8 March 2022 – Mobile network operators (“MNOs”) Celcom Axiata Berhad, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Maxis Berhad and U Mobile Sdn Bhd have continued to deliver targets for the mobile sector under the Jalinan Digital Negara (“JENDELA”) programme,and are on track to extend 4G coverage to 96.9%. The MNOs have collectively exceeded key 2021 targets including 4G coverage, base station upgrades, and new 4G towers constructed. This progress, which was presented at the recent Q4 2021 JENDELA media briefing, underscores the strong track record of collaboration between operators, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (“MCMC”), and related agencies to provide wider coverage and better quality of broadband experience for the Rakyat.
JENDELA achievements from the MNOs in 2021 include 13,807 base station upgrades to 4G and 250 new 4G towers for coverage expansion to reach 95.4% 4G population coverage, exceeding 2021 targets. The JENDELA map located at http://jendela.my enables mobile users to also submit feedback, check their coverage, and view network reports from fellow users, among others.
Long tradition of infrastructure sharing key to delivering digital connectivity ambitions
With decades of combined expertise and supply chains, collaboration between the MNOs has been instrumental in enabling better mobile coverage rollout, particularly in collectively addressing the challenge of rolling out mobile infrastructure in rural and remote areas.
Infrastructure, tower, and bandwidth sharing among mobile operators is common and widely practiced in Malaysia since 2005, and in radio network sharing from the days of 2G Domestic Roaming (voice) for bandwidth capacity to 3G sharing (voice and data) and currently 4G MOCN (Multi Operator Core Network). Some of the prominent locations in which users have enjoyed enhanced coverage and experience because of such collaborations include East-West highway, Taman Negara, Baling and more. The 2G/3G collaborations were undertaken to particularly serve remote areas and now 4G MOCN sharing is being accelerated into large scale collaboration under the JENDELA programme. The collaboration to expand 4G in rural areas under JENDELA phase 1 requires shared and therefore minimal resources from MNOs, hence having substantial capacity for 5G and ability to effectively prioritise a coordinated 5G rollout.
MOCN is a Radio Access Network (RAN) sharing mechanism that allows different MNOs to share the same RAN or mobile coverage. By using this approach, telcos are able to extend network coverage by leveraging each other's existing sites and radio equipment. This MOCN implementation for 3G and 4G demonstrates the feasibility of 5G sharing to accelerate coverage as part of competing networks.
Industry collaborations are especially critical for connectivity in rural/remote areas which are scarcely populated, difficult to access and requires high costs, all while maintaining healthy competition in key market centres with denser populations. In Malaysia, sharing including MOCN-based has also been implemented to enable rapid coverage expansion for new and growing operators in combination with their own competitive network build, for example the 2012 to 2019 agreement between Maxis and U Mobile to provide 2G domestic roaming nationwide and 3G MOCN in most areas to U Mobile customers. In a similar fashion, Celcom and U Mobile have successfully collaborated through a commercial 2G domestic roaming nationwide agreement between period of 2007 to 2012, and 2019 to date. Celcom and Digi have collaborated on passive infrastructure starting with site sharing and consolidation since 2011; and in 2013 commenced an initiative to jointly build and share 10,000 km of fibre nationwide.
The table below outlines a timeline of radio network infrastructure collaboration between the MNOs since 2005:
In 2020, Celcom and Maxis successfully conducted Southeast Asia’s first 5G MOCN trial, achieving peak speeds of more than 1.1Gbps in an outdoor environment at trial sites in Langkawi, Kedah. This achievement reflects the commitment of telcos in realising a seamless sharing experience on an active 5G infrastructure. It also demonstrated the rollout capability as well as agility from both parties in responding to technology advancement for the development of the nation's digital ecosystem.
In the same year, the MNOs also successfully applied MOCN-based sharing for the first SMART telecommunications tower hosted by U Mobile in Luban Ulu, Betong, Sarawak, which comes under the SMA 300 telecommunications tower programme. Through the MOCN platform, the MNOs are able to use their respective core network to offer diverse packages to cater to their respective customer base, providing a richer and much improved internet experience for the community in Luban Ulu.
Meanwhile in 2021, Celcom, Digi and Maxis commenced a collaboration to jointly develop and share fibre infrastructure, allowing for faster and more efficient deployment of fibre backhaul to base stations and avoid unnecessary duplication of fibre infrastructure in the country. The collaboration enables improved widespread 4G connectivity to Malaysians and increases the country’s fibre infrastructure in line with ambitions under the JENDELA, as well as preparing tower infrastructure for a 5G future.
As Malaysia readies itself for 5G deployment as part of MyDIGITAL’s ambition, a denser, fibre-rich infrastructure will be needed to deliver 5G’s key performance indicators: low latency, higher data speeds, ultra-high reliability, and capacity to manage more connected devices.