Communications & Multimedia Minister Gobind ambitiously aims for 1H 2020 launch of 5G services in Malaysia

  • Spectrum roadmap has to be sharply accelerated from current Q1 2020 target
  • 5G opportunity for reinvention for govt, regulatory authorities, telcos, industry

Malaysian Communications & Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh Deo has his work cut out for him if he hopes to achieve an ambitious 1H2020 commercial rollout of 5G services.

DELIGHTED with the commitment and hard work put in by the 113 strong multi-stakeholder 5G Task Force at the mid-term report on Monday in Cyberjaya, Gobind Singh Deo, Malaysia’s Minister of Communications and Multimedia also made some new announcements.

The biggest of them was the surprise news that he was expecting the roll-out of 5G, targeting certain industry segments where there is a greater need, in the first quarter of next year, or at least by the first half of the year. “That is our plan and we hope it can be achieved,” he said during the press conference.

The optimistic, if not aggressive, new timeline sharply accelerates the prior expectations of a Q12021 5G introduction and brings to sharp focus Gobind’s oft stated desire to see Malaysia be among the leaders in 5G rollout and be a leading digital economy, on which many services will depend on the ultra reliable, super fast and low latency (lag) nature of the 5G networks.

Gobind made clear that 5G will be a game changer for Malaysia, but only if it is proactive and leads the way instead of sitting back and waiting.

He cited the Mobile Economy 2019 report for Asia Pacific which states that governments can either shape a favourable environment for operators to roll out 5G quickly and efficiently or wait for operators to convince them under current regulatory conditions.

Clearly Gobind has opted for action, with the 5G Taskforce announced in Nov 2018 being his first move with the minister determined that, “Malaysia must lead and shape the new environment that will allow operators to roll out 5G quickly and broadly.”

However, if “quickly” is to be achieved, especially with the 1H 2020 rollout expectation, industry players say that the timeline for determining the suitable spectrum and allocating it to via whichever model chosen with a spectrum roadmap has to be sharply accelerated from the current Q1 2020 target.

As a leading vendor tells DNA, “Timing wise, it can still be done but the spectrum issues have to be handled right away.” The vendor believes some operators will be keen to work towards the tighter 5G timeline.

It should be noted that Celcom Axiata Bhd has recently deployed the country’s first 5G Live Cluster Field Trial, at its Petaling Jaya headquarters and covering a population base of 4,600 people in the vicinity.

A key issue to be tackled here is the allocation of C-band spectrum, in the range of 3.4 GHz and 4.2 GHz, that is currently being used by Measat in Malaysia. Globally, the same C-band is predominantly used by satellite operators as well.

There has to be an agreement on which part can Measat can continue to use for fixed satellite service and which part can be used for Mobile 5G and the guard band between the two services. In this matter, the HK experience is said to be a good reference for Malaysia as it already made a decision in March 2018 on the allocation of radio spectrum in the 3.4GHz – 3.7GHz band from fixed satellite service (space-to-Earth) to mobile services, effective April 2020.

This spectrum in the C-band takes on heightened importance in the 5G world as the infrastructure is already in place to utilise it, with current mobile communication taking place below the 6GHz mark. This will lower the initial cost for operators in preparing for 5G which is still expected to be costly, especially when they move to Millimeter wave (mmWave), the name commonly given to the band of spectrum between 30GHz and 300 GHz. (Celcom is using both the C-Band and mmWave technology in its trial.)

For the 1H 2020 rollout of 5G services in Malaysia, the above issues need to be tackled now. If Gobind is really determined to see 5G services by then, expect another announcement on revised timelines around the spectrum roadmap for 5G.  

Celcom Axiata Bhd recently deployed Malaysia's first 5G Live Cluster Field Trial. Celcom CEO Idham Nawawi (left) is playing a video game over the 5G network with Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Chairman, Al-Ishsal Ishak.

