It’s good to see that mobile operators are working more closely with their suppliers that have experience in rolling out 5G networks. This has obvious benefits for all parties, speeding up rollouts and helping target users most likely to use 5G as early adopters. A good case in point is Malaysia’s U Mobile partnering with ZTE to conduct 5G trials to gather insights and learnings to help the telco accelerate its 5G deployment goals when 5G is ready for commercial rollout.
This collaboration led to the launch of ‘Fast Forward’ live consumer trial at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur where U Mobile prepaid and postpaid customers with 5G provisioned SIM cards could enjoy 5G connectivity using selected 5G enabled devices.
Despite being the youngest telecom operator in the highly competitive Malaysian market, U Mobile has made huge strides by adopting a challenger mindset.
Despite being behind in terms of infrastructure building and early access to much-needed spectrum, U Mobile has been catching up rapidly. Today, U Mobile has over 7,200 4G sites, surpassing the 80% mark for 4G availability nationwide with over 90% population coverage in West Malaysia.
Its progress on the network front has received Global Rising Star recognition at Opensignal’s Global Awards 2020. It has been one of the most improved telcos in the world based on four metrics – video experience, download speed experience, upload speed experience and 4G availability.
Apart from providing a robust network, U Mobile has pioneered a range of products and services that appeal to the market, including truly unlimited prepaid and postpaid plans that are the most affordable in the market. It was also the first telco to offer free 1GB of data per month for prepaid customers and also enabled postpaid customers to use existing data to roam in foreign countries for free.
U Mobile is currently working very closely with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission on Jendela, Malaysia’s national action plan to improve coverage and quality of telecommunications experience nationwide.
This initiative will see all telcos collaborate, including maximising invested infrastructure to realise Jendela’s aspirations of having 96.9% 4G coverage nationwide, increasing mobile speeds to 35 Mbps and enabling 7.5 million premises to have access to gigabit-speed broadband connectivity.
The company plans to increase the network with a substantial number of new 4G sites across Malaysia and is upgrading the capacity of many of its existing 4G sites.
5G is under the second phase of the Jendela plan, and rollout is slated to be after 2022. Apart from the cost of building the network involving brand new 5G equipment, additional fibre backhaul for site capacity and potentially new towers to ensure a denser 5G network, the additional cost of acquiring 5G spectrum has to be considered.
The commercial viability of 5G will also depend on the next generation of products and services that cater to manufacturing, medical and education as retail consumers may not be willing to pay for the technology upgrades.
U Mobile has partnered with ZTE to conduct various 5G trials in verticals such as medical, tourism and gaming. With the support of ZTE, U Mobile has also been the first telco in Malaysia to enable customers to test 5G outside the confines of a store.
All these use cases are vital in planning for a successful 5G rollout and help to gain a better understanding of the relationship between network capabilities, device behaviour and how 5G technology will influence various verticals in future.
Consumers will benefit from 5G, but businesses are expected to be the greatest beneficiary as they evolve towards Industrial Revolution 4.0 where everything is connected, processed and digitised.
U Mobile’s medical use case showed that 5G mobile connectivity gives patients access to specialist medical consultation. The technology enables doctors to view high quality and reliable clinical, physiological and diagnostic parameters in real-time over a video call.
ZTE has been a long-term partner of U Mobile since its inception, through the technological evolution from 3G to 4G, and is now paving the way for future 5G. With the support of ZTE, U Mobile feels it has been able to future proof itself with an advanced network that is scalable and capable of smooth transition.
U Mobile was also one of the first telcos to conduct 5G SA (Stand Alone) roaming with Starhub in Singapore where it managed to achieve download speeds of over 1.3 Gbps and latency of under 5 ms.
ZTE has continuously provided insights into future technology and U Mobile’s network roadmap throughout those years of working together. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how meaningful that relationship has been, especially in providing continuous connectivity for e-learning, working for home and communicating with front line staff. The sudden shift in customer connectivity usage patterns arising from lockdowns had caused strain on all networks, often resulting in congestion in some areas. Still, U Mobile managed to quickly upgrade its network despite it the size of the task and restrictions on staff movements.