KUCHING: The government’s plan, announced in August last year, to phase out 3G networks in stages until the end of this year has received mixed reactions from the public.
In his announcement last year, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin mentioned the phasing out of 3G networks in stages until the end of 2021 for the consolidation of 4G networks and to fortify the foundations of 5G networks.
This is part of the national digital infrastructure plan called Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela) which aims to upgrade Malaysia’s digital communications in preparation for the transition towards 5G technology.
Although this is a step forward, the phasing out of 3G networks may pose a challenge for people who are still using older devices which only have 3G capabilities – as these older devices may be rendered obsolete and have to be replaced.
New Sarawak Tribune spoke with several members of the public for their views on the matter, and most feel that the government should play a role in assisting those who need to upgrade their mobile devices in line with this transition.
Entrepreneur Isaac Joel Elone, 27, said the phasing out of 3G networks may be a necessary move but an unfortunate one for individuals who have yet to upgrade their devices.
“As spectrum/radio frequencies are a limited resource for connectivity, shutting down 3G will allow 4G devices to use the 2100MHz spectrum and improve coverage. It will greatly benefit industries at most as well as those in T20 and M40 income groups.
“However, it will hurt those in the B40 group. Even though 2G will still be available, it won’t be sufficient for them to enjoy their day-to-day activities, let alone e-payment systems.”
He noted that smartphone manufacturers had taken measures to support those in lower-income groups as well as the elderly to stay connected by introducing feature phones which they are familiar with, such as the Nokia 3310 4G.
However, he said this would still require some people to fork out cash that they might not have to spare.
As such, he was of the view that the government should delay the phasing out of 3G networks and instead first establish a deal with telcos to pave the way for people to adapt to 4G devices first.
“Perhaps a government-subsidised telco plan to allow them to own a 4G smartphone or feature phone, then slowly drop 3G and roll out 5G.”
Meanwhile, administrative officer Nicholas Jeffery, 40, doubted that 3G services would be phased out completely by the end of this year. He believed that these services would very likely remain for at least another year or so.
He also felt that the phasing out of 3G services would not be too much of an issue in terms of people having to replace older devices, pointing out that phones and mobile devices as far back as 2016 have 4G capabilities for network coverage.
“In terms of upgrading to newer devices, I can only foresee this to be an issue for people who still use devices older than 2010.
“The more challenging issue would likely be the new subscription and rates for 4G services. The government and telco providers must consider the right balance of offering the advantages of 4G services and the cost to the users.”
Although he commended the government’s efforts to provide free or low-cost mobile devices to schoolchildren, the needy, and rural folk, he opined that the execution could be improved upon.
Nicholas said there should be a collaboration with people who are knowledgeable in mobile devices – one that would suit the cost and performance of the device with the needs of the recipient.
“Telecommunication companies, for one, need to offer better broadband packages that would not cost too much for subscribers or have hidden charges. Another measure is ensuring a stable connection at all times, or close to 99.5 per cent of the time.”
Sales executive Lim Kim Yip, 32, lauded the phasing out of 3G to focus on 4G and 5G networks – “If our country wants to make progress today, the primary network must make progress.”
At the same time, he said this would be a challenge especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its detrimental impacts on the economy, jobs, and businesses.
“However, many of the existing equipment are equipped with 4G, and the price is not high. It is a challenge, but it is practicable.”
He said the government and telecommunication companies could work together to launch a plan to replace old phones with new ones, providing a subsidy to help people with lower incomes.
“The current 4G telecommunications supporting price is the same as that of 3G. As long as the subsidy is planned for the mobile phone of the new device, it should not be difficult to replace the mobile phone with the new 4G device.”
Commercial engineer Magdelson Hayes Sen, 32, expressed his view that the phasing out of 3G networks would only be good once 4G and 5G networks were fully stable and able to function without fail.
“If both fail, instead of reverting back to 3G, there won’t be any network available as a temporary solution. Just a few minutes of connection downfall could lead to a loss of thousands if not millions of currency profit.”
While he believed that most people were up-to-date and had devices which support the use of 4G networks, he said the government could assist those who did not have such devices by providing a free affordable phone.
Alternatively, he said the government could provide tax relief for the purchase of such devices or at least discuss with related telcos to reduce billing prices.
“This is so that anyone with a lower income can be eased when it comes to such burdens and commitments.”
On another note, telecommunications researcher Harley Edwin@Johnny, 25, opined that 3G networks were still relevant especially in the rural areas.
“However, I totally support the replacement of 3G services in the urban areas to transmit data in a short timeframe.”
He also said that once 3G networks were phased out, the government should provide a voucher or subsidy for people who need to purchase a new smartphone which is compatible with 4G and 5G networks.