U Mobile has partnered with ZTE to conduct 5G trials to gather insights and learnings that will help the telco accelerate its 5G deployment goals when 5G is ready for commercial rollout.

The collaboration led to the launch of the Fast Forward with U Mobile 5G consumer live trial at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur where U Mobile prepaid and postpaid customers with 5G provisioned SIM cards can enjoy 5G connectivity using selected 5G enabled devices.

The consumer live trial is running from now until Dec 31.

Meanwhile, U Mobile chief technology officer Woon Ooi Yuen shared the telco’s latest 5G news and updates.

What are U Mobile’s core strengths and network strategy for a highly competitive market like Malaysia?

Despite being the youngest telco, we are able to make huge strides in this highly competitive landscape by adopting a challenger mindset.

On the network front, we may be 20 years behind other telcos in terms of infrastructure building and they too had the much-needed spectrum earlier, but that has not stopped us from catching up rapidly.

The progress we have made on the network front, especially over the last two to three years, is a record for the industry in Malaysia. Today, we have over 7,200 4G sites, enabling us to surpass the 80% mark for 4G availability nationwide and have over 90% population coverage in West Malaysia.

Our progress on the network front has also received the Global Rising Star award recognition at Opensignal’s Global Awards 2020, for being one of the most improved telcos in the world based on four metrics – video experience, download speed experience, upload speed experience and 4G availability. We are delighted that our efforts have been so widely and internationally recognised.

For any telco, apart from a robust network that is capable of bringing the best experience to our customers, we also need products and services that appeal to the market.

Today, we have come to be known as an industry pioneer for various products and services including truly unlimited prepaid and postpaid plans which are the most affordable in the market.

We were the first telco to offer free 1GB of data per month for prepaid customers and we also enabled postpaid customers to use existing data to roam in foreign countries for free.

What do you foresee to be your biggest challenge for 5G rollout in Malaysia?

Currently, we are working very closely with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the industry on Jendela, which is Malaysia’s national action plan to improve coverage and quality of telecommunications experience nationwide.

This initiative will see all the telcos collaborate in various ways including maximising the invested infrastructure to realise Jendela’s aspirations of having 96.9% 4G coverage nationwide, increasing mobile speeds to 35 Mbps and enabling 7.5 million premises to have access to gigabit speed broadband connectivity.

For U Mobile, we have in place various milestones to meet the aspirations of the blueprint too.

In summary, for the first phase which is from now until end of 2022, customers will enjoy even better 4G coverage as we are targeting to increase by 432 U Mobile 4G sites across Malaysia. Our customers will also have their experience improve exponentially by 2022 as we are upgrading the capacity of more than 4,222 of U Mobile’s very own 4G sites.

5G is under the second phase of the Jendela plan and rollout is slated to be after 2022. When the rollout happens, apart from the cost of building the network involving brand new 5G equipment, additional fibre backhaul for site capacity and potentially new towers to ensure a denser 5G network, we also have to consider the cost of acquiring the 5G spectrum.

Another aspect to consider is the commercial viability of 5G and to ensure that telcos will need to develop the next generation of products and services that are catered for industries such as manufacturing, medical and education to capture the opportunities as retail consumers may not be as willing to pay for the technology upgrades.

Operators are conducting 5G trials. What did you learn from these trials about the solutions you will need to build future networks?

U Mobile has partnered with ZTE to conduct various 5G trials in verticals such as medical, tourism and gaming. With the support of ZTE, U Mobile has also been the first telco in Malaysia to enable customers to test 5G outside the confines of a store. All these use cases as we call them are vital in our planning for 5G rollout.

Through these use cases, my team and I are able to have a better understanding of the relationship between network capabilities, device behaviours and how the 5G technology will influence various verticals in future.

The insights enable us to develop the 5G strategy more impactfully and accurately, such as identifying collaboration potential with partners from within and outside the telco industry.

Finally, the results also enable us to effectively develop the next generation of products and services that are suited for this technology upgrade.

Which verticals will benefit first from 5G in Malaysia? Which do you think are the most critical 5G use cases?

While consumers will benefit from 5G, businesses are expected to be the greatest beneficiary as businesses are evolving towards Industrial Revolution 4.0 where everything is connected, processed and digitised.

I believe that the medical field would benefit too. We observed from our medical use case that 5G mobile connectivity gives patients access to specialist medical consultation while the technology enables doctors to view high quality and reliable clinical, physiological and diagnostic parameters in real-time over a video call.

U Mobile chief technology officer Woon and  ZTE chief executive officer Steven Ge Yu Qiao looking forward to paving the way for future 5G.U Mobile chief technology officer Woon and ZTE chief executive officer Steven Ge Yu Qiao looking forward to paving the way for future 5G.

Where do you think operators should direct their focus to reap the full benefits of 5G?

5G really presents new opportunities for telcos especially with Industry Revolution 4.0. Hence, through use cases, telcos are able to identify new revenue streams and have a strong foundation for the eventual rollout.

In short, now is the time to experiment, experience and establish what is the best path forward with this much anticipated technology upgrade.

Apart from use cases, telcos should also be in continuous dialogue with the various vertical industries, relevant government agencies and industry related organisations such as GSMA to gain further insights that will help shape 5G strategies.

How is ZTE playing a role in U Mobile’s development of the network and future strategy? What do you expect for the future?

ZTE has been a long-term partner of U Mobile and we have been working together since our inception. ZTE has seen us through the technological evolution from 3G to 4G, and is now paving the way for future 5G. With the support of ZTE, we have been able to future proof with an advanced network that is scalable and also capable of smooth transition.

Throughout our years of working together, ZTE has continuously provided us with a lot of insights, especially on future technology and network roadmap. The information is to plan our technology evolution and network plans in a more effective manner for a network that is future proof and efficient.

We hope ZTE will keep up the great work and see us through our next phase of network evolution.

Can you highlight some of the key projects that you are set to embark on in 2021?

Firstly, we are very committed to realise the aspirations of the Jendela plan put forth by the Government. Apart from adding new 4G network sites, we are also increasing capacity for our existing 4G sites.

Secondly, we will be working with our marketing colleagues to better understand how we may bring an even better experience to our customers.

Thirdly, U Mobile will be conducting more 5G trials. This year, we were one of the first telcos to conduct 5G SA roaming with Starhub in Singapore where we managed to achieve download speeds of over 1.3 Gbps and latency of under 5 ms. We will continue to conduct more of such trials to capture insights.

Finally, this pandemic has shown how important connectivity is, which without it students are unable to e-learn, Covid-19 frontliners can't communicate and working from home would be challenging for a large number of us.

This sudden shift in customer’s connectivity usage patterns arising from the movement control orders have caused a lot of strain on our network resulting in congestions in different areas. The good news is that we managed to quickly upgrade our network despite it being a mammoth task with the restrictions on movements.

As a result, we managed to bring down the congestions quickly and based on the latest Opensignal results, our network experience is actually better than before. Our job now is to ensure this network experience continues to improve.

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