Malaysia outlines complicated plan for 5G spectrum allocation

The Malaysian Government has released complicated plans to allocate spectrum ahead of 5G deployment in the country in an effort to ensure the greatest efficiencies.

Theoretically, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has outlined a strategy which could bring significant benefit to the country, but there is certainly a risk this could go disastrously wrong. There are a lot of moving parts, new ideas and opportunity for abuse should the pieces not fall perfectly into place.

Starting at the top, after a consultation period, the MCMC has identified four spectrum bands for 5G services; 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz, 26 GHz and 28 GHz. This is not revolutionary, as these airwaves have been identified for 5G by other nations, but the allocation of these assets is the interesting element of this story.

Starting with the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum bands. As opposed to going through an auction process, these licences will be assigned to a consortium formed by the various different players in the industry. With only 2×30 MHz blocks in the 700 MHz band and 100 MHz in 3.5 GHz, the consortium approach expects to make best use of the available spectrum and also intends to minimise CAPEX for infrastructure deployment across the country.

An alternative strategy for 5G infrastructure deployment is not only critical to make use of the spectrum, but also to ensure 4G investments are continued. 5G does pose a threat to the cash allocated towards continued 4G investments across the world, though in countries like Malaysia where a digital divide is very clear and present currently, the consequence could be much greater. 5G has huge potential, but 4G has a significant way to go in some markets.

What is not entirely clear, is how the telcos will work alongside each other. Investment in infrastructure will be shared, as will the spectrum resources to deliver commercial services. This is where the plan faces risk; telcos generally do not play well together, so it will be interesting to see how this play-date unfolds.

Looking at the next band, 24.9 GHz to 26.5 GHz, these licences will be assigned through a tender process, also known derivatively as a ‘beauty contest’. Although some have good intentions for this approach to allocating spectrum, it is wide open for abuse and more often than not fails to deliver on the intentions in the long-run.

The final band, 26.5 GHz to 28.1 GHz, will be assigned on a first-come first-served basis and is open to any party, not just telcos. While the 26 GHz licences will be allocated on a national basis, the 28 GHz spectrum will be highly localised. Anyone who wishes to deploy a highly localised, private network will be free to apply for a licence. Industrial, enterprise and smart city focused usecases have been envisioned here.

Like every market, Malaysia is nuanced and has to adjust spectrum allocation to meet its own wants and needs. The European or North American approach could not be applied here, and it is very encouraging to see a Government attempt to drive through innovation in the spectrum process.

Unique challenges demand unique approaches, and that is certainly what Malaysia is applying. That said, there is plenty which could go wrong. This is a process which is certainly worth keeping an eye on, as there are plenty of nations around the world who could learn from the successes and failures.

Malaysia makes a big show of backing Huawei on 5G

Malaysian operator Maxis is using Huawei gear in its 5G network and for some reason the country’s Prime Minister decided to get involved in the signing ceremony.

They seem to love a signing ceremony over in that part of the word. Business in general seems to involve a greater degree of pomp and theatrics in certain parts of Asia than we’re accustomed to over here. The PR benefits of making a big deal out of signing a deal – it turns it into an event that hacks can easily cover in the absence of anything more momentous.

So it came as no surprise, when Maxis decided to give Huawei a much-needed 5G win, for them to make a big song and dance about it. What was more exceptional, however, was the presence of no less than the Prime Minister od Malaysia at the inevitable ceremony. Whether they like it or not, this gives the whole thing a political dimension, with Malaysia apparently picking a team in the great US/China geopolitical arm wrestle.

“The impact of advanced technologies on our progress as a nation is inevitable and we cannot afford to be left behind, especially with Industry 4.0 already upon us,” said the PM, Yang Amat Berhormat Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad. There is no doubt that 5G will be a key driver to connecting everyone in Malaysia and transforming key industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare so that we can remain globally competitive.

“Collaboration between global players and local vendors is important to support a thriving technology ecosystem in Malaysia. I am pleased to see Maxis and Huawei taking advantage of this environment and supporting the growth of Malaysia’s digital economy.”

Maxis and Huawei are also pleased. “This is an important moment not just for Maxis, but for everyone in Malaysia as we prepare ourselves for an exciting future of next generation connectivity,” said YM Raja Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Arshad bin Raja Tun Uda, Chairman of Maxis. “Today’s signing therefore represents significant progress in our journey and commitment to accelerate 5G in Malaysia.

“We are pleased to be working with global technology leader and our long term partner, Huawei, whose experience, expertise and capabilities in 5G complement our ambitions to be Malaysia’s leading converged solutions company. We would like to thank the Government for its instrumental role in driving the 5G national agenda, and we look forward to continue working with the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia and MCMC throughout our journey.”

“Malaysia has been making tremendous progress in connecting the unconnected and embracing new ICT infrastructure development,” said Ryan Ding, CEO of Huawei’s Carrier business group, who compensated for his relatively succinct name with the length of his canned quote. “With 5G technology deployment, we foresee Malaysia will go through a phase of rapid digital transformation. 5G technology is expected to accelerate the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), which will be a part of implementation of an end-to-end solution that covers the supply chain to meet the requirements of building a smart nation.

“Our vision is aligned with the Government of Malaysia in bringing digital to every person, home and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world. Maxis has always been at the forefront in introducing new technologies to Malaysia. It was the first to bring 4G to the market and continues to invest significantly in this area to maintain its 4G network leadership in terms of speed, performance and experience, as attested by MCMC’s 2018 Network Performance Report as well as independent studies.

“Huawei has supported the deployment of 5G by many operators globally. The company brings with them years of expertise and research in 5G, having set up a platform for operators and industry partners to incubate 5G applications together. Working together for over 10 years, Huawei has supported Maxis to become the undisputed network leader in the country.”

What more could there possibly be to add? It would be very surprising for Malaysia to side against its regional super-power China, but the PM has taken the opportunity to score some extra brownie points in Beijing with this fulsome gesture. The Balkanisation of 5G continues.