Category Archives: Columnist

Why identity security is the cornerstone of ASEAN’s digital economy (Opinion)

Written by Aaron Tan, senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific at SailPoint.

Southeast Asia has been heralded as the up-and-coming region, and with good reason. Over the past decade, rapid adoption of digital technologies has propelled innovation and economic growth at an unprecedented rate. With over 50 tech unicorns across e-commerce, fintech and software-as-a-service (SaaS), the emergence of disruptive start-ups have significantly boosted its digital economy.

As millions of new users continue to form a formidable digital customer base for online shopping and food delivery services, it is unsurprising that Southeast Asia’s internet economy is forecasted to reach $1tn by 2030. Governments here are aware of all that the internet economy has to offer and have been key proponents for digitalisation. Authorities in Singapore, for instance, have funnelled millions into boosting the digital capabilities of small and medium-sized businesses.

There, then, is no doubt that digital transformation in recent years has enabled Southeast Asia to uncover new heights. However, here comes the zinger: digitalisation has also unveiled new identity-related threats, as the number of connected devices and identities that need to be authenticated grows. Without plugging these gaps, the road forward for Southeast Asia’s digital economy will be a precarious one.

Today, businesses, technology and identities are inseparable. With increased digitalisation of everything from the platforms employees use, to the ways consumers interact with businesses – thousands to hundreds of thousands, or even millions of identities are born. These identities extend from employees, contractors and customers to even non-human identities in the form of internet-of-things (IoT) devices and robotic process automation (RPA) bots. They then connect to upwards of billions of technology access points, all with varying levels of access requirements that change constantly as businesses evolve.

While digital identities play a critical role in enabling greater efficiency, such as allowing employees to work in both physical and distributed environments, these access routes present significant risks to organisations. Wrongfully granted access can have far-reaching consequences – data breaches, reputational damage, and hefty compliance fees. This is the reality businesses face today: in fact, 84% of organisations globally have experienced an identity-related breach last year.

With that, the challenge companies face is in protecting the connection between technology and identities without compromising the power that this pairing provides. Businesses are forced to evaluate how they can empower everyone from employees to contractors, and non-human identities, to do their best work – so that technology can indeed be an enabler, and not an inhibitor of growth. It is this complex dynamic that has brought identity security to the forefront of conversations on IT security, in today’s digital landscape.

While business leaders may often mistakenly limit identity security to access management practices such as single sign-on (SSO) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) alone, these authentication tools are but one piece of the puzzle. Authentication helps to verify identities but is unable to determine if access to resources is rightful and adherent to access policies. SSO and MFA tools are also unable to manage or govern the boundaries of access, which is becoming increasingly more important as stricter data privacy regulations are putting more accountability on organisations to protect sensitive information.

Identity security instead helps solve the bigger picture. It helps to grant, secure, and manage access, working off of the principle of least privilege. It ensures that every single identity within a network only has the least amount of access needed to fulfil the task at hand. By restricting permissions based on job function and user role, the right identity security tools reduce risk of users having access to information they should not have access to, and inadvertently or maliciously repurposing that information in a manner that can be detrimental to the business.

With the business climate today vastly different from what it was just three years ago before the pandemic, identity security has become business-critical. Before, businesses had just one priority: digitalising to stay afloat. Now, organisations have accelerated along their digital transformation journeys and are instead focused on adopting emerging technologies to keep them competitive. With the groundwork laid, this is taking place at an even faster pace than before and the number and variety of identities that need access to these technologies have consequently skyrocketed.

At the same time, rapid digitalisation also means that businesses are generating data faster than ever before. Many organisations have been responding to this influx of data by tunnel-visioning on data optimisation strategies and neglecting the need to incorporate data and access protection tools to ensure valuable information is in the right hands.

In order to succeed in an increasingly digital environment, businesses need to understand how identity governance can complement their digital strategies and make the right investments. However, in actuality, many businesses are in the nascent stages of implementing identity security.

