Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Here’s 3 Reasons why We should End the 5G Monopoly by DNB [Commentary]

Its been over a year since 5G was made available to consumers, but there aren’t many people using the new mobile service.

GSMA-Apac-5G-Forum-MCMC Malaysia 5g

Five mobile network operators (MNOs) are currently offering 5G services to consumers in Malaysia, namely, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia (Unifi Mobile) and YTL Communications (Yes 5G).

According to a recent statement from Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), the exclusive 5G network provider in the country, the 5G network is now averaging 380 Mbps download speeds, which is significantly slower than what it reported almost a year before.

As the Malaysia Government is currently reviewing the 5G-rollout in the country, here are 3 reasons why we should immediately end the 5G monopoly of DNB:

Malaysia 5G – Single Point Failure  

Consumers have many choices when it comes to 4G networks in Malaysia. Currently, there are 6 different 4G networks in the country – each offering a different experience, coverage and pricing. In other words, we have choices – for an example, if Maxis 4G goes down, we always have 5 alternative 4G networks, for voice and Internet.

However, when it comes to 5G, there’s only the 5G network from DNB – regardless if you are using Celcom 5G, Uni5G, Digi 5G, or U Mobile 5G – all these service providers are using the same DNB 5G network, making it a single point of failure. If the DNB 5G network goes down, all the 5G services goes down as well, regardless of service provider.

5G deployment is currently exclusive to DNB in Malaysia. Since communication networks are considered a basic necessity and critical infrastructure, we should not be dependent on a single 5G wholesale provider like DNB.

Nobody is excited about 5G

The major mobile network operators don’t seem excited with current state of 5G in Malaysia. They never wanted to work with DNB, but had no choice to sign up – as they don’t want to be left out from 5G.

For consumers to get 5G, you must either opt-in to a 5G “trial” pass, or use selected 5G-ready postpaid/prepaid plans. There are so called unlimited 5G plans/passes but has limited quota or strict fair usage policies that are not transparent to customers.

Despite all the promises on 5G’s capabilities, including as an alternative to fixed fibre broadband, only one provider is offering 5G Wireless Broadband plans, but at a hefty price tag from RM148/month, with long-term contract and maximum ‘4G’ speeds.

Malaysians were promised that 5G data were supposed to be cheaper than 4G, around 20-50 sen per GB according to the former Communication/Finance Ministers, but none of the service provider have dropped the pricing of their current mobile plans with 5G.

Why does it feel like the service provider doesn’t want us to use 5G? Are they not being billed 20-50sen per GB to access the DNB’s 5G network?

Perhaps we have yet to see the real pricing of 5G in Malaysia. Will it be more expensive than current 4G plans?

On the other hand, DNB says its 5G network is now available to 15 million consumers, yet there’s not even a million active 5G subscribers.

Malaysians are generally excited about new technology and faster Internet speeds, but why not many people are signing up for 5G?

DNB brings no Value to the Industry

In my opinion, the whole creation of DNB brings no real value to consumers and the Industry.

The 5G network in Malaysia is deployed, 100% managed and maintained by Ericsson. So why do we even need DNB?

DNB, formerly a “real estate property developer“, does not have any experience or track record in the communications Industry. This is the reason why it repeatedly failed to work with major Telecommunication companies in the past and still continues to do so.

DNB also does not educate consumers on the importance of 5G – as it thinks that this is the responsibility of the service providers. But why should the service provider promote a service that does not profit them?

DNB is controlled by the Government but the people’s interest does not come first. We now have duplicate towers in the cities and there’s still no basic mobile Internet coverage in many parts of the country.

If DNB genuinely wanted to “Bridge the urban-rural digital divide” then it should first deploy 5G in rural areas, where there are no 2G/4G coverage. It should also subsidise entry level 5G phones and routers with super affordable 5G plans for those under-privileged and students.

But everything DNB has done so far appears to be profit driven.

If the profit-driven MNOs had their own 5G network, they would have executed better and more people would be using 5G by now.

Moving forward, the Government should find a way to end the monopoly of DNB by transforming it into a true “consortium”, managed by MCMC/KKD. The consortium should be majority owned by the major mobile network operators, not Telekom Malaysia and YTL.

MCMC is already overseeing the Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) initiatives, focusing on 4G and fixed broadband, why not manage the deployment of 5G as well?

The 700Mhz band should be used to deploy basic mobile 5G services for all Malaysians (100% coverage) while the other 5G bands can encourage healthy competition among the MNOs.

There are two remaining 5G spectrum in the 26Ghz and 28Ghz bands for wireless fibre broadband services – these true 5G bands should never be awarded to DNB (although DNB currently has access to 26Ghz but has not deployed it).

Mobile network operators should be allowed to deploy their own 5G networks, for an example, using the existing 2300Mhz and 2600Mhz bands.

At the moment, DNB says that it has 3,900 5G sites, with estimated 47.1% human population coverage but even the newly appointed Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil does not believe these numbers. So how can we trust DNB?

We urgently need to fix the current state of 5G in Malaysia.

This is a commentary. The views/comments/opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the view of MalaysianWireless.


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

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