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Malaysia’s 5G spectrum biddings not for profit, says MCMC

5G has clear economic gains and should benefit the nation – not add to the government’s coffers

The Malaysian government does not expect to profit from 5G spectrum that will be assigned to mobile operators and is expected to reveal the timeline for doing so by October 2019, key officials from the country’s industry regulator said.

Speaking to the media on 3 April 2019 to reveal plans for an upcoming 5G showcase, Al-Ishsal Ishak, chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), said 5G has “clear economic impact” for a country like Malaysia, and that the government is committed to delivering on its promise stated in its National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP).

“Deploying 5G will be part of the wider plan of the NFCP, among which is to enable 98% of populated areas in the country with [at least] 30Mbps broadband speeds,” he said. “The new government’s stand on spectrum assignment is that it does not intend to make money from 5G from auctions or biddings per se.”

Al-Ishsal stressed the approach to 5G spectrum assignment is very different from what MCMC had gone through with 3G and 4G, which merely emphasises pure connectivity.

“We need to step out of the previous 3G/4G paradigm and look at 5G as a game changer in a fourth industrial revolution world.”

The broad goal of the NFCP is to provide a robust, pervasive, high quality, and affordable connectivity aimed at improving the well-being of citizens and boosting the economic progress of Malaysians. The Malaysian government allocated 1 billion ringgit ($246m) for the NFCP when the budget was tabled in October 2018, local media reported.

The plan was put in motion after Malaysia ushered in a new government in May 2018 and a new minister – Gobind Singh Deo – was appointed to head the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

Read more about 5G in APAC

He has since been pushing fixed line operators to double the speed of their broadband offerings but at half the price.

Meanwhile, the MCMC’s chief officer for digital industry development and commercialisation, Gerard Lim, added that the MCMC has established a national 5G task force in November 2018 and that it is still deliberating when 5G spectrum will be assigned to qualified mobile operators.

Asked about the kind of mechanism that would be used – an auction or a best-bidding company mechanism, otherwise known as a “beauty contest” – Lim was coy, noting that “the MCMC is still in discussion and hasn’t arrived at a decision as yet”.

“That’s why we have the task force. We’re going through a thorough study and this [when and how] will become clearer and be revealed at the end of the third quarter.”

Pressed further on what frequency spectrum will likely be assigned, Lim said it is targeting to use the two most common frequency bands: 3.6GHz and 28GHz. Whether or not the 700MHz band will be opened up would depend on some of the other expectations around that block of frequency, he added.

“An operator can only use 700MHz if and when analogue TV is shut off and the frequency redeployed for 5G,” he said, adding that MCMC does not expect to see any commercial 5G networks launched until 2021 or 2022. Local media reported that analogue TV shutdown is expected to happen by the third quarter of this year.

Industry players Computer Weekly spoke to also believe that 5G will not commercially happen in ASEAN until that same timeframe.

Real-life demos

The MCMC 5G showcase will take place from 18 April to 21 April 2019 at the administrative capital of Putrajaya. It will demonstrate eight areas for which MCMC said would benefit from 5G technology.

These include healthcare, media and entertainment, smart cities, automotive, manufacturing, public safety, agriculture and education. Apart from MCMC, all major mobile operators as well as major network gear makers, and selected universities will be on hand to run the showcase.

Lim was quick to stress that these are real-life applications and actual demonstrations, not mock showcases. Examples of applications to be shown include healthcare diagnosis, immersive education, real-time e-sports and autonomous self-driving cars.

Others include drones for various digital mapping, robots, smart manufacturing, precision farming, virtual reality classroom and smart internet-of-things (IoT) campuses, he added.

“The showcase will run on two frequency bands: 3.6GHz and 28GHz,” said Lim. “It will demonstrate to the public what the future is like with 5G.”

Lim said that while the showcase is merely over a weekend, the 5G testbed will be up and running for another six months, during which vendors, operators, digital services companies and academia will be involved in experimenting with what 5G applications and services could be deployed in the coming years.

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