Thankfully, gaining identity maturity is not an arduous undertaking. The right forward-looking strategy, technology and identity management tools can get companies there. By leveraging autonomous and intelligent identity security solutions, enterprises can develop a resilient and adaptable identity strategy for their evolving business needs.

After all, with the sheer volume of access points available within the business ecosystem, the troves of data generated each day, and the identities to be managed, manual processes simply cannot provide the visibility and rapid response times required today. With AI (artificial intelligence)-powered identity solutions, organisations can get deep visibility and understanding of all user access, roles and relationships, and easily discover, manage, and secure all identities and their access to technology resources. Enterprises can also automate user access and alleviate the manpower load on IT security personnel so they can instead pivot resources towards facilitating digital transformation efforts.

An AI-driven identity solution automates the discovery, management, and control of all user access, allowing enterprises to not only make better and faster access decisions, but also to quickly spot and respond to potential threats. It empowers every employee with correct and timely access when they need it, proactively engages business users to identify risky access, and helps security professionals intelligently create and maintain access models in today’s dynamic IT environment.

With that, there is no question that placing identity security at the core of a cyber security strategy pays the utmost dividend for Southeast Asia’s digital economy: freeing businesses to focus on innovation, collaboration, and efficiency, while reducing overall security risks and maximising investments in technology.

Happy to be back in public service (Opinion)

Written by Anna Mae Lamentillo

It has been my dream to see the Philippines achieve its full potential. When I was with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the “Build, Build, Build” team during the Duterte administration, every road, bridge or similar project we completed was important for me because it meant more opportunities for Filipinos, better development for our country, and greater connectivity within and among our communities.

Today, I am happy to be back in public service and to continue working on the goal of connecting our communities and every Filipino, but this time on a different platform — through digital connectivity. It is high time that we fast track the improvement of our digital infrastructure. The world is evolving at a high speed and we must keep up.

I am grateful to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. and to Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy for their trust in me. It is my privilege to be of service to our nation once again.

The President has made it clear that he wants to ensure universal connectivity so that no citizen is left behind. The DICT’s top agenda is to deploy digital connectivity across our various islands. We will prioritize providing and improving internet connectivity in far-flung areas and in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs).

Since the inception of the “Free Wi-Fi For All” project, a total of 4,469 live sites were established as of June 2022. This covers 75 provinces and Metro Manila, and 584 localities. Out of the 4,469 Free Wi-Fi sites, 36 sites are at the GIDAs. The target for 2023 is an increase of 4,972 Free Wi-Fi sites in public places.

Time for digital infrastructure

The National Broadband Program (NBP) is the blueprint for the deployment of broadband connectivity across the nation. Part of this is the National Fiber Backbone Phase 1 Project, which is already 73.56 percent completed as of June 30, 2022 and is scheduled to be finished by May 2023.

In 2020, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and the DICT have completed the construction of the International Cable Landing Stations in Baler, Aurora and San Fernando, La Union and the 250-km fiber conduit which will carry the two Tbps optical spectrum to DICT’s points of presence and BCDA’s ecozones. The BCDA handed over the keys of landing and repeater stations to DICT last November 2021.

Meanwhile, 1,000 government offices/agencies in 13 provinces, in 13 different regions, are now connected through the GovNet project, of which 981 are online and 86 additional offices/agencies will be activated by the 3rd-4th Quarter of 2022. In 2023, three Govnet sites will be established with 234 agencies to be connected.

Among other targets of the Department next year in terms of building digital infrastructure include the establishment and activation of National Fiber Backbone Phase 3; the establishment of Digital Infrastructure Center; and the establishment of Inter-island Network Connectivity (IRU Domestic Submarine Cable) that would provide inter-island network connection in Southern Luzon, Bicol, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Advancing digitalization

In a bid to accelerate digital connectivity and improve digitalization efforts of the government, the DICT is welcoming new technology to reach GIDAs, areas of the country where laying fiber cables or establishing cell towers prove to be challenging.

