is not included, the LGU prioritised the provision of the free Wi-Fi connection. The LGU in Sual, a municipality in the country, has opened four satellite offices for Public Assistance Centre in four strategic barangays in the municipality to bring public assistance closer to its constituents.

Mayor Liseldo Calugay said the satellite offices located in Barangays Paitan East, Seselangen, Calombuyan, and Pangascasan, aim to bring the services of the Office of the Mayor’s public assistance centre closer to the public. The satellite offices, which officially opened earlier this week, shall serve as receiving and releasing unit of requests from residents of Sual who need financial, burial, and medical assistance in the form of goods or cash.

The establishment of satellite offices in barangays is in line with the LGU Sual’s effort to prevent, contain, and mitigate effects of COVID-19, and to limit the physical transactions in the municipal hall. On 6 August, The Mayor issued Executive Order No. 44 series of 2020 limiting the physical transactions in the municipal hall and establishment of satellite sites of the Office of the Mayor.

The satellite offices are open from 8:00 am to 12:00nn and will be manned by an employee that is preferably a resident in the same barangay. Aside from the said assistance, residents may also avail over-the-counter medicines and other services of LGU Sual.

Likewise, the Mayor reiterated that every person in the municipality shall wear facemasks especially when going outside of their residence, at the workplace, when entering government offices and buildings, and while in public places.

The Telecommunications Department said that the Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) license to test 5G technology has expired, and it has asked for an extension. The state-run Viettel Group and MobiFone’s licences have been extended until January 2021 and May 2021.

According to a press release, a representative of the Telecommunications Department under the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) said that in 2019 MIC granted 5G network testing licences to Viettel, VNPT, and MobiFone. The tests are conducted in the four cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Hai Phong. These mobile carriers are licensed to trial a 5G network with internal subscribers to evaluate technical features and the possibility of deploying telecommunications infrastructure using the new technology.

According to a report by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, by the end of May:

  • 386 carriers in 125 countries announced investments in developing 5G networks
  • 81 carriers have deployed at least one 5G service
  • 73 carriers in 38 countries/territories have applied 5G mobile technology
  • 39 carriers in 24 countries/territories have deployed fixed wireless broadband technology

Currently, the number of announced 5G terminals continues to grow rapidly and is relatively ready for commercial use. Presently, 81 equipment suppliers have announced that the 5G terminals are available or about to be launched, and 283 terminals have been announced. Of these, there are 108 phone models (at least 95 models available in the market), 79 CPE devices (indoors and outdoors), 47 modules, five laptops, 19 hotspots, 20 other devices including three robots, two IoT routers, and two drones. Device suppliers including Huawei, Mediatek, Qualcomm, and Samsung have announced new chipset models for 5G.

In Vietnam, according to Viettel’s statistics, the number of 5G terminals is small, with only about 2,000 devices/city in the two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. To encourage telecommunications businesses to continue 5G network testing and provide commercial testing soon, the Telecommunications Department has requested local IT departments to coordinate with telecom service providers to add their localities into the businesses’ plans for 5G testing.

The Telecommunications Department said that due to technical specification, it is impossible to have 5G coverage as large as 4G, so localities need to coordinate with carriers to choose the most suitable places for the trial. This is the basis for MIC to license the 5G network test.

The Telecommunications Department has also requested carriers to coordinate with the Department of Information and Communications to deploy the sharing of telecommunications infrastructure. Also, to develop plans for sharing interdisciplinary technical infrastructure (electricity, water, traffic, and urban lighting) as 5G technology requires a much larger number of transmitting stations than previous-generation technologies.

According to MIC, telecommunications infrastructure is undergoing an important shift from frequency infrastructure as an economic foundation to important national infrastructure. It is advantageous for the implementation of 5G network in Vietnam because the country’s electronics and telecommunications businesses have actively produced IT infrastructure equipment.

Vietnam aims to conduct 5G commercial deployment with 100% of domestic equipment in October 2020. This is an important step towards both socio-economic development and security and defence assurance.

Philippine Senator Christopher Go is calling on the government and the private sector, particularly telecommunications companies, to work together to provide reliable internet connectivity so that Filipinos can easily transition to online modes of transactions.

