Driving digital infrastructure remains MCMC’S main agenda

This article is in conjunction with World Telecommunication and Information Society Day which falls on May 17 every year.

By Muhammad Basir Roslan

KUALA LUMPUR: If there is one thing the world is learning from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it has to be the importance of harnessing information and communication technologies (ICTs) for the continued functioning of societies. 

In line with the need to observe physical distancing, digital technologies are allowing communities to pay bills, shop, study and work without having to leave their homes.

It is, therefore, no surprise that this year’s theme for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is “Accelerating Digital Transformation in Challenging Times”.

WTISD is observed on May 17 every year to mark the anniversary of the formation of the International Telecommunication Union in 1969 and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.

This year’s WTISD theme is also in line with Malaysia’s endeavours to enhance the potential of ICT in reviving its economy and closing the digital divide between the urban and rural communities.

Empower Jendela initiatives

Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek said the government is currently implementing various initiatives to support MyDigital – Malaysia’s digital economy blueprint launched by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin earlier this year on Feb 19.  

He told Bernama that agencies such as MCMC and telecommunications service providers are also playing a role in ensuring the nation moves forward and attains its vision of becoming a high-income nation by 2030.

He said efforts are also underway to empower the RM21 billion national digital infrastructure plan or Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela) that was unveiled by the government in August last year to steer Malaysia towards greater digital connectivity by boosting the efficiency of the national infrastructure and optimising spectrum usage.

“The target is to increase the number of premises equipped with one-gigabit-per-second speed fixed-line optical fibre from 7.5 million at end-2022 to nine million by the end of 2025.

“Meanwhile, 100 percent of populated areas will receive 4G mobile services at a speed of 100 Mbps (megabits per second) by 2025. We will also see the gradual retirement of 3G networks, which are expected to be shut down fully by the end of 2021,” he explained.

He said the implementation of Jendela will also prepare Malaysia for its transition to the fifth-generation cellular network technology (5G), the implementation of which has been accelerated to the end of this year.

5G roll-out

Fadhlullah also said that 5G technology will be implemented in selected locations in 2022 while its roll out in high-density areas will begin in 2023.

In February this year, the government announced the establishment of Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB), a special-purpose vehicle owned by the Ministry of Finance to undertake the deployment of Malaysia’s 5G infrastructure.

“DNB will build the 5G networks and licensed telecommunications service providers will have open (and fair) access in obtaining wholesale 5G network services,” Fadhlullah said.

He also said that to ensure there is demand for 5G services as envisaged by the government, MCMC had earlier implemented 5G Demonstration Projects that were aimed at facilitating and cultivating the development of high-potential use cases in real but controlled environments. 

So far, he added, Malaysia has successfully demonstrated 71 use cases, with a total investment value of RM131 million, at 50 5G base station sites comprising nine industrial sectors, among them being smart cities, entertainment/media, tourism, education and agriculture.

Community Internet centres

Commenting on the digital divide issue, Fadhlullah said studies by MCMC have shown that currently, 50 percent of Malaysians have standard digital skills while only 25 percent possess advanced digital skills.

“The lack of digital skills can hamper the government’s efforts to increase the level of digitalisation among the people,” he pointed out.

To improve the digital literacy rate and prevent the digital divide from widening further, 873 community Internet centres (PIK) have been opened nationwide. These centres offer courses and training programmes on ICT, science and technology, multimedia, Internet of Things and e-learning to the local communities.  

“The centres not only generate new jobs but also drive the growth of e-commerce activities and provide online services for the convenience of the people,” he added.

As of end-2020, the courses and training programmes offered by PIK have recorded 2.7 million participants. 

Improve Internet services

Meanwhile, deputy dean of academic affairs at UiTM Shah Alam’s Faculty of Communication and Media Studies Dr Wan Hartini Wan Zainodin urged the authorities concerned to expand, improve and maintain Internet infrastructure for the benefit of students and undergraduates in view of the growing reliance on home-based teaching and learning (PdPR).  

“We know improving Internet access will involve high costs but we have to think of the situation now involving our students. Even now there are students who are struggling to adapt to the new norm in (the) education (sector).

“For example, if I’m conducting an online lecture for 40 students, only 30 of them are able to achieve good Internet connection while the rest have problems. This is an issue that has to be resolved by the authorities involved,” she said.

Wan Hartini said there are still students, particularly from the B40 group, who experience learning anxiety as they are not able to follow the PdPR sessions in a conducive environment even though they have been given the necessary gadgets.

“They probably live in small houses and have to share their gadgets with their siblings. They are also probably used to face-to-face teaching and learning and the lack of interaction with their teachers and classmates could also be a factor for them to develop learning anxiety,” she added. – Bernama