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4 Reason why Malaysia 5G is not going to fix all the Internet problems [Opinion]

Malaysians are expected to enjoy the latest generation of wireless technology: 5G, or fifth generation mobile network, sometime later this year.

Malaysia-5G-Digital-Nasional-Berhad-DNB

There are so many things we expect from 5G services. The new network is expected to offer gigabit Internet speeds and capacity, and much lower latency (important for calls and gaming). It will also facilitate the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT). With 5G, a consumer could download a feature-length movie in High Definition in less than few seconds.

5G in Malaysia will be available via a Single Wholesale Network (SWN) network, operated by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB). This Government-owned company will exclusively own, build and operate the 5G infrastructure and offer 5G as a wholesale network service to other Telecommunication companies such as Maxis, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia (TM) and others.

So what are the Internet problems in Malaysia? In the past decade these are the major Internet-related issues in Malaysia:

  • Poor 3G, 4G coverage at many areas
  • Slow/inconsistent 4G Internet speeds
  • Poor International connectivity including terrible routing to major Internet networks
  • Can’t get a fixed fibre connection due to out of coverage, no port availability
  • Poor customer service by the Telcos and poor complaints handling by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
  • Poor consumer protection, including service contract that don’t protect Malaysian consumer rights
  • Unannounced network maintenance causing Internet service disruption on mobile and fixed broadband
  • Among others

Here’s 4 reasons on why I think 5G in Malaysia is not going to fix all these Internet problems:

1. DNB is just another Telekom Malaysia (TM)

Let me get straight to the point here, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) is just another Telekom Malaysia (TM). Its controlled by the Government, it has monopoly to deploy the network, it aims to make a profit for shareholders and both companies are “closely regulated” by MCMC.

In 2008, Telekom Malaysia (TM) made a deal with the Government to exclusively build and operate the national High Speed Broadband (HSBB) network. Using the HSBB network, TM launched its unifi fibre broadband service for consumers in 2010. About 8 months later in 2010, TM managed to sign up Maxis as a major customer for its HSBB service. However, in 2014, Maxis said it was not happy working with TM.

Telekom-Malaysia-Maxis-HSBB-partnership-2010

Maxis partners with TM for HSBB services in 2010.

Apart from these, as a national broadband network, Telekom Malaysia (TM) had always given Unifi a priority in HSBB. For example, TM announced in July 2018 that its Unifi broadband plans will soon offer speeds up to 800Mbps, however Maxis only started offering 800Mbps plans in April 2019. Other major Telcos also took a while to ride on the HSBB network for consumer fibre broadband service. Celcom signed up for HSBB service in 2011 but its fibre broadband service wasn’t immediately available to all. Digi only signed up 10-12 years later in 2020. U Mobile is likely still negotiating a deal for access.

TM_HSBB_Unifi_packages

unifi fibre broadband plans at launch in 2010

Here’s what I learned. Fixed Broadband service from TM was expensive back then, and it is still expensive until today. Streamyx was a monopoly, HSBB is also a monopoly. TM did not build the HSBB network for every home since port availability has become an issue for many years now. There are just not enough competition and poor regulation.

Its probably going to be the same with 5G. There’s only a single provider for 5G and regardless if you subscribe to a Maxis 5G service, Celcom 5G, Digi 5G or U Mobile 5G – it all runs on the same 5G network, powered by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB).

Facts about DNB:

  • It doesn’t own any fibre network
  • It doesn’t own any base station or any 2G/3G/4G networks
  • It doesn’t have a track record, but its going to build a RM11 billion 5G network, plus with an additional RM15 billion investment from the private sector
  • It exclusively owns all the 5G spectrum

The GSM Association (GSMA) says DNB is a monopoly.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with a single 5G network in Malaysia, for as long as it is in the interest of consumers. But DNB raises a lot of questions since it doesn’t have any partnership or shared ownership of the 5G network with any Telco. There’s not enough transparency.

Monopoly is bad for this country. Monopoly is bad for consumers.

2. Quality of 5G coverage

Malaysia will be using the following frequency bands for a nationwide 5G deployment – 700Mhz and 3.5Ghz.

700Mhz band will be crucial in extending 5G coverage to rural areas for bridging the digital divide. In the urban areas, this can help to overcome blind spots and poor mobile coverage at indoor areas. With 700Mhz, it would be extremely easy for DNB to offer 5G service to the entire country in a short period of time. However, a major downside of the 700Mhz band (80Mhz spectrum) is that it may not be able to offer super fast Internet speeds at all times, especially when there’s a million customer in the network.

The 3.5Ghz band (100Mhz spectrum) is great for gigabit speeds, but DNB has got to build more of these base station since the 3.5Ghz signal don’t travel far. If your 4G signal reception is already bad, expect 3.5Ghz 5G to be worse.

