Celcom to retire 3G network in stages


CELCOM Axiata Bhd is on track with its 3G sunsetting plans, starting at the end of this month in phases until completion targeted by Dec 31, 2021.

CEO Mohamad Idham Nawawi (picture) said the company has done two 3G sunset proof-of-concept between April and June in Semenyih and Klang, Selangor, and it has also completed the first pilot cluster 3G shutdown in Kuala Lumpur last month.

“We are on track with our plan for nationwide 3G shutdown in stages from end-September until Dec 31, 2021.

This is something we work very closely with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission,” he said during Celcom’s financial results briefing for its second quarter of 2021 (2Q21) yesterday.

3G network sunsetting is the gradual retirement of all the 3G networks in Malaysia by mobile network operators (MNOs), namely Celcom, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Maxis Bhd and U Mobile Sdn Bhd by December 2021.

The completion of 3G network sunsetting will then enable the MNOs to provide a faster and better 4G experience.

Mohamad Idham said Celcom is being “very careful” with the shutdown of its 3G network to ensure no implication arises on 4G users.

At the same time, the telco is promoting their customers to transition to 4G-enabled devices to ensure a seamless process.

Celcom currently has about 98% of devices on its network already on 4G devices, while less than 3% of its customers are still operating on 3G devices.

“There is a lot of work to be done in erms of understanding how many 3G users are still within the cluster before we take the steps of shutting it down.

“The moment we shut it down we also monitor the clusters, the performance for both data and voice performance from the cluster that we shut down,” he said.

The CEO said 4G users will have a better experience post-3G shut down because of the reallocation of the 3G spectrum to 4G.

For 5G, he said regulators may consider allocating more spectrum as needed when the utilisation of the network increases.

Celcom’s 2Q21 revenue, excluding devices, grew to RM1.48 billion, up by 3.4% quarterly from RM1.43 billion.

Year-to-date (YTD), its revenue increased 4.6% to RM2.91 billion in the first half of 2021 (1H21), versus RM2.78 billion in the same period last year.

Ebitda increased 12.4% to RM1.33 billion in 1H21 from RM1.19 billion in January-June 2020, while profit after tax and minority interests rose 28.8% YTD to RM414 million from RM322 million previously.

Data traffic and subscribers grew 44% year-on-year (YoY) to 741 million in 2Q21 from 516 million in 2Q20.

Mohamad Idham said Celcom’s network recorded more than 40% data traffic growth with 741 petabytes (PB) in 2Q21, compared to 516 PB in 2Q20.

Data usage per month per user increased by 22% YoY with 23.9 gigabytes (GB) per month per user in 2Q21 compared to 19.6GB in the same period last year.

“Celcom has been aggressive in addressing the rapid data traffic growth by accelerating its capital expenditure for network investments through multiple network enhancement initiatives that are aligned with Jalinan Digital Negara.

“To date, Celcom has completed almost 95% of network upgrading works at approximately 9,500 sites, performed network optimisation at more than 3,600 sites and delivered 4G coverage improvements at 3,200 sites nationwide,” he said.

On 5G adoption in the country, Mohamad Idham said the migration would take place faster if the discourse on 5G goes beyond an infrastructure forum and includes other industries that stand to be beneficiaries of the latest mobile network.

“How fast the adoption depends on how fast the industries get to it. When will it be discussed at oil and gas forums or manufacturing forums on how they will utilise the technology?

“Until that happens, the technology will not be as fast as we want it to. We need to move the 5G discussion beyond the infrastructure forum,” he added.