Ahead of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok, Thailand, Rajeev Singh-Molares shares the highlights of his Op-Ed piece which originally appeared in full at The Nation.

Thailand has about 77 million mobile subscribers.  Smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices are becoming a critical part of both Thai business and personal life. What they do with them is changing constantly.  IDC predicts Thais will spend US$968 million on mobile data services this year — a more than 15 percent jump over 2011.  That growth will be driven by mobile internet, video streaming, and email services.

The growth in mobile use poses a challenge to the country’s operators. They must support the growing volume of emails, web browsing, video, business and personal information.  Just as the country had to prepare for last year’s floods, Thai network operators must adapt the technology infrastructure – the network – to successfully manage this new storm of data.

Infrastructure will be the “unsung hero” of Thailand’s mobile digital economy just like roads, airports, and electricity helped shape Thailand’s modern economy.  The quality of the network will help determine Thailand’s ability to participate in the digital economy – to develop new services, deliver healthcare and education, and support new business models.  In other words, the quality of the network will shape Thailand’s competitiveness and growth prospects.

Thailand’s operators, government and technologists are starting to rethink how to provision next generation networks capable of managing the coming “Data Storm”.  Fiber technology will be needed to provide the speeds and throughput necessary to manage the exponential growth of mobile data.  At the same time, innovations like small cell wireless infrastructure, and traffic routing solutions will play a role in ensuring Thailand develops a robust digital economy.

The transition is underway. However, for Thais to reap the benefits of the coming mobile digital revolution, and for Thailand to ensure its ability to compete globally, network operators need to put the lessons of preparedness from a previous storm to work now.  As they do, Thailand will ensure that the benefits of the mobile digital revolution have a positive long-term impact on the lives of its citizens and its regional and global competitiveness.

Author: Rajeev Singh-Molares, President APAC, Executive Vice President Alcatel-Lucent and Chairman World Economic Forum Information and communication technologies, Global Agenda Councils

Image: A student texting behind trees and bushes painted to beautify the campus, on the first day of the new semester at Rangsit University in Bangkok REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang