Theta Edge first to announce appointment to develop tower structures under JENDELA Phase 1

Theta Edge Bhd has been appointed by the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) as the designated universal service provider for the provision and implementation of Phase 1 Jendela project.

Theta Edge said its wholly-owned unit Theta Telecoms Sdn Bhd has received the notification for appointment on Jan 29.

Theta Edge will oversee the supply, delivery, and installation of tower structures and their ancillaries to provide public cellular services for 221 locations in the “Universal Service Targets” for 14 clusters.

According to a statement from MCMC earlier this month, Phase 1 covers 1,661 locations in 106 clusters nationwide.

For Theta Edge, costs for its portion of the project shall be a maximum of RM154.36 million, inclusive of tax, the company said. It will be implemented across a nine-month period from Jan 29, it added.

Shares of Theta Edge rose seven sen or 8.28% on Monday (Jan 31) ahead of the announcement.

The counter, which has gained 34.56% or 21.5 sen from its recent bottom of 68 sen on Jan 20, settled at 91.5 sen, giving it a market capitalisation of RM97.55 million.

REDTone joins in for the Jendela Phase 1 Project

Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has targets to meet by the end of 2021 and among them is to reach 96.9% 4G coverage, a minimum speed of 35MBps, and go through with the imminent shutdown of 3G service all under the Jendele Project. There are loads to be done and telcos are working tirelessly to meet these goals including building new towers, upgrading infrastructures, and improving their overall delivery and quality of the systems. 

Joining the list is REDtone via its subsidiary REDtone Engineering & Network Services Sdn Bhd which has received the Notice of Approval from MCMC appointing it as a Universal Service Provider for the JENDELA Phase 1 (Part 2) project. The project covers the design, supply, installation, testing, commissioning, and operations of network service equipment including services relating to the provisioning of 2G and 4G public cellular services for 14 clusters covering 213 sites which are part of the JENDELA initiative.

REDTone views the latest involvement positively and expects the Project is expected to contribute to the future earnings of the group. The telecommunication player offers a full fledge of services offered by the larger operators despite being fully dependent on Celcom as its network partner. This recognition will bode well for the company as it enters into a new era of communication with 5G and digitalisaiton. 

4 Reasons why Malaysia 5G is not going to fix all the Internet problems (Opinion)

Malaysians are expected to enjoy the latest generation of wireless technology: 5G, or fifth generation mobile network, sometime later this year.

There are so many things we expect from 5G services. The new network is expected to offer gigabit Internet speeds and capacity, and much lower latency (important for calls and gaming). It will also facilitate the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT). With 5G, a consumer could download a feature-length movie in High Definition in less than few seconds. 

5G in Malaysia will be available via a Single Wholesale Network (SWN) network, operated by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB). This Government-owned company will exclusively own, build and operate the 5G infrastructure and offer 5G as a wholesale network service to other Telecommunication companies such as Maxis, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia (TM) and others.

So what are the Internet problems in Malaysia? In the past decade these are the major Internet-related issues in Malaysia:

  • Poor International connectivity including terrible routing to major Internet networks
    • Can’t get a fixed fibre connection due to out of coverage, no port availability
    • Poor customer service by the Telcos and poor complaints handling by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
    • Poor consumer protection, including service contract that don’t protect Malaysian consumer rights
    • Unannounced network maintenance causing Internet service disruption on mobile and fixed broadband
    • Poor 3G, 4G coverage at many areas
    • Slow/inconsistent 4G Internet speeds

Here’s 4 reasons on why I think 5G in Malaysia is not going to fix all these Internet problems:

1. DNB is just another Telekom Malaysia (TM)

Let me get straight to the point here, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) is just another Telekom Malaysia (TM). Its controlled by the Government, it has monopoly to deploy the network, it aims to make a profit for shareholders and both companies are “closely regulated” by MCMC.

In 2008, Telekom Malaysia (TM) made a deal with the Government to exclusively build and operate the national High Speed Broadband (HSBB) network. Using the HSBB network, TM launched its unifi fibre broadband service for consumers in 2010. About 8 months later in 2010, TM managed to sign up Maxis as a major customer for its HSBB service. However, in 2014, Maxis said it was not happy working with TM.

Apart from these, as a national broadband network, Telekom Malaysia (TM) had always given Unifi a priority in HSBB. For example, TM announced in July 2018 that its Unifi broadband plans will soon offer speeds up to 800Mbps, however Maxis only started offering 800Mbps plans in April 2019. Other major Telcos also took a while to ride on the HSBB network for consumer fibre broadband service. Celcom signed up for HSBB service in 2011 but its fibre broadband service wasn’t immediately available to all. Digi only signed up 10-12 years later in 2020. U Mobile is likely still negotiating a deal for access.

Here’s what I learned. Fixed Broadband service from TM was expensive back then, and it is still expensive until today. Streamyx was a monopoly, HSBB is also a monopoly. TM did not build the HSBB network for every home since port availability has become an issue for many years now. There are just not enough competition and poor regulation.

Its probably going to be the same with 5G. There’s only a single provider for 5G and regardless if you subscribe to a Maxis 5G service, Celcom 5G, Digi 5G or U Mobile 5G – it all runs on the same 5G network, powered by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB).

Facts about DNB:

  • It doesn’t own any fibre network
  • It doesn’t own any base station or any 2G/3G/4G networks
  • It doesn’t have a track record, but its going to build a RM11 billion 5G network, plus with an additional RM15 billion investment from the private sector
  • It exclusively owns all the 5G spectrum

The GSM Association (GSMA) says DNB is a monopoly.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with a single 5G network in Malaysia, for as long as it is in the interest of consumers. But DNB raises a lot of questions since it doesn’t have any partnership or shared ownership of the 5G network with any Telco. There’s not enough transparency.

Monopoly is bad for this country. Monopoly is bad for consumers.

2. Quality of 5G coverage

Malaysia will be using the following frequency bands for a nationwide 5G deployment – 700Mhz and 3.5Ghz.

700Mhz band will be crucial in extending 5G coverage to rural areas for bridging the digital divide. In the urban areas, this can help to overcome blind spots and poor mobile coverage at indoor areas. With 700Mhz, it would be extremely easy for DNB to offer 5G service to the entire country in a short period of time. However, a major downside of the 700Mhz band (80Mhz spectrum) is that it may not be able to offer super fast Internet speeds at all times, especially when there’s a million customer in the network.

The 3.5Ghz band (100Mhz spectrum) is great for gigabit speeds, but DNB has got to build more of these base station since the 3.5Ghz signal don’t travel far. If your 4G signal reception is already bad, expect 3.5Ghz 5G to be worse.

MCMC requires that 5G in Malaysia must offer an average speeds of 100Mbps. This is achievable with the 3.5Ghz network. But what about 700Mhz? Perhaps the 700Mhz 5G network may offer 100Mbps in the short term, when there are less users, but what about long term?

To date, DNB and MCMC has yet to disclose any details on the number of 5G base station it intends to set up in Malaysia and the breakdown of 700Mhz and 3.5Ghz sites. So far DNB said that 5G services will be made available in Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and parts of Kuala Lumpur in December 2021. Approximately 40% 5G coverage in populated areas by the end of 2022 and 80% by end of 2024.

During the initial launch, Telcos may offer 5G as a fixed wireless broadband service and they need the 3.5Ghz network to deliver these high bandwidth requirement services. Chances are, in the future, Telcos may not even allow tethering/hotspot usage on the 700Mhz 5G network due to bandwidth limitations. But all these depends on the network quality.

With poor regulation, Malaysia 5G may end up with issues similar to 4G today – poor quality of coverage and inconsistent speeds, in about 5 years time.

3. Cost of Malaysia 5G services

Will the price of 5G services cost more than 4G?

Since DNB does not own any fibre or base stations, it has to lease backhaul/bandwidth and base station from other Telcos like Telekom Malaysia (TM), Maxis, Celcom, Digi, U Mobile, Time dotcom and edotco.

Rentals and access to fibre/backhaul are not cheap and consumers will end up paying a high price for 5G. In simple words, for an example, DNB has to pay Celcom to use its 10,000 4G sites and TM for access to fibre backhaul – all these add up to the cost, unless Celcom were to deploy the 5G network itself using its existing infrastructure.

MVNOs such as Tune Talk and redONE could drive competition and play an important role to bring down 5G prices. However these MVNOs may not be able to negotiate with DNB directly for 5G as they may have a certain exclusive agreement with their current 4G host operator.

There’s also the question of 5G device affordability and compatibility with DNB’s 5G network. The cheapest 5G smartphone available today cost around RM1000.

Since its going to be a national 5G network, where is the transparency in wholesale pricing for 5G access to the Telcos? Will all Telcos pay the same 5G price to DNB or will certain Telco get discounts due to preference?

At the time of writing, the Malaysian Government, MCMC and DNB have never said that they will bring down the cost of broadband with 5G.

Right now, the cheapest, truly unlimited 4G wireless broadband for all usage/speed is unifi Air at RM79/month. How much will it cost for an unlimited all usage 5G broadband plan?

4. Longer time to fix 5G-Network Issues in Malaysia

DNB is not going to offer its 5G service directly to consumers, at least that’s what the Government is saying for now.

In the future, here’s a scenario of what likely happens when you have a 5G network related issue:

  1. You make a complaint to your 5G service provider (Telco A)
  2. Telco A makes a complaint to DNB
  3. DNB investigates the complaint. It may need to log a complaint with its network partners (example Ericsson/TM/edotco). This process may take a while
  4. If you not happy with the outcome, you can make a complaint to MCMC
  5. If you are not happy with MCMC, there’s nothing you can do about it (there’s also no other 5G network out there)

5G complaints resolution period will now take longer than 4G as it involves several parties, depending on the network issue. When it comes to 4G, the major Telcos are able to quickly resolve an urgent network issue, as they have direct access to their network.

I believe 5G experience in Malaysia is going to be the same with 3G and 4G, all over again. But this time its worse since there’s only a single 5G network provider. So if you have a poor 5G coverage or slow speeds, its probably never going to be fixed in a short period of time. With 4G, we have 6 different networks to choose from.

Future 5G users in Malaysia should be aware of this – If the DNB 5G network goes down, it will also affect all the other services providers in the network, example: Maxis 5G, Digi 5G, Celcom 5G, unifi mobile 5G, U Mobile 5G and Yes 5G.

At the moment, it is unclear on what kind of network standards has MCMC set for DNB. But if we look at HSBB, consumers have reported Internet outages for days/weeks at their area and TM has taken their own time to fix those issues.

In summary, unlimited broadband services in Malaysia are still expensive, our mobile coverage are not high standards and regulation are poor. I don’t think Malaysia 5G is going to fix all these Internet problems.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion based article and a personal view of the writer. Please refer to the respective parties/Telcos for official information.

More players for 5G network rollout (Opinion)

Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now SMG adviser. Below is his talking points of 5G.

MALAYSIANS deserve more answers when a massive multi-billion ringgit project is awarded to a single vendor for a crucial network infrastructure.

This is, after all, the biggest project that has been given out to the private sector in a long time.

The award has raised many eyebrows but managed to avoid becoming a national controversy because public attention is on the raging Covid-19 pandemic and our plotting politicians.

The short of it is that it is very rare for any telecoms player or government body to pick just one vendor.

But Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) has awarded Ericsson Malaysia, a Swedish company, with contracts amounting to RM11bil to roll out the 5G network in Malaysia.

Aware of the potential controversy, DNB pointed out that Ericsson’s bid was RM700mil lower than the next bidder.

But critics argue that the whole 5G network development should not be limited to DNB alone, it should not be given all the 5G spectrum for rollout, and it should also avoid giving out a huge contract to one vendor.

A better way would have been to award the 5G rollout contract to more than one vendor, and at the same time have a second 5G network run alongside DNB’s. That is the norm globally for even the smallest of countries, to have two players for a 5G rollout.

Then have a spectrum auction instead like other countries such as South Korea, Germany, Thailand and Bangladesh.

Opening the market to more players to roll out 5G allows for competition and redundancies, and gives jobs to more than one vendor.

A spectrum auction would be a more effective way to generate income for Malaysia, especially now when our economy is at a critical stage, where Covid-19 has wrecked us.

Yes, it is true that our Malaysian spectrum pricing is much lower than other countries but an auction would still be vital.

There must be good reasons why this is not applied in Malaysia but unfortunately Malaysians, including the media, have little information despite the huge amount of money involved.

DNB, the government-owned special purpose vehicle, has issued a detailed explanation but there has been little engagement with the media and other stakeholders.

That’s the problem with such a top-down approach – giving the impression that authorities owe no one an explanation.

In a lengthy statement recently, DNB said the financing of network equipment for the 5G network will be sourced from foreign and domestic financial institutions.

It reiterated that Ericsson (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd has undertaken to arrange the financing as part of the agreement to supply, deliver and manage the entire 5G network, while DNB will securitise future cash flow from its wholesale business with mobile network operators, via sukuk programmes to finance its other network operating expenditure and meet its obligations to repay financiers when they become due.

“Accordingly, there will be no government funding required for the 5G network roll-out, ” it said.

DNB announced it had appointed Ericsson to design and build the National 5G Network at a total cost of RM11bil.

DNB further said that the design, build and maintenance of the Malaysian 5G network managed by Ericsson is estimated to cost RM11bil and that is “around RM700mil lower than the total cost of ownership of the next closest bid.”

“Ericsson’s network equipment, deployment services, and ongoing maintenance and network management cost of RM4bil was the lowest.

“The balance of approximately RM7bil will cover network infrastructure costs from other parties comprising primarily tower rental and fibre leasing over a 10-year period, ” it said.

DNB also says that Ericsson’s bid was RM700mil lower than the next bidder.

But as The Star pointed out – is the lower cost of RM700mil over a 10-year period that significant as it will only work out to RM 70mil a year?

What is at stake is worth much more, namely the creation of the next generation of digital connectivity that will propel the nation’s economic growth, according to The Star report.

DNB also said its tender process was structured by an independent professional services firm, Ernst & Young Consulting Sdn Bhd (EY Consulting), which it said was done according to global standards and involved four panels, comprising some 50 local and international experts from across 10 countries with current 5G network roll out experience.

