TM Pitches to Build Malaysia's National 5G Network

Fixed-line incumbent Telekom Malaysia (TM) is pitching to be Malaysia's exclusive 5G network provider.

It has asked the regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), for nationwide 5G spectrum to allow it to build a single wholesale network.

The MCMC, which has designated bands 700MHz, 2300MHz and 2600MHz for 5G, is holding an industry consultation on spectrum allocation.

In its submission, TM said the southeast Asian nation needs to "take a drastic approach" to develop 5G.

"The basic supply side economics of individual mobile rollouts and multiple overlapping networks can no longer work," it said.

The cost of deploying each mobile generation is expensive and the technology cycle is getting shorter, leaving less time for operators to recoup their costs, it argues.

The new world of 5G would bring critical services in areas such as health and public safety and would drive advanced applications, in particular to benefit under-served rural areas.

"Splitting the spectrum bands to many operators is neither efficient nor economical for the country," TM said.

"A single national InfraCo will avoid duplication of infrastructure and networks, thus reducing the total cost of ownership for the industry."

It points out that it has the most extensive fiber coverage nationwide, with more than 540,000km in deployed fiber and core capacity.

The operator promises fair access to the network through regulated open access wholesale arrangements.

The ambitious request to become the national 5G wholesale potentially gives TM a way to deal itself back into the mobile business.

Although it has an MVNO brand, Webe, and some 70MHz of spectrum across multiple bands, it has been a fixed-line player since demerging with Celcom in 2007.

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In TM's favor is the ambitious timetable set out by the Communications Minister Gobind Singh Deo, who wants to see the launch of services in the first half of next year.

That's well ahead of the MCMC, which suggests allocating the 700MHz and 2600MHz bands in the third quarter and the 2300MHz in the fourth quarter 2020, which implies a commercial launch in mid-2021.

TM has asked the MCMC to directly issue spectrum rather than go for a more time-consuming auction process, claiming it can accelerate the timetable by six to nine months.

The incumbent operators, however -- Celcom, Digi, Maxis and U Mobile -- all advocate an auction process.

MCMC said it would issue its final report by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's first 5G demonstration projects start this month.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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