Category Archives: Network Coverage

Expanding Internet Connectivity in the Philippines

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda urged the government to prioritise cell sites in geographically isolated and disadvantageous regions (GIDA), indigenous villages, and other upland places. In addition, she advocated that the government’s digitalisation and internet connectivity initiative be implemented throughout Antique province in the future years.

In her hometown of Antique, 40% of the populace uses Globe and Smart connectivity. However, their tower locations are focused on urban regions. As a result, Legarda requested that WiFi hotspots be deployed throughout the province.

Legarda discussed her proposals with Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo, Undersecretary Angelo Nuestro, and Assistant Secretary Philip Varilla at the Senate of the Philippines.

Around 18 Antique towns will undergo digital transformations to improve municipal services to be more accessible, faster, and more efficient. Legarda, the primary author of Republic Act No. 10844, the law that established the DICT, underlined the importance of ICT infrastructure, systems, and resources in ensuring universal access to excellent, cheap, dependable, and secure ICT services.

“We are doing this in Antique, and we will do it in other areas of the country. With our stronger cooperation with the DICT, we want every community, even our indigenous communities, to be digitally linked so that they are not left aside,” she added.

Meanwhile, Lamentillo said the DICT would pursue its mandate to build the digital infrastructure connecting communities, especially those in far-flung areas. The connectivity programme also provides citizens with better quality of life by delivering speedy and efficient government services to the people.

“We thank Senator Loren Legarda for her unwavering support to the DICT, from its inception and up to the present as we strive to ensure that every community in the country is digitally connected,” she declared.

Under President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the Philippines has strengthened efforts to develop the country’s internet connection. He promised his administration would do all its power to offer free internet connection to rural communities. The government plans to roll out the “BroadBand ng Masa Programme” (BBMP) to all isolated islands, especially those without a mobile cellular connection.

BBMPs across the country give free internet access to students and teachers from geographically isolated and disadvantaged regions (GIDAs). As part of the programme, an additional 628 operational free WiFi sites were installed, increasing the total amount of such WiFi sites throughout the Philippines to 4,757. At least 2.1 million unique users, or around 100,000 families, can access the government’s free internet connections. Interconnectivity and government services will benefit from digital technologies.

DICT Secretary Ivan John Uy was optimistic about the programme’s ability to help develop a “direct relationship” between GIDAs and the government. Establishing the Free WiFi for All Programme is one of the government’s accomplishments in boosting connection. He committed to increasing efforts to extend internet connection to more remote places.

Indonesia is made a similar push to persuade local governments to accelerate the provision of digital infrastructure for telecommunications and internet needs in rural locations. To service the community in all villages/sub-districts in Indonesia’s most remote, outlying, and underserved (3T) sites that have yet to be served by a 4G signal network. The BTS was built with funds from the State Revenue and Expenditure Budget by the Ministry of Communication and Information.

The BTS will be a downstream facility allowing the public to benefit from upstream infrastructure such as a broadband fibre-optic cable network. Another method for providing internet connection to rural schools and health care facilities is the SATRIA-I Satellite and the Hot Backup Satellite.

The Impending Failure of Good Intentions: DNB’s 5G Roll Out (Opinion)

Written by Dr Rais Hussin, President and Chief Executive Officer of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

EMIR Research welcomes the continuous public engagement with DNB and their hired consultants, for, the aim of a debate is never a shallow victory but credible progress and, in this case, credible progress for the nation based on data, science and economics.

Though DNB has not been forthcoming, as DNB still does not answer the most pressing questions (“Malaysian 5G Rollout “Unanswerable” Questions”) but raises even more eyebrows instead by involuntarily (or voluntarily) giving out more details.

Nevertheless, this ongoing public engagement helps to keep track of what is coming out of DNB and spot potential red flags.

DETRIMENTAL IMPACT ON MALAYSIAN TELECOM INDUSTRY

DNB’s UK-based consultancy, Plum Consultancy, claims that EMIR Research misunderstood how DNB’s 5G Single Wholesale Network (SWN) works.

DNB-Plum explains at length how the “DNB approach is different and is not network sharing”, which is pure semantics and conveniently ignores the key issue that EMIR Research continuously emphasised based on hard evidence of science, data and economics. When individual MNOs have no freedom to fully deploy their active network equipment (and DNB, with the help of Plum, admits this fact themselves: “there will be one set of electronics… to carry data between base stations and end-user devices” which is widely understood to be active RAN sharing), we have a big problem — MNOs can no longer compete on the quality of network which is the key differentiating feature and all other features, including differentiation “on retail end” or “in terms of the services offered” which DNB keeps emphasising are only secondary to and totally dependent on the network quality.

