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During the FutureNet 2023 conference, held on October 18-19 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, Telecom Review Asia had the privilege of interviewing David Turkington, the Head of Technology APAC at GSMA. Turkington provided valuable insights into the technology landscape in the Asia-Pacific region, highlighting its diversity in terms of distance, population and technological advancement.

Can you provide an overview of the technology landscape in the APAC region?

The Asia-Pacific region is incredibly diverse in terms of distance, population size and technological progress. Some countries like South Korea, Singapore and Japan are already well ahead in terms of advancement. On the other hand, developing nations such as Bangladesh and Pakistan have ambitious goals. However, the technological playing field is becoming more equal now. It won't be long before everyone catches up, but it requires financial investment. The main challenge for APAC is ensuring that sufficient funding flows in to support network development.

How do you bridge the gap between the farthest areas?

We're currently involved in several studies, one of which focuses on addressing the investment gap in building and utilizing communication networks. This involves ensuring that networks are not only constructed but also effectively used. One notable issue we've identified is the “usage gap” in certain countries where the mobile broadband infrastructure is in place, but people are not making use of it. To tackle this challenge, we're exploring various factors behind it, such as the financial capability of individuals to afford new smartphones for accessing these services, including mobile internet. Our efforts are geared towards developing more affordable phone options and bridging the gap in basic digital skills to increase digital inclusion and to support network operators to enhance their revenue sources, enabling them to further invest in network development. To find out more, you can refer to The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2023.

What are the key opportunities and challenges in the region?

The key areas of focus are ensuring wide network coverage and making smartphones more affordable. We're also looking at implementing advanced technology solutions, which will initially undergo testing in places like Singapore and South Korea, before being adopted on a larger scale in countries like India and Bangladesh. Over time, these cost-effective technologies will become widespread in networks worldwide. It's worth noting that India, in particular, aims to be a leader in 6G technology. The competitive landscape in this field has evolved significantly, with information being readily accessible to everyone. Additionally, innovations like open RAN are emerging, making it easier for operators to use base stations from various vendors; reducing costs, and allowing for more customization. This opens up exciting opportunities within the industry.

Can you tell us about the role of autonomous operations and how it enables future telcos?

I believe that as networks become more complex, automation becomes necessary to effectively manage this complexity. However, I have concerns about whether we are adding more complexity in order to solve existing complexity. Nonetheless, I believe that automation will simplify tasks and make them more efficient. For instance, repetitive actions like enabling new users on the network can be done with just one click or even non-touch, such as inputting a number with a SIM card. This will make things easier, reduce errors, and enhance security. It will also reduce costs and improve overall efficiency. Automation will allow individuals to accomplish more than what is currently possible. This focus on increasing efficiency is crucial in my opinion.

What emerging technologies do you believe will have the greatest impact in the APAC in the next five years?

In my opinion, network virtualization has a great impact within the region. This is beneficial because it allows for the reuse of standard hardware, which ultimately lowers equipment costs. It also enhances scalability, as we can easily add more servers and instances to accommodate increased traffic. In addition, AI is a hot topic that cannot be ignored. Its impact on the business world will be substantial, not only in terms of technology and mobile networks, but also in industries like banking. AI can be utilized to detect fraud in banking systems or identify leaks in a water utility by monitoring user usage. With the abundant data we can gather, there are still ample opportunities for improved efficiency and drawing meaningful insights through AI to benefit the network.

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