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Mobile networks in Malaysia will suffer by 2020. Here’s what needs to be done

Accelerating mobile service deployment in Malaysia

To cater for the future growth of mobile services, UTM has suggested several steps to move forward. The obvious one is to speed up the allocation of spectrum for mobile broadband services. Refarming existing spectrum for 4G LTE is a viable step and there are networks around the world shutting down their 2G and 3G networks to free up more spectrum for faster 4G. So far there are no plans to shut down 2G in Malaysia but Digi and U Mobile have already started deploying 4G on their 900MHz spectrum.

The whitepaper also suggested that the government provides incentives to close the coverage gap especially in suburban towns and rural areas. The challenge is partly due to the high cost of setting up new base stations just to serve a small population. As part of the national plan to make digital services available to all, the government could offer tax relief, grants or lower licensing fees as an incentive for telcos to roll out faster networks in underserved areas.

In the 11th Malaysian Plan (RMK-11), Malaysia aims to achieve 95% broadband coverage in populated areas by 2020 with 100Mbps accessible to all households in state capitals and high-impact growth areas. 20Mbps is targeted for at least 50% households in suburban and rural areas by 2020.

Deploying more base stations in populated areas has always been a challenge for telcos and this could be overcome with policies and cooperation from the government. One suggestion is to grant telcos access to government-owned land and facilities for setting up new base stations. The use of public infrastructures such as utility poles, street lamp poles and billboards for base station infrastructure can help to increase coverage and capacity in dense urban areas.

On top of that, providing indoor coverage with outdoor base stations isn’t effective as the signal gets degraded when passing through walls. To overcome this issue, more small cells are required indoors especially for high-density buildings. If there’s a consortium involving the government, building owners, councils and other stakeholders, policies and processes can be set in place to accelerate the deployment of base stations within buildings.

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4G is still important to complement 5G

With 5G expected to be commercially deployed in 2020, 4G still plays an important role in the years to come. In the first phase, 5G is expected to operate at a higher band of 24GHz and it could go up to 80GHz. While it promises faster 1Gbps connectivity with an ultra-low latency of just 1ms, we would still need 4G for a wider coverage. Since 5G runs at a higher frequency, the coverage from each base station is significantly smaller and it would take some time to deploy 5G sites at key areas nationwide.

In short, don’t expect 5G to replace 4G but it acts as an overlay to provide higher capacity. For further reading, you can download UTM’s whitepaper over here.

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Alexander Wong