If DNB-Plum has not grasped it from the first time, EMIR Research would like to reiterate that it is fully aware of and also acknowledged in its writings on numerous occasions that under DNB, the core networks will be by individual MNOs (at least until the implementation of 5G stand-alone solution).

However, this does not help the DNB’s argument because no matter how superior equipment you have at the core network level, it can do very little if the active network access equipment, which in the case of DNB is provided by one vendor and is entirely out of MNO’s control, provides substandard quality.

Globally and in the Malaysian market until this point, most differentiation between MNOs (other than pricing) has been based on critical innovation and differentiation in the RAN. In contrast, innovation in the core is minimal and, in turn, requires RAN-side support. In short, MNOs need to control both the core and access to compete effectively!

Note that GSM Association (GSMA), in its response to DNB, argumentatively echoes EMIR Research’s concern about this delinking of network ownership from service delivery and its various negative impacts on the industry and end consumers. 

And if Plum does not see this adverse effect on the telecom industry in Malaysia coming or does not want to see it (which is surprising, given their supposedly “over 15 years working on hundreds of such projects including extensive work on the deployment of 4G and 5G”) then maybe Plum could explain why SWN model turned out problematic for a handful of nations who attempted it for 4G and why the rest of the world so avoids it for 5G, including the UK where British mobile operators received 5G spectrum through auction. Apparently, Plum, a UK-based consultancy, has failed to convince their policymakers of the benefits of a nationwide SWN.

LOWER MOBILE DATA SERVICE PRICES UNDER SWN?

According to Plum, “in contrast, rational economic analysis indicates that EMIR’s proposal will lead to wholesale 5G costs [that are] four to five times higher than those of the SWN,” further explaining that “rolling out six 5G networks — one for each mobile operator — would require six times as many 5G base stations”.

This is a far-fetched assumption by Plum that telcos would not share base stations and other infrastructure! Given Plum’s claimed experience in the industry, they should be well aware that this has been one significant trend globally (Malaysia included) in the telecom industry for years now, even for 4G (what more for 5G where this is the only survival strategy), which makes the estimate by Plum that “the overall ten-year cost of 5G network ownership under this option [to] be four to five times greater than under an SWN”, a massively monumental overstatement.

Furthermore, MNOs can significantly reuse their existing infrastructure (in contrast to DNB’s current rollout) to lower total deployment costs — they would not “roll out a 5G network” but upgrade an existing 4G network to also support 5G. This is a very different scenario, and it is at far lower cost, especially with regard to ongoing or OPEX costs for the network.

However, Plum chooses to ignore the benefit of sharing fixed costs between the existing 4G network and the new 5G layer versus a much higher cost of adding a new 4G + 5G network as is required under the DNB’s current rollout.

Note that retail pricing of service to retail customers will consider the costs of both 4G and the 5G layers, at least until the 4G networks are withdrawn and switched off and it becomes stand-alone 5G.  So sharing, rather than duplicating the fixed costs between 4G and 5G, as in the case of the 5G rollout by individual MNOs, has clear benefits for retail customers.

Also, while being so focussed on the towers, DNB-Plum are silent about how much costs could be reduced by each respective MNO on the access equipment if the network is rolled out gradually in pace with demand and, importantly, in pace with the innovation in the industry and progressively reducing the cost of equipment!

As Plum acknowledges themselves the competition in the RAN infrastructure, which, as explained above, under DNB’s current proposition will be out of MNOs control, “is determined largely by the relevant standards bodies and then implemented by the global network vendors” but that is precisely where the big problem lies. Under the DNB’s current rollout model, MNOs will not be able to tap into this global pool of innovation by vendors!

Under DNB’s proposed model, each MNO would be locked for ten years, without access to vendor competition, with a fixed cost of equipment provided by one single supplier—as technology changes (becomes more advanced and cheaper), MNOs would not be able to continue to evaluate new options in terms of features and lower prices which will also hugely weight on the consumer prices.

Therefore, it is highly uncertain how “the end-user prices under the SWN are expected to be around 60% lower”, but it is highly certain, again, that this removal of innovation from the supply of 5G RAN will massively reduce competitive differentiation in the retail market and slow down the ongoing adoption of leading-edge RAN technologies for Malaysia while also compromising Malaysia’s ability to attract 4IR’s, 5IR’s and subsequent IR’s ecosystem players — massive opportunity cost for the nation the scale of which we probably would not be able even to grasp in its entirety.