According to a press release, the Senator reiterated the importance of fast and reliable internet to avoid face-to-face transactions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the transition to e-governance, students adapting to flexible or blended learning, and the public conducting online business transactions.

He lauded the Anti-Red Tape Authority’s latest directive, which will seek to accelerate the rollout of telecommunication infrastructure and service projects in the Philippines.

The Joint Memorandum Circular, currently being drafted by a joint task force composed of ARTA, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and Department of Information and Communications Technology, aims to fast-track the construction of telecom towers.

By providing wider and more reliable access to the internet, Go believes educational institutions will have more flexibility to implement a blended learning approach that integrates both online and offline modes of learning for students in any part of the country.

The Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education maintain there will be no regular face-to-face classes when the school year resumes on 24 August. Instead, all educational institutions shall resume remotely through online platforms, learning management systems, and take-home packets, among others.

The Senator also acknowledged the ongoing crisis has laid bare the need to digitise other transactions that used to be handled in person. The Senator, who has been pushing for the transition to e-government platforms, expressed his support for the President’s call to improve the accessibility, efficiency, and transparency of all government services through e-governance.

The President during his fifth State of the Nation Address that he aims for all government instrumentalities to implement systems that shall make physical queuing a thing of the past.

He noted that the country needs e-governance to provide citizens with the services they need from the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable the bureaucracy to better transition into the ‘new normal’ and cut or minimise red tape.

Go filed Senate Bill No. 1738 or the E-Governance Act of 2020 which mandates the establishment of an integrated, interconnected, and interoperable internal government network. This network will allow all branches, agencies, instrumentalities, and offices of the national and local governments, including government-owned and controlled corporations, to share and communicate resources, information, and data.

In an age where almost everything can be done online and through other digital platforms, the government must harness the power of information and communications technology to better serve its purpose and bring the government closer to the people, Go added.

The proposed measure will likewise create online public service portals, an internal records management system, an email and communications network for internal and intra-government communications, and a national directory of information on Philippine citizens, among others.

“We need to evolve- businesses are already transitioning to e-commerce and online transactions. Our education system is also championing blended learning. It is important for the government as a whole to expedite its transition as well,” Go explained.

The Minister of Electronics, Information Technology, and Communications, Ravi Shankar Prasad, announced that the government is working to provide connectivity in the far-flung, remote, border areas of strategic importance, to ensure a better quality of life.

The country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, inaugurated the 2300km-long submarine optical fibre cable, between Chennai and Andaman and Nicobar at a virtual event earlier this week.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that the cable will help Andaman and Nicobar get cheaper and better connectivity and all the benefits of the Digital India initiative, especially in improving online education, telemedicine, banking systems, online trading, and to boost tourism.

The Indian Ocean has been the centre of India’s trade and strategic prowess for thousands of years and Andaman and Nicobar are an important centre for India’s economic-strategic cooperation.

The Islands of India play an important role in India’s new trade strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.

Under the Act-East policy, the role of Andaman and Nicobar in India’s strong relations with East Asian countries and other countries connected to the sea is high and will increase; the Island Development Agency was formed three years ago to strengthen its role. The projects which were not completed in Andaman and Nicobar for years are being completed now.

High-impact projects are expanding in 12 islands of Andaman and Nicobar. Apart from providing better internet and mobile connectivity, the government aims to further improve physical connectivity through road, air, and water.

The Prime Minister referred to the work on two major bridges and the NH-4 to improve the road connectivity of North and Middle Andaman. He said the Port Blair Airport is being enhanced to handle a capacity of 1,200 passengers. Along with this, the airports are ready for operations in Diglipur, Car Nicobar, and Campbell-Bay.

According to a press release, Prasad spoke about the various projects being implemented by the Department of Telecommunications to provide connectivity in remote and difficult areas.

He said that a tender for 354 uncovered villages in the strategic, remote, and border areas of the country has been finalised and is under implementation in 144 villages of the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh.

Villages in Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and other priority areas of Gujarat have been strategically selected to cover border area connectivity on mobiles.

After the commissioning of these villages, there will be no uncovered villages in J&K and Ladakh for mobile connectivity. Satellite-based Digital Satellite Phone Terminals (DSPTs) are also being provided at 1,347 sites for Army, BRO, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, and SSB use. 183 sites are already commissioned; the remaining are in process.