For instance, through SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation, Starlink, which boasts speeds of up to 200 Mbps and latency as low as 20ms for residential use, we can provide connectivity in unserved and underserved areas.

Moreover, we will continue to collaborate with fellow governments to advance our digitalization efforts through exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and best practices.

During the recent state visit to Singapore of President Marcos, the Philippines’ DICT and Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on digital cooperation, including on digital connectivity, particularly in inter-operable systems and frameworks that enable electronic documentation; cybersecurity, such as organizing training courses and technical programs through the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence (ASCCE) to develop and enhance skills related to cybersecurity; and digital government/e-governance, such as in the areas of digital government strategy, digital government services, and digital identity.

The MOU also covers exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and best practices on measures relating to scam calls and scam short message services; on personal data protection; and in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, cloud computing, Internet of Things, big data, analytics and robotics; among others.

There will also be cooperation and exchange of knowledge to boost the digital innovation ecosystem, including connecting business owners with potential solution providers; exploring cooperation on digital capability and capacity building programs; and exchange of knowledge and best practices on digital infrastructure.

Aside from these programs, projects, and cooperation initiatives, we will continue to explore opportunities and partnerships that will help us in our goal of ensuring universal connectivity. The task may be daunting, but we will face the challenges head on because we can no longer afford to be left behind.

China hopes ‘whole-nation’ scheme can close tech gap (Opinion)

Written by Jeff Pao, China Editor of Asia Times

China’s government says it will use the advantages of its “new-type whole-nation system” to catapult technological progress, an apparent expansion of the authoritarian state’s proven ability to mobilize market and academic resources for development purposes.

On Tuesday, a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, chaired by General Secretary Xi Jinping, approved a document that outlines using China’s “whole-nation system” to develop high technologies.

Seeking to raise academic standards, the meeting also approved a document on reforming the system used to appoint academicians to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, both leading institutions with important roles in tech-related research and development.

The approval of the two documents is seen as a countermeasure against the United States, which in 2018 started to restrict high-technology products and equipment exports to China on national security grounds.

The commission’s move also followed the mid-July arrests of a dozen or so key Chinese information technology officials and company executives who stand accused of failing to deliver expected results after the central government poured tens of billions of dollars into the semiconductor industry over the past decade.

In July, Xiao Yaqing, China’s minister of industry and information technology, was arrested for suspected violations of the Communist Party’s discipline and laws. Since then, several other officials and executives of the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund and Tsinghua Unigroup have also been arrested.

Beijing had previously expected that the state-owned Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment Group could deliver a DUV immersion lithography tool that could make 28-nanometer chips by 2022 but the high-tech equipment is still not ready. 

The commission’s meeting did not mention which sectors Beijing will boost through the new plan, but Chinese media said it was likely referring to the semiconductor and aerospace industries.

In a rousing editorial published by China’s 21st Century Business Herald newspaper on Thursday said: “The US government ordered companies including Nvidia and AMD to stop supplying China with some high-end GPU chips, which are the foundation of artificial intelligence, big data analysis and cloud computing.

“The US wanted to suppress the growth of these sectors in China, especially when these technologies can provide computing power to other products such as self-driving vehicles.

“We must have a clear understanding of the US strategy to comprehensively suppress China’s industrial upgrading and economic development. We must have a sense of urgency and responsibility to greatly improve our systematic ability of scientific and technological research and achieve results to form a competitive advantage in several important fields.”

The US’ strategic industrial policies, including the CHIPS and Science Act implemented last month, were actually a kind of whole-nation system but they were doomed to fail as they only focused on short-term incentives and export controls without any reform of the country’s industrial system, the same article said. 

An editorial published by Yicai.com, a Chinese news website, said: “The new-type whole-nation system is practical and feasible as the core technologies that China wants have already got clear references.”

The article said the success of China’s space projects, which include the Chang’e 5 lunar mission in March 2021, the BeiDou navigation satellite system, the landing of the Tianwen-1 rover on Mars in May 2021 and the launch of Chinese H-alpha solar explorer last October, showed the advantages of China’s new-type whole-nation system.

