The Star Exclusive - Accelerated 5G investments


In his first exclusive interview with the media since being appointed as the CEO of Digital Nasional, Augustus Ralph Marshall told StarBiz that the special-purpose vehicle (SPV) is expected to front load the investments, possibly investing 25% of the RM15bil in the first two years.

PETALING JAYA: In ensuring a faster 5G rollout, Digital Nasional Bhd will undertake accelerated investments in the first few years of its 10-year journey to establish Malaysia’s RM15bil high-speed 5G infrastructure.

In his first exclusive interview with the media since being appointed as the CEO of Digital Nasional, Augustus Ralph Marshall told StarBiz that the special-purpose vehicle (SPV) is expected to front load the investments, possibly investing 25% of the RM15bil in the first two years.

“Following that, about 15% to 20% will be spent in the next few years and the percentage will gradually drop in the following years.

“This is because once you complete building the infrastructure in the urban areas, then it becomes less intense (to rollout).

“The focus is to achieve a fast rollout and making sure we don’t compromise on 5G connectivity nationwide, ” he said.

Marshall pointed out that the government will fork out RM15bil to fund the 5G rollout over a decade. The RM15bil would be inclusive of maintenance charges and also capital expenditure.

Digital Nasional is a wholly-owned SPV of the Finance Ministry and will be governed by a four-member board of directors, led by Treasury secretary-general Datuk Asri Hamidon as the chairman.

The three other directors are the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit director-general Datuk Seri Dr Yusof Ismail, former Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission chief Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi as well as senior lawyer Datuk Muthanna Abdullah.

The government, through Digital Nasional, will build, own and implement the 5G network.

Addressing the concerns of potential mismanagement in a centrally-coordinated 5G rollout, Marshall said the entity will be run by professionals.

“There’s no reason to expect that just because the SPV is government-owned, it is going to be a mess, expensive or badly implemented.

“You have to give the government the opportunity to deliver on the MyDigital initiative, ” he said.

The MyDigital blueprint, which was unveiled on Feb 19, not only focuses on rolling out 5G Internet connectivity but also aims to enhance the usage of cloud services across the government, ensure full adoption of digital signature by the public sector and undertake the full implementation of the National Digital Identity, among others.

By having the government shoulder the responsibility of building the 5G infrastructure, Marshall said telcos would be able to focus on strengthening their 4G coverage, improving their services, offering new innovative products to consumers as well as customer acquisition.

Once the 5G infrastructure is in place, the telecommunication companies would enjoy equal access to the network in return for a wholesale fee, which would be regulated by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

“Effectively, the SPV model removes a significant burden on the telco operators’ balance sheet and puts it in the hands of the government. The government will then figure out a way to finance it, ” he said.

With Digital Nasional preparing to kick-start the rollout of 5G network beginning from end-2021, Marshall said the ultimate objective is to ensure end-consumers in the urban and rural areas would benefit from affordable data packages and services for greater accessibility.

He also pointed out that only existing licensed telco operators would be allowed to access the 5G infrastructure built by Digital Nasional.

As for the tender process for the 5G infrastructure building, Marshall assured that it will be fully transparent.

“The tender process will take into account the needs and requirements of the telcos. This (5G rollout) cannot be a white elephant.

“It has to meet the highest requirements, at least within a reasonable time, of the most advanced telco operator in the country, ” he said.

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