The Minister added that the Department of Telecommunications is also working on providing mobile connectivity in villages of 24 Aspirational districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

The remaining 44 Aspirational Districts for 7287 uncovered villages in Chhatisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh will also be covered, for which government approval is under submission.

The COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly impacted and changed the world as we know it. Social distancing has made us much more dependent on technology, and new health techniques highlight the power of 5G, cloud technology and artificial intelligence, according to the President of the Carrier Business Group of the Asia Pacific branch of a Chinese multinational technology company.

Overall, ICT has played an important role in battling COVID-19, and it will continue to factor in economic recovery in the new normal.

In some cases, proactive and cooperative initiatives have enabled governments and operators to aggressively build out telecom infrastructure before and during COVID-19, easily absorbing this increase in demand on infrastructure.

In other regions, complex decision processes have paralyzed digital infrastructure investment, leaving countries struggling to cope.

In a report by OpenVault, Broadband Insights, in the first quarter of 2020, social distancing practices led to an average broadband consumption increase of 47 percent to 402.5GB, from 273.5GB during the same time in 2019.

While most of this is attributable to an increase in online video consumption, the pandemic has given rise to new consumer behaviour that includes increased use of delivery apps, more frequent and immersive video conferencing, and greater dependence on e-Education and work-from-home solutions.

These systems have existed for years but the uptick in usage in the last few months has brought them to the forefront; it is believed that even post-pandemic, usage levels are expected to remain high.

Globally, several countries have moved forward with very aggressive policies to address critical voice and data communication during the pandemic.

For example, Ireland released a temporary extra radio spectrum to provide additional capacity, and allowed free upgrades to unlimited bandwidth, eliminated fair usage policies, and applied zero-rating to healthcare and education resource websites.

In the APAC region, the Cambodian government offered temporary 5G licenses for crucial services. Specifically, 5G healthcare enables healthcare professionals to conduct remote treatment of patients and consultation with experts around the world.

This agile policing enabled Cambodia ability to efficiently handle a major crisis while also protecting human lives and minimizing economic damage.

Thailand, which is striving to become the region’s digital technology leader, has also taken a very aggressive approach towards both mobile and fixed broadband development.

To stimulate the 5G development and alleviate some of the investment required for operators, the Thai government has introduced flexible payment terms that allow 700 MHz and 2600 MHz licenses to be paid over ten years.

In addition to long-term planning well underway, Thailand has also proactively accommodated the needs of users dealing with social distancing and financial uncertainty with additional support for users including providing upgrades of FTTH services to 100Mbps and xDSL services to maximum capacity.

Policies like this have allowed the country to easily accommodate the change in digital dynamics brought on by COVID-19 and these early investments will also better position the economy for faster recovery post-pandemic.

Zooming out, the ASEAN region is predicted to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, economic entities in Asia.

Many countries are pushing hard to secure the leading position in digital transformation, and while the title is still for the taking, 5G will help all ASEAN nations move from predominantly 2C-focused mobile broadband business models to 2B.

This will be paramount for digital transformation in many vertical industries including healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics and more.

Proactive policies that accelerate the deployment and adoption of digital services are key to moving the economy ahead and ensuring continued reliable operation even in the face of adversity.

Thailand’s digital infrastructure of the future needs to be agile enough to accommodate new applications and behaviours as well as robust enough to serve as a reliable digital platform for the economy even when unpredictable situations arise.

The incubatees at Hong Kong’s Smart Government Innovation Lab have sustained their releases of novel and relevant innovations despite COVID-19 creating a rather unfavourable economic environment.

Recently another of the Lab’s firms, Gianthouse, announced their solution which is now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.

Solution description

The first solution was developed by Gianthouse, a firm that specialises in providing customised mobile development service using hybrid development framework, namely, React Native.

The mobile app developed using a hybrid framework is operable on both iOS and Android – the most commonly used operating systems of mobile devices.

This reduces the development cost of mobile apps significantly as only one app that can fit into two operating systems is developed, instead of developing two native apps separating for iOS and Android.