It also said China would improve its intellectual property protection to ensure that people could benefit from their innovations. 

The ‘five-in-one’ model

The term “new-type whole-nation system” was first proposed by Xi in the fourth plenary session of the 19th CCP Central Committee in October 2019. 

It’s officially defined as meaning that China will use a new model of “five-in-one” – which refers to the collaborations among government, companies, universities, research institutions and consumers – to develop high technologies.

Shen Chengcheng, a professor at the School of Politics and Public Administration, Soochow University, wrote in an article in November 2020 that China was forced to use its “new-type whole-nation system” to achieve technological breakthroughs.

Shen said the US ban on the sales of chips to Huawei Technologies was a typical example of America’s efforts to “strangulate” China by forbidding it from obtaining core technologies. He said that because of the strangulation – “ka bozi” in Mandarin – China would not be able to upgrade its industries and push forward high-quality economic growth.

Shen said that China had already used the original whole-nation system to build its economy since the 1980s, with an emphasis on state-owned enterprises. 

However, a model so strongly oriented toward the government could not adapt to the new political, economic and social situations at present, he said, and thus the need for a new model encompassing broader participation.

With the new model, he said, China could use its advantages in 5G, big data and cloud technologies to integrate its digital and real economy.

Industrial policy with Chinese characteristics 

On Tuesday, the CPC’s Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission said the government would define its technology goals clearly and decide its top priority.

It also said the government would coordinate the resources of different scientific research institutions while private companies would have a bigger role in technological applications.

At the same time, the meeting said academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering should not only have high academic qualifications, but also practical scientific achievements. It said they should focus on research rather than non-academic issues to help the nation tackle scientific problems.

The full text of the document about China’s plan to use its new whole-nation system to develop high technologies was not made publicly available.

He Lifeng, chairman and party secretary of the National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC), wrote in an article on August 24 that China would boost its telecommunication, biomedical, civil aviation and aerospace, new energy and internet sectors.

He wrote in January last year that with its new type whole-nation system, China would use some national science and technology development plans as carriers to tackle key core technologies to serve the needs of China’s economy, industry and national defense.

China’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index (GII), released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a unit of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, climbed to 12th last year from 34th a decade ago.

According to the NDRC, China’s investments in high technology more than doubled to 19.91 trillion yuan (US$2.85 trillion) in 2021 from 9.95 trillion yuan in 2012.

The proportion of its high-end manufacturing businesses to all industries rose to 15.1% from 9.4% over the same period while China’s R&D investment intensity, which refers to the proportion of R&D expenses to GDP, grew to 2.67% from 1.68%.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, China ranked 13th globally with its R&D investment intensity at 2.4% in 2020. Israel was No 1 with R&D investment intensity at 5.44% while South Korea ranked second at 4.81%. They were followed by Sweden (3.53%), Belgium (3.48%), the US (3.45%) and Japan (3.26%).

Evolving towards the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (Opinion)

Written By Raymond Anthony, Vice President of Transport Industry, Huawei Technologies Malaysia

Digitalisation is the “in” word nowadays, with seemingly the whole world embarking on digital transformation journeys. Malaysia is no exception, and when it comes to the digitalisation of the railway sector, the consensus is for solutions that will make railways smarter, safer, more visualised for improved operations, more efficient and more reliable. Success in the railway industry depends on these key aspects, with both operators and passengers expecting flawless service which require communications networks that perform at optimum levels.

It is clear that the rail industry has entered the next stage in its digital development and that next-gen solutions require next-gen communication standards.

During the recent Malaysia Rail Technology Expo (RTX) 2022 that was held in August 2022 in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport (MOT), Malaysian Rail Development Corporation (MRDC), Malaysia Rail Industry Corporation (MARIC) and the Technology Depository Agency (TDA), I expounded the necessity and benefits of adopting the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) standards to drive the digital transformation of the railway industry in Malaysia.