Work not over for 5G Taskforce

While the telco industry digests the new timeline announcement by Gobind and seeks further clarity, the Taskforce, comprising of four working groups in Business Case, Infrastructure, Spectrum Management & Allocation and Regulatory, expects to wrap up its work by October and hand over the report to Gobind for his further action and disband.

However, the telco minister had other ideas, announcing that the 5G Taskforce would transition from recommending a holistic strategy for the deployment and development of 5G to watching over its implementation under the ambit of the MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission). The move ensures a wider group of engaged stakeholders keeping an eye on developments in 5G instead of just relying on the government.

The 5G taskforce is actually a part of the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP), a key pillar for the country’s rapid rollout of world class connectivity to all corners of Malaysia.

The third announcement Gobind made was on the expansion of the 5G trials where a total of 66 use cases will be trialed across five states in Malaysia, namely Trengganu, Kedah, Perak, KL and Selangor. The trials were initially being run in nation’s smart city, Cyberjaya and its administrative capital, Putrajaya.

Gobind expects that 5G will foster industrial and societal transformation in Malaysia, opening up innovation and new opportunities in various sectors including government sector, education and agriculture, health. “There is opportunity for reinvention for government, regulatory authorities, telcos, academia and industry,” he stresses.

The groundwork for that is being laid now with the four working groups presenting their mid-term reports. And while no group was ready to make any firm recommendations yet, they did offer a glimpse into what their thinking is.

For a better understanding of what the four groups are responsible for and what they will be working on to finish their work, the following are their terms of reference and what they are doing in this final leg of their push.

Business Case Working Group

I. Tasked to explore potential business use cases that can capitalise on the technical advantages of the 5G mobile network infrastructure.

II. Outlines potential 5G use cases from nine verticals that are of interest to the nation Agriculture, Banking and Finance, Healthcare, Education, Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Retail and Services, Smart City and Transportation.

III. Ensure all verticals examined have the potential to take advantage of key 5G features, namely Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLCC).

Way forward/Next Steps

  • Potential economic impact of 5G on GDP contribution, operational excellence, productivity and future positioning will be co-studied with the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER).
  • Joint public consultation with other Working Groups i.e. Spectrum, Infrastructure and Regulatory will be conducted in August 2019.
  • Potential business models to encourage 5G adoption will be proposed.

Spectrum Management & Allocation Working Group

I. The deliverables here is to provide updates on the progress for 5G spectrum allocation, to identify bands for 5G in Malaysia including its required bandwidth to support national targets and recommend timeline for spectrum for allocation/implementation.

II. Establish two sub-working groups to conduct in-depth studies on 5G bandwidth and 5G ecosystem.

Way forward/Next Steps

  • To finalise Priority 2 spectrum recommendations.
  • To propose 5G roadmap based on 5G ecosystem readiness.
  • To proceed with the Theoretical Study, Lab Test and Field Test for the 5G-Fixed Satellite System Coexistence Field Trial.

Infrastructure Working Group

I. To study infrastructure and coverage requirements for optimum 5G deployment, gap analysis on current networks to deliver 5G nationwide including expected cost and challenges.

II. Segment the work around 4 areas:

  • Radio Access Network (RAN)
  • Transmission and Fibre
  • Site Acquisition and Engineering; and
  • Mobile Edge Computing (MEC)

Way forward/Next Steps

  • Complete collection of member-group inputs.
  • Finalise network quantification estimates for scenario(s).
  • Identify and address further challenges and recommendations arising from evolution of 5G e.g. movement to stand-alone architectures, densification, increased use of mobile edge compute.

Regulatory Working Group

I. The aim is to recommend regulatory framework for 5G requirements, to ensure that the existing regulatory environment is updated or reviewed to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose.

II. Guided by four policies:

  • Ensuring sufficient resources and promoting sustainable investment.
  • Facilitating timely infrastructure deployment.
  • Ensuring safe and secure 5G.
  • Assessing regulatory conditions on 5G use case verticals.

Way forward/Next Steps

Prepare and undertake public consultation on key recommendations of 5G Task Force

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