How Digital Malaysia will tap the disruptive power of 5G

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Image by szefei | Bigstockphoto

Thinking beyond the ubiquitous meme of 5G being just another ramp up in the speed of connectivity, Malaysia is continuing a creative disruptive approach by prioritising this latest advance in its digitalisation efforts.

According to the nation’s regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, MCMC, the commercialisation of 5G technology by the third quarter of 2020 will redefine connectivity in the country, and propel Malaysia as a pioneer in this tech in the ASEAN region with the emphasis firmly on inclusivity.

Top line benefits to Malaysia’s digital economy include the possibility that 5G implementation could generate RM12.7 billion between 2021 and 2025 to the nation’s economy, according to the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research’s (MIER’s) latest report. The positive impact includes the creation of more than 39,000 new job opportunities during this period.

Seizing the opportunity for inclusivity as a vital aspect of building Digital Malaysia, national telecoms giant Telekom Malaysia (TM) has fast tracked a stand alone (SA) 5G architecture operating on the 3.5GHz and 700MHz spectrum bands simultaneously. It is said to be the first SA architecture outside of China offering faster speeds, ultra-low latency of under 10ms and the ability to connect up millions of sensors and IoT devices.

MCMC – together with various telecoms stakeholders such as Telekom Malaysia, Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications, Edotco Malaysia, Maxis Broadband, U Mobile, Petroliam Nasional, and YTL Communications – is currently running 5G Malaysia Demonstration Projects (5GDP) in six states involving an initial investment of RM143 million.

In late January 2020, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad officiated the launch of 5GDP on the island of Langkawi, which included followed a tour of some use case sites, such as the 5G Command Centre (5GCC) in Kuah, Sultanah Maliha Hospital and Langkawi International Airport (LIA).

In addition to noting the project as ‘a significant beginning in the nation’s journey towards strengthening its economy to achieve sustainable growth and share the country’s prosperity with the people’, the prime minister told media that the move will “ensure that we achieve our target of providing every citizen in this nation a decent standard of living by 2030.”

Spearheading the 5GDP initiative, the Telekom Malaysia Group is already in the process of turning Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago into a smart island showcasing active use cases – monitored through its newly built 5GCC, which is being made available to other telcoms and collaborators.

In a move aligned with MCMC’s vision of a collaborative national 5G rollout to benefit all Malaysians, TM Chief Strategy Officer Tengku Muneer Tengku Muzani pointed out that TM has included prioritization of the lower frequency band 700MHz as part of its SA architecture, which is not thought to be as commercially attractive as higher frequencies “as this enables TM to offer a wider coverage, especially as it is suited to rural areas.”

 “A single base station is able to cover up to 10km with the 700MHz, which allows TM to deliver the benefits of high-speed access into the hands of remotely based Malaysians,” he explained.

Fast track: 100 cases

To tap a wider band of creative disruptive benefits from 5G, Malaysia has envisioned 100 use cases , which have been identified under nine verticals – agriculture, education, entertainment/media, digital healthcare, manufacturing and processing, oil and gas, smart city, smart transportation and tourism.

This comprises 72 industry use cases and 28 government use cases with the intention of supporting collaboration between ministries, industry partners, SMEs and startups.

During a tour of the command centre and use cases, Dr Sharlene Thiagarajah, CEO of TM’s R&D innovation arm, together with Azrin Aris, TM ONE’s Head of Emerging Solutions, detailed many of the innovative home grown use cases,  stressing that they were developed and are powered on an open platform. “These have proved an eye-opener for all those who have visited the project, especially the 5GCC, which acts as eyes, heart and brain – allowing real time monitoring of the use cases.”

TM has so far embarked on 11 use cases in Langkawi – with many others in development – clustered across smart city, smart tourism, smart agriculture. TM R&D’s own portfolio embraces various award winning solutions such as Smart Retail Analytics, Smart Water management, Smart Safety Helmet, smart vehicle, geolocation people safety, and so on

Up and coming successes

“So far, TM has deployed the highest number of 5G use cases among the participating telecommunication companies, and all of these 5G network and use cases sites can be monitored via the dashboard at the 5GCC – 24/7 – by TM’s expert technical team,” said Azrin.

Both TM leaders detailed some of the benefits, which “include reduced latency, real time data, public safety & security, as well as smarter and more efficient systems to manage traffic, parking, vehicles, water monitoring & management systems, enhanced service quality, and enhanced retail & hospitality experience.”

The My Smart City and Langkawi Unesco Global Geopark 8K VR, in as well as Smart Retail Analytics are also three cases of the use of the 5GDP that TM has been implementing at Langkawi International Airport since last October.

In addition, a mobile app Smart City has been developed by the team to allow access to a growing range of smart city services which currently include public safety and parking.

Speaking of the overall development matrix, Dr Sharlene and Azrin spoke of ‘innovation as the glue that connects all the dots.” The use cases were developed by local talent and bodes well for a new wave of benefits for the digitalisation of the country.

What’s next?

While MCMC maintains that Malaysia is on track to roll out 5G in the third quarter of 2020, both the maturity of the use cases and the take up by public services will play a key role in this leap forward for Digital Malaysia.

When outlining to me some of the future possibilities for Malaysians emerging these use cases,  Ahmad Taufek Omar, the CEO at the helm of TM ONE, the business digital solutions arm of Telekom Malaysia, stressed the importance of the right partnership.

“A successful leap into the 4IR world calls for a smoothly structured journey, one which connects up the dots across different disciplines, to form an intelligent scalable ecosystem,” he said, adding that cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), infused with cybersecurity, are among the main essential components needed to work with 5G to form a dynamic nationwide ecosystem for creative disruption.

Aiming to take smart city ecosystem beyond the test pad, Malaysia’s Telekom Malaysia Group is determined to converge data analytics, AI, IoT with 5G /fibre infrastructure to create the ‘perfect storm’ to leap into making Digital Malaysia a reality from this year.

Moving forward, TM ONE is setting out to invite leaders from almost 60 local authorities and municipalities throughout Malaysia to view the 5GDP project on Langkawi.

“The tour and keynotes will uncover the many possibilities to elevate public services including many smart city components such as traffic flow, safety, and security across different landscapes,” said Ahmad Taufek, adding that this was an example of the engagement campaigns designed to touch different sectors and to lay the ground for the nationwide rollout later this year.

By Avanti Kumar – former weekly consumer tech & devices review columnist for five years with CNet, The Sun and Sunday Mail in Malaysia. Now independent columnist for various media. Reformed consultant/executive coach.

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