This is the course taken by Europe, which I feel is a move that we should emulate. Adopting the FRMCS standards will make the transition from legacy rail communication networks more seamless, efficient and swift. The rail operators in Malaysia have also realised the benefits offered by the adoption of FRMCS standards and its benefits, including that of mission critical services, group communications, voice, video, images, and high-speed data.

Having an umbrella standard like FRMCS that covers all future rail use cases requiring a mobile communication system will be an enabler for digital railways. This will allow future services to run even more reliably, while at the same time increasing capacity of existing rail networks and optimising system costs.

Adopting the FRMCS standards will also facilitate the implementation of a broad range of new use cases, such as mission critical services, the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive maintenance. This will help with critical applications essential for train movements such as communications, trackside maintenance and train protection related services. It will also assist railway operators with performance applications which will help improve the performance of railway operations, such as train departure procedures.

Why we need to change from Legacy Networks Systems

Current wireless networks (GSM-R / Wayside Communication Systems) cannot meet the requirements of the railway digital transformation to support more services due to insufficient bandwidth, complex networking and the need of multiple networks to carry services. Due to such limitations, value added services such as video, railway multimedia dispatching communications, railway infrastructure smart management, trackside IOT, predictive maintenance and passenger service information transmission, cannot be realised.

As the first digital wireless communications system introduced back in the 1990s to boost railway transportation, legacy networks can no longer support the increasing service demands of the growing digital industry. Its ecosystem is facing a decline in certainty, and its technologies are obsolete. To address these customer concerns, the industry has proposed the FRMCS solution to help it upgrade wireless communications systems, taking into consideration technology evolution, the ecosystem, and costs.

The Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS)

In contrast, the FRMCS based on LTE technology with an evolution towards 5G, is growing as it can carry more services with its improved bandwidth, latency and proven ecosystem based on years of LTE developments in the telecommunications industry. As a mature technology, LTE has been proposed to be the carrier of the railway

industry in some regions including the Korea Train Express, metros and railways in China, the urban rail transit in France and numerous other metro and railway lines, thus laying a solid foundation for ecosystem development.

The spectrum range that has been selected for FRMCS in Europe is based on 1900MHz. Emulating this will ensure the seamless progression to 5G in Malaysia when the 5G roll-out matures. Therefore, it makes sense that the industry preferred FRMCS frequency band for rail, which is the 1900MHz, should be the frequency of choice.

Technical Evolution and Its Benefits to the Railway Sector

Having said that, we must endeavour to reduce the investments by railway operators and to do this we must find new technology to improve the 1900 MHz coverage.

Technologies such as Huawei’s 8T8R multi-array smart antennas improves the coverage by 10 to 15 per cent compared with the industry’s 4T4R technology, allowing for fewer base stations and cost savings.

I feel that the 8T8R MIMO should be considered as an important feature to improve wireless network capability and further to this technology, Huawei’s unique dual- network solution at the same site also improves the reliability of the FRMCS radio network to 99.999 per cent.

New technology does not need to be expensive. Commonly, replacing the entire network is costly for railway operators, hence why we ensured that key technologies such as 8T8R are developed to not only support the evolution to LTE but also to 5G in the near future. With these technologies in place, the evolution from LTE to 5G will require only a software upgrade, hence providing another financial benefit for rail operators.

FRMCS will be an enabler for digital railways, which allows future services to run even more reliably, and increases capacity on existing rail networks, while at the same time also optimises system costs

These reasons are why I believe the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is the way forward and its implementation is pivotal for the digitalisation of railways in Malaysia. We cannot do this in silo. I am confident that together with the railway industry, stakeholders and ecosystem, we will be able to adopt these standards and steer our railway industry to greater heights, ensuring that it is one of the best in the region.

