What Malaysia May Lose from the 5G Pushback

A. Amir

Summary Bullets:

• As the industry players are preparing for 5G, the government’s new initiative pushes back the technology to 2022.

• 5G is no longer a new technology and it carries more benefits than drawbacks for a country.

Malaysia was quite advanced in its 5G development with various industry collaborations exploring the potential of the technology in the country. This includes the task force set up by the regulator (MCMC) with initiatives such as events and collaborations among industry players to roll out 55 5G use cases in 2019. Besides, telcos have also been preparing their infrastructure to launch the technology, which was initially planned for H2 2020.

However, in August 2020, the new government announced a national digital infrastructure plan (Jendela) to focus on expanding broadband coverage in the country, bridge the digital divide, and transition to 5G, but pushing the technology rollout to end 2022 or early 2023. While having a structured transition plan is crucial to make full use of the new technology, delaying the 5G deployment would incur more risks and drawbacks than benefits to the country. Some considerations for the government, regulator, and other industry players to accelerate 5G rollouts:

1. 5G is no longer a new technology

There has been rapid development of 5G with a maturing ecosystem driven by various players across different ICT ecosystems. To date, 5G is available in over 40 countries and many others are on track to rollout their services within the next 12 months. There are also over 200 devices reportedly available commercially and most of the new devices launched today are 5G capable, including some of the new devices recently launched in the country (e.g., Apple iPhone, Samsung, and Xiaomi). The cellular standardization body 3GPP has also finalized Release 16 which addresses vertical use cases such as industrial IoT and V2X.

2. 5G to enhance user experience

5G has also become a necessity in the country. Telcos’ existing 4G network capacity is highly utilized. Wireless broadband speeds have not increased much in the last two years despite significant growth in bandwidth-hungry apps, 4G users, and total data traffic. Deploying 5G on new frequency bands will enable telcos to offload some of the 4G traffic and enhance user experience.

3. 5G to accelerate Jendela

5G can be used as an efficient technology to bridge the current digital divide in the country and accelerate the government’s Jendela plan. With up to 50% higher spectral efficiency on the downlink compared to 4G, 5G can be positioned as a fiber alternative to increase broadband adoption in rural areas. The network slicing and service-based architecture features can enable the government and service providers to prioritize critical applications such as emergency alerts and public safety.

4. 5G to help the country during the COVID-19 pandemic

5G can also be used to help the country fight the pandemic. In Malaysia, TM deployed a temporary 5G network at two quarantine locations to offer connectivity to the medical frontline workers and patients. In Thailand and China, 5G enables robots for patient care and monitoring for physical distancing and to address the shortage of medical staff. 5G can also enable many other use cases such as remote healthcare and distance learning during the lockdown.

5. 5G will accelerate digital transformation and drive the economy

The technology will enable various new applications across different industries such as next-gen videos/surveillance, drones, autonomous vehicles and remote industrial equipment. For example, SKT introduced 5G-powered smart factory solutions and a construction company in Australia is developing 5G-enabled AR solution for site planning. This will drive collaborations across industry players and attract global partners to expand their presence and invest in the country.

While bridging the digital divide in the country is crucial, 5G can also be an efficient alternative for the government to achieve the goal. Further, the technology will also bring other benefits such as increasing the overall broadband user experience, help the country to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and drive the economy.

 

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