KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is in a good position to become an international role model as it commences the nationwide rollout of its fifth generation (5G) network, says a United Nations official.
Brett Haan, an adviser on 5G strategy and policy, said the pandemic had accelerated 5G investment growth globally.
“Many countries around the world are looking at how to address the digital divide that Covid has so bitterly revealed and how to ensure that 5G can be properly harnessed.
“So I see this as an opportunity for Malaysia to be a role model for the rest of the world,” he said yesterday during an online forum by The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) entitled The future of 5G: benefits and challenges in deployment.
Ideas chief executive officer Tricia Yeoh said the nationwide 5G rollout will benefit the local telecommunications industry.
“The implementation of 5G can augur well for industry growth, which in turn would generate positive economic outcomes for Malaysia.
“Of course, this is only if it is implemented efficiently and with cost effectiveness,” she said.
Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Finance Ministry, has been mandated to implement 5G infrastructure and networks nationwide.
So far, 5G network coverage has been switched on in Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjaya and Putrajaya.
DNB started to roll out the network in Johor Baru recently.
GSMA Asia-Pacific public policy head Jeanette Whyte noted that Malaysia’s adoption of 5G was the lowest among other countries within the Asia-Pacific region.
“Malaysia has made a bold decision to move into 5G. However, within Asia-Pacific, Malaysia had the lowest 5G coverage, which was less than 20% in 2021.”
Citing a study conducted by GSMA, Whyte said Malaysia’s adoption of 5G is expected to hit 50% by 2025, which is still the lowest when compared with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
She emphasised that Malaysia is on the right path, adding that mobile operators across the globe are expected to invest US$620bil (RM2.7 trillion) in their networks between 2022 and 2025, of which 85% will be on 5G.
Whyte noted that Asia-Pacific countries will comprise 84% of total investments.
Last month, the government announced that it would be maintaining a single wholesale network (SWN) model but disposing of a majority stake of up to 70% in DNB to mobile network operators (MNOs) comprising Maxis Bhd, Celcom Axiata Bhd, Digi.com Bhd and U-Mobile Sdn Bhd to participate in the model.
Under the SWN model, the MNOs will pay an upfront wholesale fee to DNB to enjoy the 5G access, which would then be transferred to their respective end-users coupled with some value-added services.
DNB has reiterated that the SWN would model remove infrastructure duplication, ensures faster rollout across Malaysia to even less profitable locations and offers cheaper 5G access to end users – all of which profit-motivated MNOs would not be able to accomplish.
Out of more than 70 countries that have launched 5G networks globally, none have adopted a 5G SWN.
The model, however, was used by some countries such as Mexico, Rwanda and Belarus for the rollout of 4G networks.
Haan emphasised that it is important for all the parties involved to work together to make the SWN model a success.
“Critical to the SWN’s success is collaboration.
“This provides clarity, which creates confidence in the marketplace.
“We should be rowing in the boat in the same direction in order to have the same success.”
According to Whyte, there should be a robust framework for the SWN model to be successful.
“It is the role of the regulator to ensure that that framework is clear and transparent. 5G is not 4G-plus. This is about innovation. A lot of the services require high speed and low latency, so the MNOs need to have that solution.”Meanwhile, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission chief operating officer Datuk Mohd Ali Hanafiah Mohd Yunus said one of the challenges in the rolling out the 5G network in Malaysia is to ensure that it is accessible to communities living in the rural areas.
“The installation of the infrastructure will be one of the challenges. When we go to the rural or remote areas, the approach of building conventional towers would be very expensive.
“This is where satellites, for instance, will come into the picture.”
Mohd Ali said other challenges included issues such as the availability of service, coverage and affordability.
“People at the rural end may still not have the means to afford a smartphone.
“When we visit the rural areas, we still see people using the old Nokia 3310 (a cell phone without Internet capabilities),” he said.
To address the digital divide in Malaysia, Haan said there should be private-public partnerships that would encourage the allocation of services in the rural areas.