Govt should share passive 5G infrastructure

This will ensure a smooth rollout of the technology while maintaining competition between telcos

by ASILA JALIL / pic by TMR FILE

THE government could opt to share the passive infrastructure aspects of the country’s 5G development to ensure a smooth rollout of the technology, while maintaining competition between telecommunication companies (telcos) in the active aspects for innovation purposes.

Former Jaring Communications Sdn Bhd CEO Dr Mohamed Awang Lah said costly items within the development such as tower and fibre networks should be shared if it would not affect the end products.

For example, he said, if an area has five communication towers, it would cost more for each telco player but most consumers only use one service provider.

“What would be important is if we share the expensive items in the development such as fibre and tower, and the rest is up to the government and industry players to decide.

“Usually, the expensive items are those underground. There needs to be competition in other aspects. When there is competition, it would lead to innovation and that could move the country forward,” he said in a forum titled “5G: What is the best way forward for Malaysia” held by the University of Malaya (UM) yesterday.

He noted that Malaysia is a 5G laggard compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand which has introduced 5G commercially.

Economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid opined that to move forward with the development, there are two options that the government could lean towards.

Firstly, the government could release another spectrum that allows telcos to compete in high traffic areas and the second option is to keep Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) and reserve it to service rural areas.

He said if no proper measures are taken in the 5G rollout, the project may be similar to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) financial scandal which has put Malaysia in debt.

“If the structure continues today, DNB could be 1MDB 2.0 and this will affect the public and taxpayers, and is just bad for the industry.

“DNB also does not have a single telco expert. So why are we paying for a new company with no expertise when we have existing telcos that do?” he said.

DNB was appointed as the special purpose vehicle for the 5G spectrum in the country and is expected to spend between RM16.5 billion and RM20 billion in the next 10 years to build the connectivity, which is expected to cover 80% of the country by 2024.

Based on news reports in October last year, DNB CEO Augustus Ralph Marshall said the company plans to make a series of bank loans by next year which will amount to RM8 billion.

Pakatan Harapan had previously pointed out that the loans are contingent liability and pose risks to the nation as it will be borne by the public if DNB fails to settle the payments.

UM Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology lecturer Fazidah Othman said 5G would benefit the country but its implementation requires further in-depth studies for it to reach its full potential for consumers.

She noted that the studies on the deployment can be done in phases by considering the current problem the country faces with the 4G spectrum.

“We need to think what problems may arise after 5G is in place because the first problem that we may face would be related to 4G, since there are still areas that do not have access to 4G,” she said.

She added that the country would need 5G because we should not be left too far behind from neighbouring countries in terms of technological development.

“However, implementation wise, it is not urgent. Yes, we need 5G but it is not urgent because we should settle existing network problems before we move on to 5G,” she said.