PUTRAJAYA: The government is open to using whatever infrastructure available to drive Internet penetration in rural areas throughout the country.
There are at least a million people in very remote areas and a further 2.5 million to 2.8 million still with slow-speed Internet access in semi-urban and rural areas.
To get faster-speed broadband to outlying areas, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said he is exploring the use of satellites, running fibre along sewerage pipes and even possibly opening access to existing poles that carry wires to homes.
“In terms of infrastructure, a lot more need to be done. There are many areas which have not yet been wired up so there is a need to think outside the box and look into new ways to provide infrastructure which is faster and cheaper for the general public.
“That is one of the reasons for the pilot project in Jasin to use existing infrastructure partially to provide broadband to semi-urban and rural areas, and to the Felda settlers. The project is a success and now it is up to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) to decide what to do from here on. We used TNB poles, which made access quicker and were able to cut cost significantly,” Gobind told StarBiz.
Though he seems keen to explore the use of satellites, some experts disagree with the idea as they believe it would be too costly and not practical. They are more receptive to using sewerage pipes for fibre access and Gobind said he had received proposals to have sewerage pipes used to lay cables for Internet access.
“Using sewerage pipes was discussed many years ago but it never took off... it is worth exploring,” said an industry expert.
On possible use of satellites, Gobind said technology has advanced quite significantly in recent times and the earlier complaints that satellites may be too costly was “now something we can deal with”.
“We should also not close our minds to options available and recognise Malaysia’s geographical set-up as there are some areas which are difficult to reach quickly if our policy is just to fiberalise. We cannot leave this section of society out of our plan but need to prepare them for the digital revolution. So, we are moving beyond fibre to expand the infrastructure across the nation as quickly as possible,’’ he said.
He is in talks over the possible use of satellite and said, “we hope to a make an announcement on that when a decision is made”.
As it is there is plenty of fibre optic cables in the ground, the issue has been about last-mile connection. That is something not every player is willing to pour money into if it does not guarantee return on investments.
It is said that there are 7.5 million homes in the country. Of this, about 2.5 million is wired up by Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM), over one million of urban apartments by Time dotcom Bhd and some smaller numbers by some other players.
In terms of fibre, TNB alone has over 12,000 km across the nation and it has 9.2 million customers. If its fibre and poles are given access to and if it is technically viable, large parts of the nation can have fast broadband. TM has its own poles for connectivity.
Besides that, TM has over 54,000 km of fibre deployed globally, Time dotCom Bhd over 7,000 km running along the North South Expressway.
Others with fibre include Fiberail Sdn Bhd (owned by TM, KTM and Petrofiber Network (M) Sdn Bhd) with 4,800 km running along the railway tracks; Fiberail (owned by TM and TNB) has 110,000 km across Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. There is also about 1,000 km of fibre on federal roads.
Other players like Sacofa has its own fibre optic network in East Malaysia, and the three major cellular players, Celcom Axiata Bhd, Digi.Com Bhd and Maxis Bhd , have similar infrastructure but it is mainly for their cellular networks.
“If all the fibre and poles access is open, a large portion of the nation can be wired up and supplemented with other technologies. But the challenge is not many players are willing to invest in the last-mile connection, their hope is someone else invest and they ride on it,” said an industry player.
Gobind said he has engaged state governments to speed up the entire application approval process, which has been the industry’s biggest problem.
He will soon be making it mandatory for all new developments to have fibre connectivity, just like electricity and water supply.
“We don’t have the luxury of time, we need to prepare ourselves in the world in which technology plays an important role in our daily lives,” he added.