In a product development cycle, the firm first collected and discussed the requirements with users, and then designed the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) for the application.

Later, the firm began to implement the software and run sprint cycles to build and test the app. Once the development is completed, the project will be launched and move to the maintenance phase.

In addition, the firm has adopted a mixture of the waterfall and agile approach as a development methodology. The agile approach is used in software development to promote velocity and adaptability – the benefits of this approach are that adjustments can be made along the product development cycle rather than following a strict waterfall path.

One of the aims of an agile approach is to reduce the development costs and shorten the prototyping process.

Application areas

The solution can be applied across a variety of areas including Broadcasting, City Management, Climate and Weather, Commerce and Industry, Development, Education, Employment and Labour, Environment, Finance, Food, Health, Housing, Infrastructure, Law and Security, Population, Recreation and Culture, Social Welfare as well as Transport.

Technologies Used

This solution employs Mobile Technologies and Robotic Process Automation.

Use Case

Given the popularity of the mobile device, mobile applications can be applied to different areas according to the user need.

One of the firm’s project, called Praise-HK, is a smart city mobile application that they collaborate with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for providing real-time and forecast air quality and health risk information in Hong Kong at street-level.

The app allows an admin user to collect information, such as daily route, preferences and health information from users. The information collected will be analysed by an admin user in the backend.

With the use of hybrid development framework, the development cost and time required are reduced significantly. Development cost is lowered by half since only one mobile app is developed instead of two. Along the development process, prototypes are released more frequently, and the result is lowering the time-to-market of the app.

About the Smart Government Innovation Lab

The HKSAR Government established the Smart Government Innovation Lab in 2018 to explore hi-tech products such as AI and relevant technologies, including machine learning, big data analytics, cognitive systems and intelligent agent, as well as blockchain and robotics from firms, especially local start-ups.

The Lab is always on the lookout for innovation and technology (I&T) solutions that are conducive to enhancing public services or their operational effectiveness.

I&T suppliers are encouraged to regularly visit the Lab’s website to check on the current business and operational needs in public service delivery and propose innovative solutions or product suggestions to address them.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) conducted on 27 June, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte called on concerned companies and agencies to implement appropriate measures to boost connectivity, promote e-governance, utilise ICT for education, and toughen the country’s cybersecurity.

The Department of Information and Communications (DICT) has announced its support for the President’s request, according to a press release.

DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II is encouraging telcos to support and avail of the benefits of the DICT’s Common Tower Initiative.

The Department expects this to stimulate the growth of the Independent Tower Company (ITC) sector and widen the base of Common Towers in the country towards better internet quality and more extensive telecommunications service coverage.

The Secretary said that the DICT maintains its position that the telcos’ collocation in the Common Towers, which are being rolled out across the country, will enable them to service the wider population, as well as deepen and enhance wireless network coverage and quality of ICT services that will contribute to a healthy, competitive ICT environment.

Collocating with Common Towers will also help telcos cut back on their expenses allocated in building up and maintaining their own towers; expenses which can be used to further upgrade their services.

Additionally, the Common Tower initiative is further bolstered by the provisions of the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) between DICT, Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Department of Health (DOH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The JMC significantly removes red tape by streamlining the procedures and requirements for permits, licenses, clearances, certificates, and other requirements in the construction of Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTI) or common towers—reducing processing time from 200 days to just 16 days.

The Department is encouraging telcos to take full advantage of the benefits of the initiative and engage with the ITC sector more actively, especially when it comes to providing connectivity to the unserved and underserved areas in the country.

Public and private sectors should work together towards a better, more robust, and future-proofed ICT environment.

Rest assured that the DICT is continuously implementing programs and initiatives as well as coordinating with relevant agencies and the ICT sectors in ensuring that the country is able to better utilise ICT for education and governance, the Secretary noted.

Furthermore, it is reinforcing cybersecurity efforts for the safety and resiliency of Filipinos during this crisis.
Last week, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian stated, during a radio interview, that the entry of a third telco company player would mean better internet service to support remote education in the country amid the pandemic.

The Department of Education is set to implement blending learning this year amid the COVID-19 emergency health crisis. It will utilise, among others, distance learning, printed modules, and broadcast media to educate learners and keep them safe from the infection.

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