DNB’s 5G: Eternally Revolving Deadline (Opinion)

Written by Dr Rais Hussin, CEO of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

WHILE Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) still struggles to coerce the local telcos to buy into its Single Wholesale Network (SWN), the global 5G rollout continues at varying success. And while even Malaysia’s more successful 5G-demand-driven counterparts experience hiccups on their 5G journey, DNB’s supply-driven strategy, with this backdrop, raises even more concerns.

According to GSA’s “5G-Market Snapshot”, from June 2022, 205 operators in 80 countries and territories had launched 5G mobile services, with Malaysia still cutting a lonely figurein its SWN approach to 5G rollout.

As of mid-2022, South Korea appears to be an overall leader in the global 5G rollout.

Although China and US are leading global 5G coverage, with South Korea coming up 4th in this list after China, the US, and the Philippines, according to the 5G Speedcheck Indexupdated on June 2022, South Korea is leading 5G race in terms of highest download speed (8 times, 11 times and 58 times faster than the US, the Philippines and China respectively).

South Korea is also among the leaders regarding 5G availability (the percentage of time users are connected to the 5G network), according to the latest OpenSignal data as of June 2022.

The above statistics makes South Korea a suitable testing ground for 5G analysis, based on which it is already possible to draw important lessons.

5G adoption among the customers seems to stall even in South Korea, and it is certainly not as enthusiastic as it was in the case of its predecessor network.

On this account, interesting comparisons were reported by Reuters on May 13, 2022. As of March 2022 (three years into 5G), the number of 5G subscribers in South Korea was just under half the number of its 4G users, while over three years into 4G rollout, the number of its users had more than doubled those of 3G.

Similarly, in the first two to three years of 4G, South Korean telcos saw their average revenue per user (ARPU) jump from 5% to 12% annually. By contrast, very meagre increases in ARPU (3.7% for KT and 0.6% for SK Telecom Co) or even decline (4.2% decline for LG Uplus Corp) from a year earlier forced South Korean telcos even to start looking into ways of diversifying their core business, to be still, able to pay off their investors. And all of this given that South Korean telcos already spent US$20 billion on boosting the connections speed by just five-fold compared to 4G. However, given the unsavory outcome numbers, they are hugely hesitant to commit resources to boost it further.

The problem that could be seen from the very beginning is now, crystal clear and summed by Kevin Loughran, wireless Chief Technology Officer for Jabil, global electronics manufacturing company: “… the investments in technology development and spectrum are by no means incremental. They lean more toward astronomical. In order to balance these investments, the user experience in 5G cannot be incremental. It needs to be disruptive.”

To create the demand, 5G requires a true “killing application”. Such killing application, by definition, must deploy the broad 5G feature spectrum.

However, even if the telcos are willing to invest heavily in the ability to provide such a broad feature set, the customers may have different strategies on how to deploy it — they may still focus on a subset of 5G features that they would purchase.

Such a “dilution” on the demand side presents a serious challenge to the overall economics of the 5G rollout. But this is for the future when most households start having numerous robots and truly connected smart homes, and the roads of our cities will be flooded with autonomous vehicles demanding grid traffic automation — the reality that is far away even for South Korea.

As of now, the majority of Malaysia’s households save every spare cent to be able to put food on their tables. Therefore, they are likely to find it even more difficult than the South Koreans to justify an extra monthly outlay for a five-fold increase in their mobile Internet speed.

If an average mobile Internet user is not fully utilising even the potential of 4G anyway, the question arises: is it not logical to focus the efforts on roadblocks to a faster 4G — the network really needed here and now — by upgrading the network, increasing national fiberisation (focus on the backhaul, lack of which, is the main cause for the lack of the progress for Malaysia’s broadband expansion, according to Dr Mohamed Awang Lah), and repurposing or releasing an additional spectrum?

Reading Jendela’s Q1 2022 report, which, Dr Mohamed Awang Lah insists, is still “service provider-centric report, not end-users’”, Malaysia’s 4G population coverage is “on track”, increased to 95.5% in Q1 2022, and is well poised to achieve its 96.9% populated area coverage target by the end of 2022. In addition, the average mobile broadband speed has increased to 40.13 Mbps, surpassing the original Phase 1 target of 35 Mbps.