The process began with the initial evaluation of 14 Network Equipment Providers (NEPs), after which eight were shortlisted and invited to bid for the tender, DNB added.

DNB has said the criteria evaluated when shortlisting the NEPs were:

Of the eight invited, only four submitted their bids, DNB said.

It also noted the tender evaluation team comprised internal and external independent industry experts and experienced professionals, and the tender results were then deliberated extensively by the board tender committee and the board of DNB.

“The strictest standards of governance were adopted throughout the tender process as advised and facilitated by EY Consulting, ” it said.

The tender requirements were based on the criteria identified and refined through a rigorous process with industry feedback on the requirements of the 5G network and shared with all invited NEPs, it added.

DNB shared that Ericsson was ranked top in all three key components of the tender evaluation criteria, which were the following:

But the statement has not explained why many other vendors have been left out although they had been operating in Malaysia, employing many Malaysians.

Yes, Ericsson is reputed for its expertise and experience in rolling out 5G in many countries but it has also run into many legal controversies. In fact, far too many, just google it.

But to be fair, Singapore has also picked Ericsson over other competitors but it has StarHub too, as a partner.

In almost every country, there are always two or three players, and that includes the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

By cutting off the other telco vendors/players in Malaysia, there are bound to be many questions and it would even affect big vendors/players from wanting to put money in Malaysia.

We do not care what the other competitors who have lost out feel as in any tender bid, there will always be winners and losers.

There is always the security issue, why would we want to be dependent on just a foreign vendor, and of course this raises questions about the regulatory framework.

Even the Global System Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), which represents the interest of mobile operators worldwide, uniting over 750 operators with nearly 400 companies, have raised questions over this deal.

GSMA has also highlighted concerns over the surrounding governance of DNB.

But for those following this development, issuing one press statement isn’t good enough when many questions need answers.

Malaysia to see greater digital connectivity through Jendela – MIDA

The RM21bil national digital infrastructure plan, Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela) was designed to steer Malaysia towards greater digital connectivity by boosting the efficiency of the national infrastructure and optimising spectrum usage.

In August, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the Jendela action plan, which is part of the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), would lay the foundation for comprehensive and high-quality broadband coverage as well as prepare the country for the transition towards 5G technology.

Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek said the tender for infrastructure works at 1,661 sites involving an investment value of Rm4.6bil under Jendela would be closed on March 31, 2021.

He said Jendela has two phases, where Phase 1 is executed from 2020 to 2022 and Phase 2 from 2022-2025.

Phase one entails enabling as many as 7.5 million premises with gigabit speed fixed-line broadband; expanding 4G mobile coverage from 91.8% to 96.8% in populated areas; and upgrading mobile broadband speed from 25Mbps to 35Mbps, and concerns gradual retirement of 3G networks by the end of 2021.

Phase two involves utilising fixed-wireless access and other fit-for-purpose technologies to address further gaps in the digital divide while priming for the eventual adoption of 5G once plans in phase one are achieved.

Nokia managing director for Malaysia and Sri Lanka, Datuk Sivananthan Shanmugam, said the Jendela initiative highlights the government’s commitment to develop the infrastructure needed to facilitate broader coverage of the current generation wireless technology across the nation, which in turn, would help to expedite the 5G roll-out in the near future.

“For mobile network operators, the Map will be especially useful for them to seek opportunities to optimise their resources through infrastructure sharing ventures, as well as reducing operator overlaps and duplication in order to improve nationwide broadband coverage,” he told Bernama.

Of the Rm21bil budgeted for Jendela, 40% is derived from MCMC’S Universal Service Provision (USP) funds with the remaining 60% to be funded by industry players.

MCMC will help to manage the delivery of Jendela’s targets by telecommunication companies through setting up a Specialised Project Management Service unit to closely monitor industry progress with respective managements and provide solutions to resolve any hiccups.

In a note, Kenanga Research said existing market leaders such as Celcom, Digi, Maxis and U Mobile would likely spearhead the target of achieving the national coverage of 96.8% by 2022, while the fibre network expansion of up to 7.5 million premises would likely be helmed by broadband leaders such as TM, Timedotcom and Maxis.

While the nation is looking forward to successful implementation of the 5G spectrum, Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the government has pledged commitment to roll out 5G technology by the end of 2022 or early 2023, with connectivity being one of its top priorities.

He said the implementation of the 5G network project included availability in terms of connectivity, people’s readiness to receive the network, as well as regulatory and industries’ preparedness.

“In terms of connectivity, it is useless if we have 5G in some areas when even 4G or others are not available in the rural and interior areas. There ought to be availability of access to avoid the digital divide.

“On industry accessibility, we expect 70% of 5G deployment will be for the use of industries while the remaining 30% will be among the general public,” he added. 

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