Geographies in Depth

3 ways to build a sustainable and digital Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific is set to be the top fast-growing economy at the forefront of the global digital landscape

Asia-Pacific is set to be the top fast-growing economy at the forefront of the global digital landscape. Image: Unsplash.

Simon Lin
President, Asia-Pacific, Huawei Technologies
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  • Many countries in Asia-Pacific have released national digitalization strategies.
  • Cloud and computing technologies are the cornerstone of the digital frontier.
  • For digital economies to thrive they must adopt an open and green ecosystem.

The last two years have been a series of trials. Out of the changes there has been increasing attention in the digital world and rekindled vigor in how people, businesses and organizations should adapt.

As one of the most populous and diverse regions in the world, Asia-Pacific is set to be the top fast-growing economy at the forefront of the global digital landscape. It represents two-thirds of the world’s population, and would reap an economic dividend of more than $1.7 trillion annually. McKinsey also notes that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation by seven years globally and 10 years in Asia-Pacific.

To catch up with this sweeping trend, many countries have released national digitalization strategies. For example, Singapore released its Smart Nation 2025 blueprint, Indonesia and Malaysia released strategies to Go Digital, Bangladesh released its Digital Bangladesh blueprint, and Thailand announced its vision to become a Digital Hub in ASEAN.

From a technological point of view, the future Asia-Pacific will require a digital economy underpinned by leading Information and Communications Technology (ICT) solutions and an open and green industry ecosystem is needed as the soil for innovation. And finally, we will need to chart an effective course that addresses gaps in equality to normalize the playing field.

1. Build ICT infrastructure for a digital economy

ICT has already proven its value in accelerating economic recovery post-pandemic. Connectivity and computing are the lifeblood of the digital frontier. While connectivity continues to bridge the digital divide offering new education and employment opportunities, enterprises look to the cloud, connectivity and AI to optimize their businesses.

However, the digital readiness of the region varies greatly. For example, China is stepping into data dividend and information dividend, and Southeast Asia (SEA) is still under the peak phase of demographic dividend. In China, 5G has been widely covered across the country and the penetration rate is more than 40% – 100+Mbps fibre home pass rate is over 90%. However, the large-scale use of 5G has only just started in some SEA countries. In SEA, 4G mobile coverage is slightly above 50%, and fibre broadband only reaches one-third of households. Cloud penetration in SEA enterprises is less than 20%, which indicates huge space for data monetization and industry digitalization.


How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?

Regarding 5G technology, it is already emerging as a game changer in key industry sectors. For example, Siriraj Hospital, the largest state hospital in Thailand on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19, launched the first 5G smart hospital in the ASEAN region featuring smart logistic, 5G ambulance and smart inventory management (see photo below). According to Professor Dr Prasit Watanapa, Dean of Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, “The 5G smart hospital project will be a new model for modern medical facilities. 5G provides the high-speed connections needed to ensure seamless transfer of patient data and operation of telemedicine equipment.”

5G unmanned car in Siriraj Hospital in Thailand. Source: Huawei.
5G unmanned car in Siriraj Hospital in Thailand. Source: Huawei.

In some remote areas with limited access to 5G, digital infrastructure is playing an even more important role. The Bangladesh government has made great efforts and progress in implementing network in over 2,600 townships, accounting for 60% of the country's total townships and enabling social well-being services including e-government and finance.

In Malaysia, known as "the kingdom of spices", HEXA Food established an Internet of Things (IoT) team to train a chilli identification model on Cloud ModelArts. The image recognition technology of Atlas 500 quickly and accurately identifies the quality of chillies. Intelligent AI-powered sorting eliminates errors in manual sorting and improves the efficiency by 50%.

ModelArts to identify chilli quality. Source: Huawei.
ModelArts to identify chilli quality. Source: Huawei.

2. Create an open and green ecosystem

Meanwhile, every country, business and individual has faced some common questions recently: how to survive and develop with resilience and robustness in an environment full of uncertainties? The booming digital economy and low-carbonization will generate new business forms, new production relationships, and new value distribution systems. A healthier and greener industry ecosystem is therefore required.

First, embracing a digital Asia-Pacific will make an open and collaborative ICT ecosystem essential. These ecosystems will include government, partners, operators, and users and will help shape opportunities for transformation in different industries. A good example would be the joint open lab in Singapore. All companies, academics and government agencies can use the lab, where they will have access to cutting-edge robotic solutions, intelligent digital twins, and AI development kits for research.

Second, moving towards carbon neutrality, digital power technologies will be essential to enable energy digitalization for a greener future. In Thailand, smart photovoltaic (PV) rooftops are being installed in over 1,200 convenience stores. This is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for more than 1,300 tons every year. By integrating AI and cloud in PV for optimal power generation, this makes the solar power plant to highly efficient, safe and reliable and builds the foundation for solar to become the main energy source.

3. Chart a sustainable and inclusive course

Simultaneously, we need to be aware that half the world still doesn't have internet access. In Asia-Pacific, according to the APNIC Foundation, the total Internet adoption rate in the region remains below half of the total population at 48.4%. By 2023, it’s estimated this will increase to 72% (3.1 billion users), leaving more than a quarter of region’s population still disconnected.

Internet adoption in Asia Pacific. Source: APNIC Foundation.
Internet adoption in Asia Pacific. Source: APNIC Foundation.

That's simply untenable in an increasingly digital world, people can't be empowered by technology if they don't know how to use it. Services like mobile payments, government services, access to digital education and healthcare should all act as gateways to anyone and help underserved communities, including women, girls, and older generations.

Take education for example, the ability to learn knowledge regardless of location has helped democratize education resources access. In the Philippines, PLDT-Smart Foundation (PSF) worked with the tech company to promote the School-in-a-Bag project. Each backpack includes a laptop for the teacher, 20 tablets and a Smart LTE pocket Wi-Fi kit. It significantly enhanced the students’ learning capabilities, helped children absorb their lessons, and improved the teaching strategies.

The future is digital

Technology has the power to level the playing field. It can bring education, healthcare and jobs to anyone, anywhere around the world. It will revolutionize business and industry and it can help manage our use of the world’s resources to enable a sustainable and green future.

In the Asia-Pacific Region, the digital economy ignites social recovery and enables a resilient future. It provides synergies for public-private industrial collaborations across country boundaries and scenarios. As we arrive on the precipice of a digital future, we must strive to focus on the harmony that exists between our real world, and the digital one ahead.

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