Malaysia: Going for 4G

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The Malaysian government is calling on the private sector to speed up the roll out of new information and communication technology (ICT) services, a move that will support the state’s long-term strategy of promoting a knowledge-based economy.

In May, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) had been tasked with drafting a programme to move Malaysia into a new era of ICT. The Digital Malaysia Master Plan is intended to be one of the cornerstones of the government’s campaign to modernise the national economy and “to build and leverage science and technology and harness the existing strengths of our nation”, as the premier described the objective of the project.

The aim of the master plan, and of associated programmes to support the use of ICT, is to accelerate growth across all sectors of the economy and create a climate conducive to innovation, investment and talent, Najib said at a briefing in New York in mid-May.

“We will build an ecosystem that promotes the pervasive use of ICT in all aspects of the economy to create communities connected globally and interacting in real-time,” he said.

At least some of that interaction will be facilitated through the next generation of wireless telephone technology, with Malaysia already seeing trials being carried out by a number of operators of 4G systems. The new networks will offer users high-speed mobile broadband connections for computers, smart phones and other applications.

Currently, the plan is for service providers to have their 4G systems operational in 2013, though this could change as both public demand for the latest technology, and the government’s enthusiasm for a fast implementation, is gaining momentum.

On July 26, the minister of information, communication and culture, Rais Yatim, said the government was considering reducing the time given to companies offering 4G services to trial technologies. Currently, firms have been given up to 12 months to test their new systems, a period that Rais said could be cut by half.

“The trial period for now is from six months to a year,” he told local media. “I would prefer it if the trial period was brought down further to less than six months. Once the standard has been determined, then we will approve the provision of the 4G spectrum.”

The ministry would be awarding the 4G spectrum to companies offering the advanced telecommunications services at the end of the year, said Rais, and was looking to speed up the process for issuing the spectrum in keeping with the ruling of the National Economic Council to fast-track the granting of the licences once all the conditions for the roll out had been met.

As the telecoms firms investing into 4G services had already made significant outlays, the ministry did not want to see any delays in finalising the launch of the new generation technology, he said.

Up to nine companies are expected to be granted a 4G operation licence: Celcom Axiata; DiGi, Maxis and U Mobile, all of which already have 3G networks; and the four WiMAX operators in the market, Asiaspace, Packet One Network, REDtone and YTL Communications.

However, there have been some reports in the media that a number of operators have been holding talks over sharing resources such as cell sites and towers, base station equipment and transmission networks. Such collaboration would not only reduce expenditure but also allow operators to share band space. When it announced its plans to open up a spectrum for 4G, the government said it would offer each operator a 20-MHz block, though many industry experts believe 40-MHz blocks would better serve the needs of operators.

By limiting spectrum availability, the government may be trying to consolidate the sector, as well as speed up the roll out of services by prodding operators to best utilise existing infrastructure.

Though the government is in a hurry to see 4G technology implemented, the operators themselves will be just as keen to ensure their systems are fully functional before committing to launching services, fearing that a trouble-plagued opening would drive subscribers into the welcoming arms of the many rivals in the sector. It would be in the best interests of the government and the ICT industry itself that 4G services are not launched until any leaks are plugged and smooth sailing can be guaranteed.

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