SUFFICIENCY / INSUFFICIENCY OF 10,000 CELL SITES

Plum consultancy also defends the sufficiency of 10,000 cell sites to provide 90% populated area coverage with a dismissive “there is no evidence to suggest that these estimates (by DNB are faulty)”. Only they forget to attach solid evidence to substantiate the claim that they are correct. Where is the detailed technical report to substantiate that 10,000 cell sites will be sufficient to provide 90% populated area coverage, importantly, with the claimed 5G speed? How the populated area in terms of its density is defined has also never transpired in the discussion.

However, even more interesting is the following statement: “EMIR’s conclusion may have validity if, as it assumes, 5G spectrum is not available at 700 MHz”.

As it transpires now, DNB has 700MHz, 3.5GHz and 28GHz spectrum. Number of towers required to cover populated areas would be different depending on the frequency spectrum — 10,000 sites may be sufficient for 700 MHz, but more towers (and therefore substantially higher costs) would be associated with higher frequency spectrum. Until now DNB has not come crystal clear on this.

However, with 700 MHz, at best, we would be able to get 4G speed and the promise of 1Gbps speed will be gone. So 5G infrastructure, at 5G costs for 4G speed ?

Apparently, then, due to substantially increased coverage per cell site, 700 MHz band would be used to cover rural areas. If DNB is trying to change their goal-posts now and is telling us that we need 4G in the rural areas to “bridge the digital divide” (one of the key premises to their existence and so-called “supply-driven” approach) then this is exactly what EMIR Research and other experts have been telling all this while—that we do not need questionable and failed elsewhere SWN model to bridge the digital divide. Keep in mind 5G full functionality versus needs of the rural dwellers (Figure 1).

Therefore, for bridging digital divide there is a better and cheaper solution with older but well established technologies (see for example “Cheaper solution for rural broadband” or “Finding a cure for Malaysia’s broadband illness”). In short, Malaysia, and particularly rural areas are suffering due to the scarcity or even complete absence of passive network infrastructure, mainly fibre backhaul.

Therefore, EMIR Research, echoing the telecom experts’ opinion, has suggested that the primary focus of DNB should be to own and expand the existing passive network infrastructure only, while utilising for this purpose Universal Service Providers funds and prioritising rural areas, so that the large sums of tax-payers money could be saved and redirected elsewhere. Malaysia has many more pressing problems and impact per every dollar spent must be the priority now!

Furthermore, the proposed restructuring model for DNB will also resolve many other governance problems when the retail players are also DNB’s shareholders. There must be complete separation between retailers and wholesalers which is not what current DNB rollout model offers.

Given the seriousness of the issue, more details will be discussed in the Part 2 of this article as EMIR Research is trying, once again, to re-centre DNB-Plum on all the key issues. Hopefully we will have more direct answers from DNB-Plum, instead of rehashing of the archaic narratives that has been rebutted comprehensively by many including GSMA, EMIR and other telecom experts. We don’t want as what Shakespeare once said : “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, to continue unabated.

Malaysia’s 5G network achieves nearly 50% coverage: DNB

KUALA LUMPUR: The implementation of 5G network coverage throughout the country has reached almost 50 per cent in populated areas as of the end of 2022, thus surpassing the initial target of 40 per cent, says Digital National Berhad (DNB) chief operating officer Nasution Mohamed.

He said the network has now reached 15 million Malaysians involving 3,900 sites and will reach over 30 million people and businesses when fully implemented.

“DNB is now fully focused on achieving the commitment of 80 per cent of populated areas by the end of 2024 or earlier,“ he said in a statement today.

Nasution said DNB received full support from state and local authorities in accelerating the approval to continue with the implementation, adding that it had managed to complete 5G network implementation at delayed sites over the past month.

So far, he said DNB has achieved more than 90 per cent of coverage in populated areas throughout Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor, in addition to about 50 per cent in Johor, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan.

“Other states are currently in various stages of implementation, and will also achieve full network implementation by 2024 or earlier,“ he said, adding that DNB is working closely with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and device manufacturers to promote and encourage 5G usage across the country this year.

He said so far five MNOs namely Celcom Axiata Bhd, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Telekom Malaysia Bhd, U Mobile Sdn Bhd and YTL Communications Sdn Bhd (YES) have started providing 5G retail services to more than 20 million of their customers, after signing the access agreements with DNB on Oct 31 last year, while Maxis Bhd’s customers are expected to have access to the service this month.

On 5G compatible devices, Nasution said about eight million devices had been owned by users as of last month and it is expected to double this year and reach 40 million devices by 2030.

