TNB into broadband business?

A decision on the matter is expected to be discussed by its board of directors this week, says minister

By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) could be a fixed broadband infrastructure provider as the utility giant is considering to lease its nationwide fibre optics a week after abandoning a joint fiberisation agreement with Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM).

The government has requested TNB to consider offering its own fibre optic network to telcommunication service providers (telcos), to promote competition and choice for the voice and data service providers.

A decision on the matter is expected to be discussed by TNB’s board of directors this week, said Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo.

“I have personally requested TNB to take up the project, and they have agreed to consider the proposal,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

Gobind said TNB has a ready fibre infrastructure which can be utilised by telcos, and will result in a faster and cheaper fiberisation deployment throughout the country.

“Both TM and TNB should participate in the telecommunications sector and offer options to telcos, as both have individual strength in terms of infrastructure.

“We might end up seeing two major infrastructure providers and other companies using them to provide better quality services over a broader area covering the country. This is workable,” he said.

Last week, TNB and TM announced the cancellation of a memorandum of understanding to jointly deliver the Nationwide Fiberisation Plan.

Both companies aborted the proposed collaboration inked in January this year, recently. No reason was given for the abortment. The plan would have helped expand the country’s high-speed Internet access and bring down cost of data and voice services.

TNB’s entry into the fixed broadband business might not surprise many industry observers as the power company has installed the infrastructure to support its massive and complicated power distribution operation nationwide.

Growing from its first fibre optic cables in 1975 to over 12,000km of fibre optic cables today, the utility giant is said to have invested RM10 billion to set up the infrastructure over the years.

TNB’s venture into fibre optic cables in 1975 was due to a requirement for its faulttracking system called Scada and remote metering systems.

Since then, the utility giant has added more fibre optics which run parallel with its power cables across the nation. However, TNB’s bandwidth usage of the massive fibre network, which carries data packets between two locations, is considered small.

Besides having its own fibre network, TNB has a 49% stake in Fibrecomm Network (M) Sdn Bhd, another fibre optic network provider in the country.

TM holds the remaining 51% stake in Fibrecomm. TNB has its own information and communication technology unit to manage its fibre network.

Interestingly, consumers abroad are already testing a solution called broadband over power lines, or ethernet over power. The solution allows the channelling of broadband to homes, including throughout the house, by using the standard electricity supply. Such solution would allow data to be carried around a premise and challenge the telcos which have to put in the required connectivity.

Power companies globally have been leasing out fibre to telcos for many years. Korea Electric Power Corp in South Korea has since 1993 opened its fibre network to telco players.

In 2001, Japanese regulators mandated the use of electricity poles and ducts for provision of fibre to homes.

In the US, power providers are obligated to allow pole access for telecommunication purposes for over 30 years now, and Thailand has done that for deployment of highspeed broadband services.