Sunset of 3G network progressing ahead of plan, says MCMC

Dr Fadhlullah said the sunset of 3G networks is moving faster than expected, with telcos ahead on migrating customers to newer networks and turning off the older networks. — MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

The migration of telco customers and networks from the older 3G network is proceeding even faster than targeted, announced the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

The migration is happening in light of the sunsetting of the 3G network to open up spectrum for use by the faster and more efficient 4G network, as part of the National Digital Infrastructure Plan (Jendela).

MCMC chairman Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek revealed that 629,018 customers were migrated as at Feb 28, with 732,652 forecast to have been migrated as of end March, 130% more than the targeted 562,490 for the first quarter of 2021.

Similarly, 20,492 3G carriers were switched off as at Feb 28, with 25,161 forecasted to switch off by end March, or 128% more than the 19,607 target for the same quarter.

Re-allocating spectrum for 4G will widen its coverage for better network connectivity, and enable telcos to focus on more modern networks rather than supporting legacy systems, said Dr Fadhlullah.

He revealed that a special working group composed of MCMC, telcos, Sirim and phone manufacturers were ensuring that Voice over LTE – which enables voice calls over 4G instead of 3G – would have its adoption accelerated.

During the virtual briefing, Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi brought up another issue faced by Jendela, where the cost of deploying new telco towers and rooftop structures varied greatly between states.

For instance, the cost of deploying a tower (in the first year) in Sarawak averages RM37,600, followed by Johor at RM26,750. In contrast, the lowest costs (for the first year) were in Labuan at RM2,065 and Pahang at RM7,150.

Among the states, 10 were viewed as high cost – in descending order of cost – namely Sarawak, Johor, Melaka, Terengganu, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, Putrajaya, Penang and Negeri Sembilan.

The states marked as low costs were – in descending order of cost – Perak, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sabah, Pahang and Labuan.

Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi said the high cost led to fewer deployments, which would slow down the expansion of network coverage.

He said the prices were in part influenced by local authorities and bylaws, though MCMC was in talks to lower the cost to an acceptable median.

The target medians were RM10,095 for the first year of deployment, and RM41,713 for the total six years of deployment. Currently, the highest cost for six years total was in Johor at RM116,750 and the lowest in Labuan at RM12,065.

He said Jendela efforts were showing positive results in terms of customer satisfaction, as network complaints had a significant reduction since the third quarter of 2020.

It dropped from 59,738 in Q3 2020, to 28,577 in Q4. However, the number went back up to 54,538 in Q1 of this year.

He said the increase in complaints is likely due to the movement control order 2.0 which started on Jan 13.

He said people staying at home meant more congestion on certain networks, leading to poor performance. However, it was still better than last year, as telcos have taken steps to address heavier traffic.

The most common complaints were poor or no coverage, while the bulk (80%) came from commercial areas including Johor Bahru, Petaling, Kuala Lumpur, Seremban and Klang.

He expected congestion to improve as the MCO was relaxed and people started going back to school and work; which in turn should reduce the number of complaints.

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