by ASILA JALIL
AS THE country is moving towards the fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0), the internet has become an essential element in the daily routine across a spectrum of backgrounds.
Although this does not necessarily mean that people cannot live without the internet, it is one of the most vital elements in technology, which helps people in achieving their goal.
With the widest LTE coverage used by over 12 million users; Celcom is in the forefront of further improving connectivity in the country to ensure users can reap the benefits of the network.
Celcom Axiata Bhd CEO Idham Nawawi said due to the company’s expansive network coverage, Celcom is in a good position to realise the government’s plan in improving connectivity via the Jalinan Digital Negara initiative (Jendela).
“We have one of the widest networks in the country. While we all have work to do to achieve Jendela’s coverage objective, we have relatively lesser catching up to do as we are already available in the outskirts,” he told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.
Jendela is the government’s infrastructure plan to improve the country’s digital communication under the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), especially in rural areas.
Jendela aims to improve the country’s current 4G networks and lay a solid foundation before eventually rolling out the 5G network in the second phase of the plan.
The current 3G network is mostly used for voice calls while Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) allows consumers to have higher quality voice calls over 4G LTE data network.
The first phase of Jendela involves shutting down the current 3G network by the end of 2021.
Idham noted that while this move will affect those in the rural areas who may not have devices that supports 4G services, efforts are being taken to ensure that no one is left behind.
“Before we shut down 3G nationally, we have to make sure everyone has a compatible device and is able to get connected to the 4G network.
“We are currently planning various initiatives to help migrate our customers to 4G. We will ensure that our customers can get hold of a 4G device at affordable prices and be able to use VoLTE and higher speed Internet services. Otherwise, they will have to use the 2G network,” he said.
Idham added that the industry players and regulators are currently exploring ways and programmes to assist users to move on to 4G.
“There is a committee chaired by the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in terms of Jendela’s progress,” he said, adding that it is the ministry’s main agenda.
Idham however noted that the cost to bring 4G coverage to the last 2-3% of population from the rural area could be up to six to eight times more than the cost required to bring it to the first 50% of population in the city.
“The cost of infrastructure is not just for the base station where they are, but the transmission and supporting infrastructure to get there are expensive.
“The harsh terrains and geographical landscapes of most remote areas make it a challenge for service providers to deploy an infrastructure and maintain it,” said Idham.
To achieve Jendela’s aspiration in the best and most economical way possible, Celcom will continue to work with other telcos in the industry.
“Collaboration will help all telcos to expand in the most economical and effective way,” Idham said.
Guided by an annual capex of RM1 billion where half of the total is allocated towards Jendela’s aspirations, Idham said the company wants to take the lead in the efforts.
At the same time, Idham said, the company must consider their investment in both efforts of expanding the network into new areas as well as to meet demand in the cities.
As for the timing, Celcom is seeking the balance in making 4G widely available while ensuring that 5G deployment is not too far behind compared to neighbouring countries.
According to industry experts, since its launch in 2013, the current 4G network penetration stands at 91.8%.
Idham said the rate of 5G adoption in the country is expected to be faster than the time taken for 4G although it is dependent on innovation of new applications, as well as the price level of these services, and availability of affordable devices.
How Budget 2021 Can Help
Idham added that the increasing adoption of technology and digitisation in Malaysia due to the pandemic has also highlighted the need to fast-track certain development in the country.
With this, he said there are several ways the national budget can assist industry players in the development, besides the measures that are already in place for Jendela.
“On top of the infrastructure that we must pay for, we also have to pay for taxes and levies, among others. So, some areas that the government may help is by giving some leeway in terms of investment tax.
“The amount that we could save from the tax and levies for perhaps the next two years, could be used to invest in additional infrastructure instead. We can figure out a way to offset that later in the subsequent years,” said Idham.
Celcom’s Operations Throughout MCO
Idham said Celcom has adapted to the various levels of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
Although business operations have slightly changed in Celcom, where employees are required to work from home, Idham noted that the company’s business continuity management is going well.
The company also saw an increase in demand for its network capacity throughout the months.
“One of the biggest impacts for us is an increase of between 30% and 40% in total utilisation. The challenge for us is ensuring that our network is always up and that we have enough capacity to support the increased demand.
“Despite being impacted by MCO ourselves, our engineers ensured that our network was always available and maintained, keeping everyone connected,” he added.