Wireless network needed for last-mile connectivity

Big opportunity for Malaysia to move from 4G to 5G eventually, to complement fibre broadband landscape

By SHAZNI ONG / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

Wireless network is still needed to complement the last-mile connectivity in Malaysia before any other measures such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and 5G.

Ericsson Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh head Todd Ashton (picture) said while fibre connectivity is important, there is still a need to use wireless network until the country is ready for LTE and 5G.

“That is why we are really pushing this agenda to use wireless as a complement to whatever else that is being pushed by the government like fibre,” he said in an interview with The Malaysian Reserve at the Digital Transformation Asia 2018 Forum recently.

“Last-mile connectivity could be any technology including fibre, but definitely LTE and when it is ready, 5G.”

Ashton was commenting on remarks made by Economist Intelligence Unit global chief economist and MD Simon Baptist recently that Malaysia needs more investments in last-mile infrastructure to further develop its e-commerce sector.

Baptist, in his presentation on the “State of E-commerce in South-East Asia and Malaysia” organised by Lazada Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur last week, said broadband access in Malaysia remains slow, and investments in improving speed are needed to provide high-speed access to consumers.

Baptist said support from the government, in terms of allocation of funds to develop communication infrastructure and broadband facility, could drive a greater than 90% Internet penetration rate in Malaysia by 2020.

Ashton, however, opined that there are some technological barriers before 5G can actually be rolled out in Malaysia.

“I believe there is no reason for Malaysia not to do it.

“However, it is not something that I foresee really happening on a big scale in the next one year or two.

“The reason for that is the global adoption, which is not so high. All the basic technologies such as chipsets are still not produced in big volumes. Hence, getting a 5G device would still be expensive in most parts of the world.”

“There is also the need to relook the way the spectrums are being allocated, including the new ones.

“Only with fair spectrum allocations can the service providers be able to deploy the technology,” he said.

From an operator’s point of view, Ashton sees service providers having a lot of work to do, such as in terms of network infrastructure and operations, before they are able to roll out 5G.

“Even if you make a really fast (radio) network, if you have not really prepared the whole operation, the core network centre that can handle that kind of speed and provide the agility that is needed to serve different industries, then, there is no point,” he said.

Ashton lauded the rapid planning and development by the government in terms of pushing better Internet connectivity in the country.

“Ericsson has been in Malaysia for over 50 years and Malaysia is one of our main markets for South-East Asia.

“Since then, we have seen rapid development on 4G. Speeds are improving, device prices continue to go down and more people are able to afford and connect themselves.

“Hence, we see a big opportunity for Malaysia to move from 4G to 5G eventually, to complement Malaysia’s fibre broadband landscape,” he said.

According to Ashton, there are a lot of people yet to be connected, especially in the rural parts of Malaysia, who would be able to benefit from using 4G and 5G eventually.

“For example, in Australia. They have a national broadband network that uses satellite, fibre and LTE as ways to connect rural households.

“The demand for technology that can help speed up the digitalisation in one own’s country is massive. It’s going faster that we plan in a way.

“We are entering an exciting period. My view is that Malaysia should take that opportunity in getting on the 5G train as fast as possible,” he said.

In Budget 2019, it was announced that the government will launch the National Fibre Connectivity Plan in 2019 with an allocation of RM1 billion to support the growth of the digital economy.

“The plan will develop our broadband infrastructure to ensure a more efficient spectrum allocation to achieve the targeted 30Mbps speed at rural and remote areas in the country within five years, as part of the overall plan to achieve world class infrastructure at affordable prices,” Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said.

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