MCMC requires that 5G in Malaysia must offer an average speeds of 100Mbps. This is achievable with the 3.5Ghz network. But what about 700Mhz? Perhaps the 700Mhz 5G network may offer 100Mbps in the short term, when there are less users, but what about long term?

celcom-5g-speedtest-langkawi

A single user Celcom 5G speedtest in 2019, during a trial via the 3.5Ghz 5G network

To date, DNB and MCMC has yet to disclose any details on the number of 5G base station it intends to set up in Malaysia and the breakdown of 700Mhz and 3.5Ghz sites. So far DNB said that 5G services will be made available in Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and parts of Kuala Lumpur in December 2021. Approximately 40% 5G coverage in populated areas by the end of 2022 and 80% by end of 2024.

During the initial launch, Telcos may offer 5G as a fixed wireless broadband service and they need the 3.5Ghz network to deliver these high bandwidth requirement services. Chances are, in the future, Telcos may not even allow tethering/hotspot usage on the 700Mhz 5G network due to bandwidth limitations. But all these depends on the network quality.

With poor regulation, Malaysia 5G may end up with issues similar to 4G today – poor quality of coverage and inconsistent speeds, in about 5 years time.

3. Cost of Malaysia 5G services

Will the price of 5G services cost more than 4G?

Since DNB does not own any fibre or base stations, it has to lease backhaul/bandwidth and base station from other Telcos like Telekom Malaysia (TM), Maxis, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile, Time dotcom and edotco.

Rentals and access to fibre/backhaul are not cheap and consumers will end up paying a high price for 5G. In simple words, for an example, DNB has to pay Celcom to use its 10,000 4G sites and TM for access to fibre backhaul – all these add up to the cost, unless Celcom were to deploy the 5G network itself using its existing infrastructure.

MVNOs such as Tune Talk and redONE could drive competition and play an important role to bring down 5G prices. However these MVNOs may not be able to negotiate with DNB directly for 5G as they may have a certain exclusive agreement with their current 4G host operator.

There’s also the question of 5G device affordability and compatibility with DNB’s 5G network. The cheapest 5G smartphone available today cost around RM1000.

Since its going to be a national 5G network, where is the transparency in wholesale pricing for 5G access to the Telcos? Will all Telcos pay the same 5G price to DNB or will certain Telco get discounts due to preference?

At the time of writing, the Malaysian Government, MCMC and DNB have never said that they will bring down the cost of broadband with 5G.

Right now, the cheapest, truly unlimited 4G wireless broadband for all usage/speed is unifi Air at RM79/month. How much will it cost for an unlimited all usage 5G broadband plan?

4. Longer time to fix 5G-Network Issues in Malaysia

DNB is not going to offer its 5G service directly to consumers, at least that’s what the Government is saying for now.

In the future, here’s a scenario of what likely happens when you have a 5G network related issue:

  1. You make a complaint to your 5G service provider (Telco A)
  2. Telco A makes a complaint to DNB
  3. DNB investigates the complaint. It may need to log a complaint with its network partners (example Ericsson/TM/edotco). This process may take a while
  4. If you not happy with the outcome, you can make a complaint to MCMC
  5. If you are not happy with MCMC, there’s nothing you can do about it (there’s also no other 5G network out there)

5G complaints resolution period will now take longer than 4G as it involves several parties, depending on the network issue. When it comes to 4G, the major Telcos are able to quickly resolve an urgent network issue, as they have direct access to their network.

I believe 5G experience in Malaysia is going to be the same with 3G and 4G, all over again. But this time its worse since there’s only a single 5G network provider. So if you have a poor 5G coverage or slow speeds, its probably never going to be fixed in a short period of time. With 4G, we have 6 different networks to choose from.

Future 5G users in Malaysia should be aware of this – If the DNB 5G network goes down, it will also affect all the other services providers in the network, example: Maxis 5G, Digi 5G, Celcom 5G, unifi mobile 5G, U Mobile 5G and Yes 5G.

At the moment, it is unclear on what kind of network standards has MCMC set for DNB. But if we look at HSBB, consumers have reported Internet outages for days/weeks at their area and TM has taken their own time to fix those issues.

In summary, unlimited broadband services in Malaysia are still expensive, our mobile coverage are not high standards and regulation are poor. I don’t think Malaysia 5G is going to fix all these Internet problems.

Article being updated.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion based article and a personal view of the writer. Please refer to the respective parties/Telcos for official information.

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About Kugan

Kugan is the founder of MalaysianWireless. He has been observing the mobile industry since 2003. Connect with him on Twitter: @scamboy