Natalie and Rui Rong explain some challenges in implementing 5G in Malaysia.
Self-driving cars, robot doctors controlled remotely conducting surgeries and celebrity holograms will no longer be scenes from futuristic sci-fi movies. With the implementation of 5G, we will see life imitating art with endless opportunities for this transition into a more connected and automated world. Asimov would be proud.
5G has consistently dominated headlines since the beginning of 2019, promising faster speeds, lower latency and better connectivity for mobile internet. The expectation that 5G will revolutionise the world as we know it is high, especially where the internet is playing an increasingly larger role. According to the 2018 Industry Performance Report by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (“MCMC”), the mobile broadband subscription in Malaysia increased from 28.53 million in 2016 to about 36.79 million.
WHAT IS 5G?
So, what is 5G? The term 5G merely denotes the fifth generation of mobile network with the ‘G’ in 5G being an abbreviation for ‘generation’. There is no universal definition for 5G but it is perhaps more precise to explain 5G as a combination of several key technologies with the objective to achieve the result of faster speed, lower latency and ability to connect more devices at the same time. The interest surrounding 5G is due to its potential for use in Internet of Things (“IoT”), smart vehicles, smart cities and enabling control of remote devices.
The standards for 5G are being developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), known as the IMT-2020 standard. The 3GPP (3rd
Generation Partnership Project) industry standard group is also developing a standard for a new air interface known as the 5G NR (New Radio).
Key Technologies of 5G
The foundation of mobile network technology is radio frequencies. However, the spectrum of radio frequency by itself is finite and cannot be expanded despite the increasing usage of the same frequency spectrum. Thus, the solution to this problem as part of 5G implementation is to use millimetre waves, sometimes defined to lie above 24 gigahertz (traditional mobile frequencies are below 6 gigahertz), in addition to lower frequencies.
Millimetre waves have never been used for mobile services due to its short-range frequency and inability to travel through obstacles easily. This is where a new technology known as small cells comes into play. Using these small cells as part of the Radio Access Network will allow the millimetre waves to travel more effectively. A popular idea is to install these small cells on existing lamp posts which will allow the small cells to be effectively distributed in clusters. However, the lower frequencies will still be crucial as they allow a broader coverage due to its longer wavelength, which will be necessary for massive IoT usage. As such, the implementation of 5G will likely require a combined usage of the low, mid and high frequency bandwidths.
The other key feature of 5G implementation is the ‘massive’ multiple input, multiple output (“MIMO”) antennas which will allow more users to simultaneously connect to the network. When massive MIMO is combined with beamforming technology, this will allow the antennas to focus the signal to the particular user or device which will ultimately increase efficiency and reduce wastage of the signal.
5G IMPLEMENTATION EFFORTS IN MALAYSIA
The implementation of 5G is in line with Malaysia’s National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) 2019-2023 which was formulated to, among others, improve broadband quality and Internet access for all Malaysians. In November 2018, MCMC established a national 5G Task Force comprising both public and private sector members with the objective of studying and recommending the strategies for 5G deployment in Malaysia. The Task Force is made up of four main working groups focusing on different areas, namely: (i) business case; (ii) infrastructure; (iii) spectrum management and allocation; and (iv) regulatory. Although an online news website has reported that the Task Force submitted its final report to the Government on 18 December 2019, the Government has to date not issued any official statement on the status of the report.
In October 2019, MCMC announced that 5G demonstration projects will commence across six states (Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Terengganu) in Malaysia for a period of six months. In collaboration with private corporations, the use cases that will be tested during the six months include smart traffic lights, smart parking, smart agriculture and augmented reality (AR) for education. According to MCMC’s Chairman, the 5G utilisation test cases in Langkawi in Kedah in the agriculture, digital healthcare, education, smart city, smart transportation and tourism sectors have been impressive with around 37 cases of utilisation in just two months of implementation.
Spectrum is the heart and core of any 5G rollout. Hence, one of the first crucial steps in the implementation of 5G is the determination of the frequency spectrum. In July 2019, MCMC initiated a public inquiry on the allocation of spectrum bands for mobile broadband service in Malaysia for the 700MHz, 2300Mhz and 2600MHz bands. Subsequently, a Final Report on Allocation of Spectrum Bands for Mobile Broadband Service in Malaysia (“Final Report”) was issued on 31 December 2019.
In the Final Report, MCMC identified the 700MHz band, 3.4GHz to 3.6 GHz (“3.5 GHz band”) and 24.9GHz to 28.1GHz (“26/28 GHz band”) for the initial deployment of 5G in Malaysia. The Final Report also describes the award mechanism for the allocation of the spectrum bands, which may be summarised as follows: