The GSMA highlighted the critical role of wide connectivity and fast networks to cushion the economic and industrial shock of Covid-19 (coronavirus) control measures and support a recovery in the latest Asia-Pacific edition of its Mobile Economy report.

Julian Gorman, head of APAC at GSMA, said: “It is critical governments recognise the significant contribution mobile operators have made to help respond to Covid-19 and seek to encourage additional investment and innovation for an even more resilient digital future.”

Mobile operators in Asia Pacific are forecast to invest $400 billion in their networks between 2020 and 2025, with two-thirds earmarked for 5G deployments.

As 5G becomes a reality, Gorman said “we call on governments and regulators to actively support a favourable business environment to encourage investment and allow operators to extend next-generation digital services to all Asia’s citizens and speed financial recovery”.

Mobile connectivity provides a positive impact on productivity and boosts GDP, he said, noting that across the region, there is a need for a “whole of government” approach with clear digital strategies to transform economies.

He added emerging economies need to do more to stimulate and evolve the digital ecosystem, including accelerated smartphone penetration and mobile broadband adoption to prepare the foundations for an inclusive 5G future.

“Digitisation, which was already an important target, is, therefore, moving up the agenda for businesses and governments alike, with many now accelerating their timelines,” he said.

The GSMA noted the impact of Covid-19 on 5G growth will be greater in Asia Pacific since the region is home to many of the first next-generation networks.

A revised forecast predicts the total number of 5G connections will be almost 20 per cent lower in 2020 in Asia Pacific than previously expected. However, indicators show it will be a short-term dip.