Malaysia’s telcos jostle over second 5G network

  • CelcomDigi, Maxis, U Mobile, and YTL have each secured a 16.3% stake in Malaysia’s initial state-run 5G network, the DNB
  • Telekom Malaysia yet to finalize agreement, leaving the country’ Ministry of Finance with a 34.9% stake
  • Now the operators are putting themselves forward to be the preferred partner to roll out the country’s second wholesale 5G network

Four of Malaysia’s main telcos have acquired a collective 65.1% stake in the country’s state-run shared 5G network, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), marking a significant shift in the nation’s digital infrastructure landscape and setting the stage for the country’s transition to a dual 5G network model, aimed at enhancing competition and innovation in the rapidly evolving digital economy.

And with the holdings in DNB now almost settled, the country’s operators are putting themselves forward to be the government’s preferred partner for the construction of a second wholesale 5G network, about which more in a moment. 

The share subscription agreements (SSAs) completed by CelcomDigi, Maxis, U Mobile and YTL Communications grant each operator a 16.3% stake in DNB. Telekom Malaysia (TM) is the only major carrier yet to finalize its SSA, pending shareholder approval. Once TM completes its agreement, the Ministry of Finance’s stake will reduce to 30%, with telcos collectively holding 70% of DNB.

As of April 2024, DNB’s 5G network had achieved 81.5% coverage in populated areas, with an adoption rate of 39.2%. The country boasts 13.2 million 5G subscriptions, including 12.7 million individual users and 422,609 enterprises. 

But Malaysia’s 5G story is far from complete. The SSAs include provisions allowing operators to exit DNB to participate in a planned second 5G network following a recent directive from communications minister Fahmi Fadzil to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to begin identifying and appointing an operator to roll out the second network.

Allowing operators to exit DNB to put their full support behind the second 5G network could in theory cause problems in the future in terms of support for, and use of, the DNB’s infrastructure, though Fadzil told the New Straits Times that DNB would maintain financial stability despite the second 5G network rollout. 

Now the country’s operators are vying to take the lead in the development of the additional, new 5G network. 

“We are eager to move into the next phase of transitioning to the 5G Dual Network model and participating in the upcoming process to build the second 5G network,” stated CelcomDigi CEO Idham Nawawi. “We have a proven track record and substantial experience in deploying mobile networks over the last 30 years. Combined with the 4bn ringgit [$853m] capex we have invested to build Malaysia’s leading digital network, we believe we are in a strong position to lead the development of the second 5G network for Malaysia,” stated Nawawi in this announcement.  

Other operators are also keen to lead the way on the development of the second 5G network. U Mobile, for example, has forged a strategic partnership, and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), with tower infrastructure operator Edotco. 

According to the operator, the MoU “affirms U Mobile’s commitment to rapid, effective and cost-efficient deployment for the second 5G network by leveraging Edotco’s large tower footprint and expertise. Under the MoU, Edotco will provide U Mobile with information and access to its tower infrastructures, resources readiness and expedited site delivery to facilitate U Mobile’s 5G network rollout. U Mobile and Edotco will also jointly develop a streamlined process to drive efficiency in identifying the right tower locations and structures based on AI and data driven analytics, faster and more efficient site acquisition and permissions by working with various state agencies. This will enable faster on-air time for new 5G sites and expedite coverage expansion. Additionally, the two parties will discuss commercial arrangements for various infrastructure requirements, including built-to-suit sites, co-locations, site upgrades and indoor coverage with the goal of establishing a cost-efficient and competitive offering to enable timely rollout.”  

- Joana Bagano, Contributing Editor, TelecomTV

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