Malaysia fast-tracks 5G with $3.7B goverment-funded network

Malaysia has revived its stalled 5G program with the aim of going live by year-end.

Announcing the plan on Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has returned to the original scheme of a government-funded wholesale network accessible to all operators.

He promised 15 billion Malaysian Ringgits (US$3.87 billion) would be invested over ten years to roll out a state-owned wholesale network.

The government would establish a "special purpose vehicle" that would hold 5G spectrum and would "own, implement and manage the 5G infrastructure," he said in a speech unveiling the government's digital economy blueprint.

"This infrastructure cost-sharing enables telecommunication companies to generate higher returns and, in turn, provide better and cheaper 5G services to consumers," he said.

The lower-cost rollout would accelerate 5G take-up and trigger more product and service innovations, he said. By launching late this year, "Malaysia will emerge as one of the first countries in this region to build a 5G ecosystem."

Muhyiddin also confirmed the Jendela national fiber plan to provide 5G backhaul in which the government will spend MYR21 billion ($4.3 billion) over the next five years to achieve nearly 100% coverage of populated areas – from 7.5 million premises at end-2022 to 9 million by end-2025.

However, he did not elaborate on key details of the 5G scheme, like licensing and the cost of access to the wholesale network.

Malaysian operators are likely pleased at the accelerated rollout. Celcom boss Mohamad Idham Nawawi has said the second half of 2021 was "the right time" to launch. Maxis said it was ready to start the rollout last August.

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But they have not been enthusiasts of the wholesale network plan because of the limits their flexibility and ability to differentiate.

Despite, that today's announcement puts some certainty around Malaysia's 5G plans after an eight-month hiatus.

The licensing process fell into disarray in June when Communications Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah suddenly announced the awarding of 700MHz spectrum to five operators without any explanation.

The move, which overturned the plans MCMC to allocate spectrum via a tender in the third quarter, stunned the industry. After a brief outcry, Saifuddin rescinded the decision, putting all 5G plans on hold.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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