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The Next Digital Behemoth: Thailand’s 4.0 Revolution
August 2, 2021 News


Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that the country is on the verge of turning into an Asian digital behemoth. In June 2021, Thailand’s startup scene celebrated its first unicorn with Flash Group, a Thai e-commerce logistics and delivery services provider Flash Express, after the company’s Series D+ and E funding raised more than USD 150 million, shooting up its total value to more than USD 1 billion. Thailand also boasts other “half-unicorns” that are expected to join the coveted ranking soon. In short, the Thai economy looks set to be transformed into a cutting-edge economic powerhouse through digitalisation.

Digital industry as a prime mover of the economy

Thailand hosts an enabling ecosystem under which startups can thrive. In 2020, Thailand’s digital industry grew by more than ten per cent at USD 20.6 billion. Digital content is a robust industry in Thailand with a total market value estimated at USD 1.08 billion in 2020, driven by gaming, Big Data and animation industries. Thailand’s overall Gross Merchandise Volume hit USD 18 billion in 2020, an impressive 7 per cent year-on-year growth. Thailand’s digital economy will likely reach USD 53 billion in value by 2025, according to Google, Temasek and Brain & Company’s e-Conomy SEA 2020 report. The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society has also fortified the capacity of local e-commerce, digital entertainment and food delivery platforms to keep up with the implosion of online shopping associated with the COVID-19 lockdown economy, in line with its Digital Economy Development Plan that began in 2016.

5G ready

Thailand is an early adopter of the 5G technology digital transformation. The country’s adoption of the 4.0 economy policy augurs well for its digital aspiration, expected to contribute to more than 30 per cent of its GDP by 2025 from less than 20 per cent at present, opined Abel Deng, chief executive of Huawei Technologies Thailand. In September 2020, Huawei launched a 5G ecosystem innovation centre worth USD 15 million in Bangkok and plans to invest another USD 23 million to build its third data centre in 2021 to satisfy growing demands in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), especially from the financial sector and Cloud providers.

Buoyant e-payment system

E-payment has become the preferred choice of financial transactions for most Thais. More than half of Thailand’s population — approximately 30 million with a transaction value of over THB 260 billion (USD 8.4 billion) — have gone cashless. The number of registered PromptPay users in Thailand has surpassed 50 million in 2020 with daily transactions exceeding USD 2.5 billion. The use of mobile phone digital payment services including PromptPay and Quick Response (QR) Code has been growing exponentially with up to 75% of shoppers preferring QR Code payment, according to UnionPay and Nielsen. The Thai government has forged partnerships with Krungthai Bank to create an e-commerce platform that has been linked to the government’s e-payment gateway, Pao Tang, and Thong Fah (Blue Flag) Pracharat shops for state welfare cardholders, thereby, realising the Thai dream of a cashless society. In 2022, investment in digital infrastructure is expected to rise by 20.5 per cent to more than USD 6.6 billion and up to USD 8.4 billion, thanks to rapid digital transformation and adoption of new technology.

Large banks have capitalised such growth by enabling mobile applications to support e-payments, while non-banks are launching promotions to draw in more e-Wallet users. The Bank of Thailand has implemented the fourth stage of its payments system roadmap (2019-2021) to build an ecosystem that supports digital payment as the preferred choice.

New initiatives

Thailand is also eyeing artificial intelligence as the next key feature of its digital economy. The Digital Government Development Agency (DGA) established a government Artificial Intelligence (AI) Centre to boost government agencies’ efficiency and services offered by focusing on three core functions: fostering networks and systems for AI adoption support; generating digital platforms in the cloud where state agencies can seek consultancy and AI solutions for their services; and upskilling government officials on AI and data analytics.

Thailand has continued to make great strides towards complete digitalisation. Industry 4.0, AI, e-payment and cutting-edge technology are all but part of the daily realities for most of those who live in the country. With a strong industrial policy that favours digitalisation, Thailand is on the cusp of becoming the next Asian digital behemoth through its adoption of the 4.0 digital revolution.