In addition, this report states that the 3G spectrum is almost completely retired. Therefore, we could consider repurposing it to increase the 4G frequency band. And, if the government could reconsider assigning sub-6 GHz band to telcos rather than DNB, this would not only allow them to organically (based on demand) rollout 5G at globally comparable costs but also simultaneously speed up their 4G networks by extending their 4G frequency band even wider (See Figure 1). Meanwhile, DNB as a government-led entity should solely focus its efforts on sharing the passive infrastructure, especially, the backhaul link (one of the highest-cost in infrastructure) to enable last mile competition. Now, this is the approach that will reap significant benefits to the end users.

Therefore, it is timely to ask again how all the above stands against DNB’s projected costs, supply-driven approach, ambitious coverage targets and over-arching official choreographed “narrative” objective? And most importantly, who will make up for the potential losses encountered?

Not surprising, we see no progress from where the issue of major telcos taking up a stake in DNB’s SWN since end of June 2022 (See Figure 2) when the Communications and Multimedia Minister assured the public that the equity uptake deal by the major telcos should be finalised and signed in another week or so.

However, one and a half months later, on August 14, 2022, the Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul’s press statement implied that some of the major telcos have yet to agree to the Reference Access Offer (RAO) terms, although they have agreed to take up the stake in DNB as offered by the government.

The finance minister further emphasized the set deadline is August 31, 2022 for the telcos to sign up and that foreign international companies are “queuing up” for the access to Malaysian market. The Finance Minister added that it is very hard not to allow foreign players into the Malaysian market considering the potential for lower consumer prices.

However, the believe that DNB’s RAO terms are “not commercially viable” and likely to lead to higher customer costs and slower adoption rates is precisely one of the main points of contention between the local telcos and DNB apart from the refusal to become a “passive shareholder” with restrictive terms.

And if the RAO terms are not commercially viable even for the local telcos who operates in a Ringgit Malaysia environment, margins for the foreign telcos could be further squeezed due to a very weak ringgit making it absolutely not clear how this can be translated into a lower prices for Malaysian consumers.

Nevertheless, the deadline is here and gone. And two of Malaysia’s largest telcos have just reportedly declined to take up stake in DNB even though they are still open to continue discussing how to make “not commercially viable” RAO, commercially viable. Here lies another problem, DNB and MoF reportedly dished out another dateline i.e. September 30, 2022 for the access agreement for the local telcos. This, despite the absence of regulatory framework for the 5G Access Agreement as MCMC has yet to release the framework covering areas like Service Level Agreement (SLA), pricing etc. Apparently it will be ready only in December 2022. Sign first, framework later.

We could foresee that this may trigger other local and foreign telcos, including those who have stake in local carriers, to question the reasons for such a refusal. No foreign telco or investor will sign up for DNB equity under present conditions, unless MoF underwrites the risks.

It is important to note logically, that the 4 telcos that signed up earlier to take up the stake, will have to revert to their respective Boards, as it was previously at RM200 million per telco equity investment instead of RM300 million now, given 2 telcos have reportedly declined, given the total offer of equity investment at RM1.2 billion for 70%.

Forget not Telenor with a substantial shareholding (49%) in Digi, who is known for their good governance and integrity with impeccable transparency will start asking serious questions.

And past the deadline, Malaysian public is beyond excited to see which foreign telcos take up the stake in DNB. Foreign telcos have higher standards of governance and integrity with wholesome transparency and cannot be dictated by whims or fancies of political masters or unreasonable deadlines.

They normally have higher and stringent levels of due diligence and what more if they are from a developed nation. Unless it is “North Korea Telecoms”.

So, the DNB saga will be a never-ending story with never-ending deadlines. 6G is in trials now, and even before the waves of 5G settles in Malaysia, 6G will start its roll-out elsewhere.