With 5G now on the backburner or at least until 2022 as prescribed by the Communication Minister, the new connectivity initiative named JENDELA (National Digital Infrastructure Plan) aimed at closing the digital gap between rural and urban with 4G, will be the active ingredient for 2021. But the business community who are already in preparation for the next evolution and anticipating 5G technology to leap them forward, are puzzled with the new directive. Questions are being bandied whether if project JENDELA can fulfill the fourth industrial revolution already taking place in the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed glaring weaknesses in the country’s digital aspirations, the lifestyle change of people staying at home, schools going online and business advising staffs to work from home not only fatigued the network but also left many in the lurch with poor to zero internet connection. This observation led the government to establish an urgent need to reform the way network operators viewed coverage and formed a new initiative to reconnect every Malaysian with better and stronger connection albeit affordably. JENDELA phase 1 is to ensure 4G coverage across the Peninsular and East Malaysia, the shutting down of 3G and postponing 5G rollout to later stage.
However, concerns are being raised on the steps taken, after investing millions on trialing in anticipation of the 5G spectrum auction in Q1 2021, telecommunication operators were left in limbo as they have already initiated deep discussions with equipment vendors and potential customers in supplying the new 5G speeds. After all if we are to enter the next phase of digital economy, internet speed is vital and 4IR is reliant on the latest technology and machinery. We are looking at Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) used in production, service and business activities, is 4G capable of powering these systems? Putting things on hold for 1 whole year is akin to a decade in technology years, China is forging ahead with 5G so is South Korea and Singapore, these nations whom we also do business with are going to leave us behind further in both technology and innovation.
During the recent budget (as of this article, Parliament has yet to approve the budget) an allocation of RM42 million was set aside for fiber optic networking at 25 industrial areas, its a good start as the we seek to quickly restart the economic engine. The infrastructure will help these company’s to transform themselves and get on board the digtalisation train. However, its surprising to note that it took a pandemic to notice this void and even more shocking that these industrial zones were operating without basic connection!
MCMC claims the basis for JENDELA (RM21 billion project) is to provide comprehensive and high-quality broadband service coverage at an affordable rate, it added that digital economic activities such as e-commerce and financial technology (fintech) will also rise rapidly and businesses can engage with customers in areas they have never reached out to before. Noble as it may seem, the proof is in the pudding, after billions of taxpayer money spent on HSBB, fibre connectivity is still at abysmal level. Operators reluctance to connect remote areas due to poor returns on investment has left this chasm in digital connectivity. While the JENDELA initiative is mostly aimed for the masses, the needs of business go beyond surfing, playing mobile games and watching videos, they are now entering a new dimension where M2M learning, big data, SAAS and PAAS are the tools of the trade, for that a stable and high bandwidth is essentially required. No doubt these application can run on 4G, but the heavy investment businesses are considering at this moment is for future tech.
Businesses plan for the long term, actions and investments taken today is in preparation for the next 5 to 10 years, JENDELA does not offer clarity in that sense. Globally its a matter of months before 5G becomes the defacto bandwidth utilised by the business community, with closed borders its technology that will be able to connect economies and smoothen trade flows. Developed nations are well aware of this.
Malaysia should relook into Project 5G and reconsider its position to postpone the roll-out, industry players are ready, 4IR is upon us and funds are available. MCMC can always look into closed connection for industry and large organisations use, they can be the first operators to deploy the technology before making it available for the masses in 2022.
As we have learned in the past, technology does not wait for no one…Adopt or be left Behind.