The Rise of 5G: the Malaysian way

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By Azizul Rahman Bin Mohd Basir

A tech enthusiast, Azizul is a leader in a Malaysian telecommunication company. He is a regular telecommunication industrial speaker in universities and events. He shares his thoughts in newspapers and IT blogs too.

MALAYSIA has marked an important milestone in February this year with the launch of Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (myDigital). “The role of digital technology is evident, especially since a year ago, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to all countries facing difficult challenges to continue business as usual. This is why mastery of digital technology is essential to elevating Malaysia’s economy,” said Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin at the launch of the blueprint, emphasizing the importance of understanding digital technology for economic growth.

The investment of myDigital is significant especially on 5G. The country plans to spend RM15 billion on 5G network over a period of 10 years. For this purpose, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) was established in March 2021 as a special vehicle to rollout Malaysia’s 5G network and infrastructure across the whole nation. The plan is to have DNB as Malaysia’s single wholesale 5G network operator, serving the nation on this sensational mobile technology.

As things are still running at a very early stage in Malaysia, let’s be clear and understand what 5G is all about and why many people are so excited about it. 5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile network and like the generations before, 5G will improve things far more than 4G and 3G ever could. It will influence us way deeper than what we have now – our phone, our home, our car and the city around us. The changes will be profound. Downloads and streaming can happen instantly without delay, cars will talk to each other to prevent collision, and we can now enjoy the full potential of the sensational augmented and virtual reality with real-time response. Not to mention industrial benefits such as robotics, automation, remote surgery and drone control.

High speed, Real-time and Dense Connections

5G does its magic thanks to its 3 key abilities. First, is the high bandwidth or, in technical terms, known as enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). In 4G, mobile networks can only deliver about 200Mbps of data throughput – and that’s on a good day. With 5G, it can handle up to 1Gbps or more – this was proven in the use cases I personally experienced in Langkawi.

Second, 5G provides a hard-to-believe low latency over mobile networks or ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (uRLLC). 4G suffers from around 100 milliseconds (ms) in response delay or latency. With 5G, the reaction time can be as low as 1ms, which makes everything happen virtually real-time or “on-the-fly”.

Finally, 5G allows dense connections or, geekly speaking, massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC). In layman terms, it means a huge number of devices can be connected to the network without compromising on the quality of connection. 5G can connect 10 times more the number of devices simultaneously as compared to 4G in a square kilometer. How many devices are that – you may ask? A million devices! This means, 5G makes the Internet of Things (IoT) possible, enabling smart solutions which require massive number of data points or sensors connected to the network at the same time.

Big bandwidth but small coverage

5G uses new radio technology, the part of any wireless device or equipment that makes the connection. Unlike the previous generations, 5G is unique and special as this is the first mobile network generation that uses super-wide range of radio frequencies. There is the low bands as low as 700MHz (less than 1GHz) that gives wide network coverage, up to high bands as high as 24-100GHz, or millimeter wave (mmWave) that gives much higher data rates but at the cost of tiny coverage. Another major drawback of the mmWave signals – it is also easily blocked by walls, including glass walls. 

The 5G network also works using frequency bands that lie in between i.e. less than 6GHz or sub-6, or C-band (yes, roll your eyes to the back of your head) that gives considerable bandwidth and coverage.

Because the high bands used by 5G limit the size of coverage compared to 4G, it requires a lot more radio network equipment in order to provide seamless coverage and connectivity. When deploying 5G networks, we will see more towers, also known as small cells. They are the small version of big cellular towers we currently see now along the road or on the top of a building. These small cells 5G towers can be as small as streetlights that provide coverage for every 200-300 meters radius. This is to say, to provide seamless mobile connectivity in 5G for public network, huge investments are required on radio equipment due to its very small coverage. Spontaneously, this is the reason why Malaysia plans to have a single wholesale 5G operator DNB – to avoid unnecessary infra multiplicity. And furthermore, these equipment are mainly not local. On a bigger perspective, having single infra will reduce currency outflow hence strengthen our economy.

Optimising 5G Radio Network: Centralised RAN and 5G Fronthaul

Furthermore, operationally, it will lead to bigger site acquisition challenges as compared to 4G – more sites to be acquired, more rentals to be incurred. Also, mobile operators have to build up power readiness for each site in order to feed the network equipment. Mobile operators then may want to explore a more cost-effective solution such as a Centralised Radio Access Network (C-RAN) where the number of network equipment can be reduced by centralizing some of the nodes in a readily-available and power-stable premise such as a telecommunication exchange or server room, and connect the nodes to the sites using 5G Fronthaul, an important mobile access solution that distributes wireless signals through a discreet antennas located throughout the area.

Using 5G, mobile operators or network facility providers can also reap the benefit of network sharing using network slicing, a type of virtual network architecture using Software-Defined Network (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) concept – two closely related network virtualization technologies that are moving modern networks towards software-based automation. This will allow mobile operators to virtually share radio networks hence reduce the cost of investment. In the second part of this article, I will elaborate and discuss more on this subject.

5G: The network for IR4.0

Because of the abovementioned challenges, I foresee that 5G public networks will be rolled out in a selected areas and not to be available nationwide very soon. Even so, I’m very proud that Malaysia is already on the global map when it comes to 5G implementation. Let’s be clear, this is definitely not another tech hype. It is not meant to steal the thunder from other buzzwords like Smart City, IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and what not. In fact, they all coexist in a same ecosystem. The 5G network is an enabler to all these, for connectivity. And yes, the benefits of 5G is not purely on ultra-high data rates. Its real value lies in the massive latency reduction and dense connections – important features that will fire up Malaysian industries to embrace IR4.0 and elevate them to the next level.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of TVS.

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