Malaysia is set to be among the first in Asia to deploy the fifth-generation network (5G) technology with the nationwide roll-out of 5G project demonstrations next month.
However, GSM Association (GSMA) director-general Mats Granryd said Malaysia should take gradual and cautious steps in embarking on 5G to have more room and time to experiment and learn from countries already in the advanced phase of the 5G roll-out.
“It is not necessary to be the first (in implementing 5G). Maybe Malaysia can be number two or three as it gives more room to learn from others’ mistakes.
“But Malaysia should not take a wait-and-see approach in pursuing 5G, although the technology is not widely available yet, as the adoption process could stretch out for years,” he told Bernama.
GSMA is a trade body which represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.
Recently, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman Al-Ishsal Ishak said that the 5G demonstration projects will be conducted at 32 5G sites across six states - Kedah, Perak, Penang, Selangor, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur.
Granryd said the 5G technology would provide firm support for daily activities, allow smooth business transactions and be more economical, as maintenance for 3G technology would be expensive over time with the rapid advancement in global technology.
“3G maintenance is more expensive than 5G because it is old technology. The higher the G, the more efficient it becomes due to more built-in intelligent solutions.
“Eventually, vendors would stop manufacturing 3G and possibly 2G technology products. So from that perspective, it will be more complicated to do maintenance for the network,” he added.
From the global perspective, Granryd said that operators are slowly phasing out 2G and some of their 3G network infrastructure to keep up with technological advancements.
“The 2G network only offers good connectivity from the voice perspective, whereas 3G technology is in-between 2G and 4G. Hence, some operators have decided to shut down 3G and focus on 4G, and that could be the way forward for Malaysia,” he said.
The network upgrade is essential to support the growing number of devices demanding Internet access, many of which require a certain amount of bandwidth to function normally, and 4G simply does not cut it anymore, he said.
“The 5G networks can more easily understand the type of data being requested, and are able to switch into lower power mode when not in use, and to switch to a higher power mode for things like high definition video streaming,” said Granryd.
Asked on Malaysia’s readiness in terms of infrastructure and demand for 5G, he emphasised that 3G and 4G infrastructure and network must be maintained before deploying 5G as it is not a standalone technology.
“You must possess a 4G network before being able to deploy 5G. Hence, building up the 4G network is as important as 5G,” he said, suggesting that Malaysia should concurrently deploy interesting 4G applications (apps) for the benefit of consumers, industry and the society.
Granryd also opined that Malaysia should promote collaboration between operators to develop apps.
Meanwhile, he said that GSMA has engaged with Malaysian entrepreneurs, ministries and industry players early this year to get a good understanding of what is happening in Malaysia.
“We are also looking at the issues and opportunities in Malaysia and how GSMA can help,” he added.
According to him, one of the challenges looming over the domestic sector is the spectrum allocation.
“There is an issue about having enough spectrum and there is an ongoing discussion on the 700 megahertz (MHz) band, which is a very important band.
“It is being deployed in many countries and Malaysia is still discussing about deploying 700 MHz,” he said.
The discussion on the spectrum allocation has been going on since last year, while MCMC’s Al-Ishsal said that the final report on the country’s 5G mobile technology implementation was expected to be completed by this month.
The interim report by the National 5G Special Task Force would be submitted to Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo, as 5G technology in Malaysia is expected to be launched in 2021.
So far, eight companies have committed to an initial investment of RM116 million for 5G demonstration projects from Oct 2019 to March 2020.
The companies are Altel Communications Sdn Bhd, Celcom Axiata Bhd, Digi.Com Bhd, Edotco Group Sdn Bhd, Maxis Bhd, Petronas, Telekom Malaysia Bhd and UMobile Sdn Bhd.
Commenting on the cost of deploying 5G, Granryd said looking from the global perspective, GSMA does not expect a huge increase in capital expenditure.
“We do not foresee a huge hike in capital expenditure. We see it as some sort of replacement of some other investment in 3G and 4G.
“That’s why it is important for operators to decide on what they should switch off or what they should cease to support, in order to have enough money for the next G deployment,” he added.