2019 will be the year where the transition from 4G to 5G in Malaysia is expected to kick into higher gear. By September, the National 5G Task Force set up by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission is expected to recommend a holistic strategy for 5G deployment in the country.
As the 5G era dawns, the promise of massive bandwidth, lower latency and large connected device ecosystems is prompting an R&D flurry as companies explore new use cases. From smarter cities to futuristic factories and autonomous vehicles, all technology categories will be upgraded by 5G.
A report by IHS Markit predicts that 5G, which could be up to 100 times faster than 4G, will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output by 2035.
Within Malaysia, Cyberjaya and Putrajaya will become the first 5G testbeds. “The aim is to explore the practical uses and modes of implementation of 5G as well as to learn and iron out policies, regulations and spectrum planning of 5G,” said Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo in October.
In a survey produced by MIT Technology Review alongside Huawei last year, some 69% of respondents from Malaysia said they expected 5G to be available by 2020. Survey respondents are also proactive regarding the 5G transition, with 65% already discussing how it will impact their business, and 54% investing in technologies that can be deployed when 5G has been launched.
Currently, Malaysia ranks 14th in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Automation Readiness Index from 2018, which measures countries’ preparedness to access the opportunities, and fend off the challenges, of automation. That’s two spots above where the country was previously. The country has a particular strength in education policies where strong career guidance provisions and counsellors were available in almost every Malaysian school.
Unique features of Malaysia’s digital transformation also include its burgeoning partnerships with China, the regional powerhouse, notably collaborations with Alibaba in AI-driven solutions to traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur. It is also a testbed for Tencent as Tencent begins exporting its WeChat digital wallet.
Out of the different industries, respondents from Malaysia felt that manufacturing, financial services and public safety would benefit the most from the roll-out of 5G in that order. However, uncertainties do remain with some 82.86% saying that infrastructure upgrade costs or complexity will be the biggest challenge while some 48.57% think that a lack of business models to integrate 5G use cases is the biggest hurdle.
Hazami Habib, CEO of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences, sees a number of use cases for 5G when it does arrive. “Remote control of robotics in healthcare and manufacturing can be the future for Malaysia once 5G is in place,” she says. “There are pockets of AI initiatives and testbeds for IoT, and with 5G these can be launched and applied. The development of IoT systems for food traceability and halal logistics are all in the works.” The halal economy is a major global segment, with 1.5 billion consumers, set to rise to 2.2 billion by 2030, says Habib.
There is no doubt that technology always takes time to mature and 5G is no exception. While there has been a lot of talk about new network capabilities, commercially 5G is still in its infancy. For Malaysia to truly become a leader in the space, a collaborative 5G ecosystem between governments, businesses and telcos is key. Thankfully, that is already under way.