Earlier this quarter, we looked at Sri Lanka and its roadmap to become a prime 5G candidate. But there are plenty of countries looking to move into 5G, so this month we’re taking a peek at Taiwan as the country gears up for the next generation by leveraging its strong fundamentals.

Taiwan enjoys a dynamic telecom landscape, characterised by excellent infrastructure and intense competition among the top three operators Chunghwa Telecom, Far EasTone and Taiwan Mobile, which have a combined market share of around 85 per cent and actively shape the industry.

The market is also well-equipped, with attractive product offerings and abundant supply of handsets. Sitting on a strong foundation, the operators are expected to launch 5G services in Q3.

Let us look at the factors defining the market readiness for 5G and how they are driving Taiwan on to the 5G road:

  • High data adoption: Taiwan is one of the few countries, besides Niue and Tokelau, to achieve 100 per cent 4G penetration. Not only this, Taiwanese subscribers are ardent mobile internet users, with average monthly data consumption of 25GB per capita, making it the second-highest mobile data consumer after Finland.
  • Operators preparing for 5G: In early 2020, operators spent $4.6 billion to acquire 5G spectrum, leading it to become the third most expensive auction for the technology in the world, after Italy ($7.6 billion) and Germany ($7.4 billion). Such high prices resulted from intense bidding, but also highlight operators’ willingness and readiness to launch 5G services.
    Then, in March, the top three players announced subscribers with existing 4G monthly plans of TWD1,399 ($46.74) will be able to upgrade to 5G at the same price. However, Taiwan Star challenged these biggies by unveiling 5G tariffs at less than half their price, TWD599 in a clear attempt to drive the technology into the mainstream and attract subscribers ahead of the service launch.
  • Collaborations and support: Operators have been aided in their 5G plans by work with other operators, vendors and the government. Taiwanese operators are building partnerships with South Korean players (such as SK Telecom and KT) to access their experience in delivering 5G services and digital content. In the wider ecosystem, vendors including Ericsson and Nokia secured contracts with operators for 5G rollout and joint promotion of the technology. In order to march ahead with 5G technology, the Taiwan government allocated $648.2 million over the period 2019 to 2022 for the development of services and applications.

In view of these developments, we can say that Taiwan is ripe to propel towards a more advanced 5G market.

Now if we look at the 5G footprints globally, there are 38 countries which had launched the technology by end-May, and this number is expected to increase to 52 countries by Q3. In other words, when 5G comes to Taiwan, it will be later than many other markets. In fact, it will be approximately two years after South Korea launched the world’s first 5G network. Despite the delayed entry, GSMA Intelligence forecasts it to be among the top five countries by Q4 2025, with 5G penetration around 48 per cent thanks to the solid backbone of the market (see chart, below, click to enlarge).

Hold on though. Yes, there is always a but.

While we expect solid 5G adoption, revenue growth is expected to remain flat over the next few years. Classic story, right? But it’s worth looking at why.

  • Consumer 5G uptake will be positive in terms of connections. But with no premium likely to be placed on tariffs and a market history of price wars, we see revenue remaining flat until 2025.
  • The operators have already spent heavily on acquiring 5G spectrum. The major players are already facing declining revenue and profit from their core businesses. Combined with an expectation of higher operational costs, expecting revenue and profit growth would seem unwise.

So, where might we look for additional revenue opportunities?

Where traditional consumer services aren’t expected to drive growth, new non-core and B2B services may hold the greatest promise for growth. The advent of 5G technology can accelerate new services and use cases, for example cloud gaming, streaming content, and enterprise cloud and connectivity. GSMAi research showed B2B enterprise revenue varies from 10 per cent to 50 per cent of operator revenue, with 30 per cent as an average across ten top operators. This suggests a lot of potential upside.

Many of these dynamics, strong interest in 5G and expectation of growth beyond traditional consumer services, are not unique to Taiwan. It would be noteworthy to see Taiwan leveraging its ICT industry capabilities and ecosystem to drive additional value and 5G momentum, where it could outpace its own benchmarks and fully leverage the 5G opportunity.

Charu Paliwal and Divya Bhargava – team leads, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.