Asia Pacific is leading the charge for the next generation of mobile connectivity. Major cities across the region are rolling out 5G networks this year, which are poised to reshape connectivity and big data with blazing-fast download speeds.
Hong Kong, Seoul, Sydney, Taipei, Manila, Tokyo and Shenzhen have already introduced 5G networks. In May, Bangkok became the first city in Southeast Asia to roll out a 5G network, while Singapore in August started a six-month trial.
With mobile connectivity tomorrow’s digital tools will come from the region
“With more than half of the world’s Internet users situated in Asia Pacific – a majority of whom only use mobile devices – it is highly likely that most of tomorrow’s digital tools will come from the region and be shaped by the population’s mobile-first habits,” says Jordan Kostelac, director of proptech, JLL Asia Pacific.
With 1.14 billion subscribers, Asia Pacific is the largest region for 5G adoption. It could account for almost 65 percent of global 5G subscriptions by 2024, according to technology analyst GlobalData.
Governments and businesses are keen to take advantage of 5G technology. High-speed mobile connectivity, reduced latency and greater reliability open up the potential for more widespread digitalisation of industries and allow businesses better access to the benefits of the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence and big data.
“In previous generations of wireless internet, download speeds were the focus because information was largely stored on individual devices,” says Kostelac. “Cloud computing has shifted this requirement to focus on more upstream bandwidth. With greater capacity, 5G networks allow exponentially more data to be collected and organised to train AI and automate more of everything humans do.”
The impact of mobile connectivity on cities
For real estate, 5G technology is among the last pieces of the jigsaw in digitalising the built environment from mere concrete to behave more like computers, says Lou Chen, Senior Director of Research, JLL China.
“Buildings present the potential to generate massive amounts of data collected from sensors to allow for real-time monitoring, machine learning and predictive applications,” she says. “These in turn will drive buildings to be more efficient with the ability to create personalised end-user experience.”
Going beyond commercial buildings, 5G would enable IoT to be applied on a city-wide scale for more responsive homes and streets. Think automatic street lamps that light up when they sense people, or voice-controlled services for assisted living facilities.
“By using sensors, networks and applications, building owners, managers, and city authorities can gather real-time data needed to make decisions towards achieving the overall objective,” says Lou.
A survey of 150 proptech companies and 80 real estate firms in China showed that 47 percent of them plan to increase their proptech budget by up to 30 percent in the next two years, up from just over 30 percent of respondents to a 2018 poll, according to JLL.
Proptech funding in the Asia Pacific region declined last year, a sign of general caution among investors toward the tech industry after a years-long boom.
Proptech start-ups raised US$625.9 million in 2019, compared to a record US$1 billion in 2018, according to data from tech media company Tech in Asia.
The decline comes as investors take a step back after years of growth in a commercial real estate industry that has come to embrace technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality. But the shrinking numbers don’t necessarily give the full picture, says Jordan Kostelac, director of Proptech, Asia Pacific, JLL.
“While venture capital interest in proptech start-ups may have peaked for now, in our work with clients and fellow corporates, we have seen that interest in proptech in Asia Pacific continues to grow and is now beginning to mature,” he says.
Globally, funding for proptech – which includes the likes of sensors under office desks and drone inspections – is still on the rise. After a banner year in 2018, last year the sector continued to register strong funding, reaching US$12.9 billion in mid-2019, according to research firm CREtech.
“Proptech funding plays out differently in Asia Pacific because investors and corporations are a less beholden to legacy systems, and more accustomed to the fast rate of technological adoption and changing market dynamics,” Kostelac says.
Pushing the boundaries
The COVID-19 outbreak has only served to accelerate the application of 5G.
China, first to feel the impact of the virus, put the technology to use.
During the height of the crisis in the country, a field hospital in Wuhan used 5G thermometers to screen visitors for fever while patients were equipped with smart bracelets that allowed medical staff to monitor their vital signs through a central platform.
The first Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University in Yunnan province partnered with China Mobile to launch a 5G-based online platform to provide free COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment.
In logistics, China’s smart 5G powered warehouses allow for goods to be sorted around the clock by robotic arms and limited human involvement.
“In the wake on COVID-19, there will be a greater onus for landlords and tenants to ensure their buildings and facilities management teams are able to deploy technology to help support a safe and healthy environment,” says Lou. “Technologies such as virtual doors that promote contactless habits could soon be the norm.”
South Korea’s telecommunications giant SKT has collaborated with Samsung to build a 5G Smart Office where employees enter through an AI-based facial recognition gantry and work on a mobile Virtual Desktop Infrastructure docking system. Workstations are controlled entirely by a central server which automatically makes upgrades when needed.
“The future is already here,” says Lou. “Real estate players attempting to utilize 5G are likely to enjoy the first-mover advantage in reconstructing the industry.”