The key to accelerating Malaysia’s digital journey may lie 8,000km above Earth


IN RECENT years, Malaysia has shored up on investments to boost the growth of its digital economy, with the most recent being the announcement of a second 5G network in 2024.

This decision is aimed at dismantling monopolies and promoting competition.

This addition has been largely welcomed, given that Malaysia is direly in need of a boost to accelerate its 5G deployment: only 58% of the country has access to a 5G network.

Yet, relying solely on terrestrial network solutions to extend 5G reach is proving to be costly and time-intensive. Transitioning from 4G to 5G infrastructure requires providers to make enhancements to all network domains.

Faced with increasingly high costs of deploying infrastructure, Malaysia must reinvent its network advancement strategy, otherwise it runs the risk of lagging behind with a non-performant connectivity.

Securing high-speed, guaranteed connectivity will be key for Malaysia to embrace technological drivers.

Edge devices and robotic process automation, alongside e-commerce and digital banking services are paving the way to power opportunities for individuals and businesses alike.

Establishing digital foundation

In efforts to advance its digital economy, Malaysia laid the foundations with its national Blueprint and the establishment of the Digital Investment Office.

This initiative fosters multiple investments in the digital sector while driving digital adoption among entrepreneurs, enterprises, and local businesses.

More investments and national schemes have followed, such as the upgraded Pemangkin initiative this year.

As of 2022, the digital economy already contributes more than 22% to Malaysia’s national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Its growth shows no signs of stopping, as the country is underpinned by government investments in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

Similarly supported by governmental initiatives, efforts to bridge the digital divide in rural areas will go a long way in availing more digital services to consumers, which will in turn drive consumption and fuel economic growth.

The 5G challenge

However, the lack of access to high-speed and always-on connectivity remains a significant inhibitor to the success of these initiatives.

Approximately 1 in 5 Malaysians live in rural areas, which have long been disadvantaged by poor internet connectivity.

It is for this reason that accelerating 5G deployment has been a key focus, given the promise of speed and reliability that the network holds.

Despite this, deployment has been heavily impeded by licence regulations as well as challenges in balancing infrastructural costs with healthy return-of-investment (ROI) numbers.

Especially with the Malaysian government mandating 100 Mbps 5G mobile speeds by 2025, thousands of base stations would be required to be built and fiberized to meet both coverage and network speed goals.

Malaysia is no stranger to leveraging space to extend its terrestrial network, having done this as early as 1992.

Satellite technology has since played a crucial role in connecting Malaysia’s rural communities by bypassing the need for capital intensive and logistically challenging terrestrial infrastructure projects.

This has enabled Malaysia to make strides in connecting its rural communities, with over 95% of Malaysia being connected to a 2G/3G network at the minimum.

However, the demand of over 95% of Malaysians in today's digital era means that delivering nationwide connectivity alone will no longer suffice.

As Malaysia becomes increasingly digitalised, high-speed, reliable connectivity becomes critical to unlocking new levels of growth.

High-speed connectivity with MEO satellites

A new breed of next-generation software-driven satellite technology can bridge the gap and expand the benefits of 5G to all of Malaysia.

Medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites, like O3b and the upcoming O3b mPOWER, have the capacity to provide high-performance connectivity to and from anywhere in the world, no matter the conditions.

Orbiting between 5,000km and 12,000km above Earth, MEO satellites occupy a sweet spot between Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites.

The antenna park at SES headquarters in Luxembourg links the satellite operations centre to its multi-orbit fleet in space. This ensures seamless delivery of data transmissions worldwide.  The antenna park at SES headquarters in Luxembourg links the satellite operations centre to its multi-orbit fleet in space. This ensures seamless delivery of data transmissions worldwide.

With just an initial constellation of six satellites in orbit and a start of service scheduled for the second quarter of 2024, O3b mPOWER will guarantee high throughput, low latency connectivity services to even the most hard-to-reach regions in Malaysia.

O3b mPOWER aims to deliver equitable access to communities and businesses ranging from remote Borneo region to the urban centres in Peninsular Malaysia ensuring they all have equitable access to digital resources facilitating access to economic opportunities.

The potential this will unlock for Malaysia is boundless: not only will rural communities be able to enjoy network speeds akin to those in cities, but businesses will have the option of scaling automation operations even in remote unoccupied areas without network quality as the sole inhibitor.

Crucially, while other satellite networks can extend mobile connectivity, what Malaysia’s digital economy needs is an extension of 5G networks to its enterprises across the country.

Enabling this will unlock new heights of business efficiency that can simultaneously spur innovation in Malaysia’s niche industries like electronics manufacturing, therefore further bolstering efforts to establish itself as a formidable manufacturing hub.

With a revamped network strategy leveraging the advantages of advanced satellite technology, realising the full potential of Malaysia’s digital economy may come sooner than later.

Harsh Verma is SES Asia vice president for Enterprise and Cloud.

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