“There are 15 device brands that currently offer more than 100 5G compatible devices to users in the Malaysian market, from major models to more economical models,“ he said, adding that this offering coupled with the retail 5G data provided by the relevant MNOs would speed up the use of 5G network among final consumers in the next few years.

He said the use of Malaysia’s 5G network has increased eightfold from 32TB to 253TB per day, with 90,000 simultaneous users as of Dec 30 last year since the respective launch by the five MNOs.

The 5G network has an average download speed of 380 Mbps (which is equivalent to other reported global benchmarks) as opposed to the average 4G download speed of 35 Mbps, he added.

Maxis expands 5G international roaming service to 29 countries

Maxis has announced that it has expanded its 5G international roaming services to 29 countries, enabling more of its traveling customers to enjoy high speed connectivity abroad.

In a statement, the telco said this follows the announcement in October 2021, when it announced it was the first telco in the country to provide customers with 5G international roaming services in Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Arjun Varma, head of Maxis Consumer said the company is pleased that its customers can enjoy the best 5G experience in even more countries now, which is timely with the expectation of an influx of travelers for the year-end holidays. 

“Together with our roaming partners, we are committed to providing the best connectivity experience wherever our customers are,” he added. 

“We also look forward to further expanding our services to more countries in the near future,” Varma said. 

According to Maxis, the 5G roaming service will be activated automatically on any 5G-enabled device and will be charged as per the existing 4G roaming packages. It also has continuous plans to further extend its 5G international roaming footprint to more countries by the end of 2022.

To subscribe, Maxis customers just need to access the Maxis app and click on Maxis Roaming in the services tab to subscribe to a preferred plan. 

Alternatively, customers can subscribe manually by dialing *100#, go to ‘International Roaming’, choose ‘Country’, and select one of the available passes.

Thailand Discusses Strategies to Attract 5G Investment

Thailand’s National Standardisation Council (NSC) held a Focus Group meeting to prepare measures to promote investment in 5G, preparing an ecosystem to attract domestic and foreign investment. NSC’s mission is to promote the efficient and full use of 5G technology to drive the economy and society. As a result, the council is looking at ways to encourage investing in and using 5G technology.

Puchaphong Nodthaisong, Secretary-General of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission (NESDB), stated that 5G had become one of the most widely used digital technologies nowadays. Moreover, 5G can be used with other technologies and create digital innovations to increase the value of economic activities and people’s quality of life in society.

The country understands the importance of setting goals and encouraging all sectors to use 5G technology to drive the economy and society thoroughly, equally, and efficiently.  Therefore, the NBS held a focus group meeting to prepare measures to promote investment and take advantage of 5G technology.

The group will prepare measures and push relevant sectors into real-world practises, leading to 5G technology investment and utilisation. Thailand is also developing an investment ecosystem ready to take advantage of 5G technology to drive the country’s economy and society further.

The National 5G Steering Committee has previously approved guidelines for encouraging investment in and using 5G technology. As the source of measurement for the preparation project, the guidelines consist of 11 measures.

Thailand aims to have a 5G-ready ecosystem to attract investment from both domestic and foreign investors. The guideline will also measure 5G usage in a more appropriate, comprehensive, and comprehensive manner. There will be a discussion, exchange of ideas, and analysis of critical issues with relevant agencies and stakeholders. The forum will provide helpful suggestions to improve (draught) such measures to be appropriate for Thailand in the future.

As per an OpenGov Asia article, the Director of the Digital Economy Division Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission, Ployrawee Krirkphankul, presided over the 2023 Thailand Digital Outlook Study Project opening ceremony in Bangkok. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) analyses the overall policy development of the country’s digital economy and innovation.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the commission will evaluate the study project’s findings as consideration for digital economy policy formulation to improve national development effectiveness. They will also assess Thailand’s problems and obstacles to policy implementation and driving digital Thailand.

Ultimately, the commission will recommend practical measures to guide and develop the digital economy and society through an actionable policy and roadmap. The recommendations in the draft will aid in increasing data storage efficiency and expanding the scope of digital economic indicators.

Previously, Puchaphong Nodthaisong, Secretary-General of the NESDB’s National Digital Economy and Society Commission Office, stated that the overall operation throughout 2022 has driven significant projects. As a result, to support the growth of the digital economy, Thailand must prepare digital infrastructure and accessibility across all dimensions. In response to the changing context of the modern world, such efforts will enable Thailand to seize new opportunities for economic growth and to improve its quality of life.

Previously, NSC completed a few projects promoting and supporting digital infrastructure. The 5G network, for example, is a mainstream digital and communication infrastructure that supports various activities. According to the NSC study, Thailand currently has a 5G signal that covers all 77 provinces and reaches the population.