Malaysia targets 5G coverage for 85% of rural population by end-2024

Malaysia targets 5G coverage for 85% of rural population by end-2024

The Malaysian government aims to extend 5G coverage to at least 85% of the country’s rural population by the end of 2024, with the remaining areas served by broadband satellites.

According to the Bernama news agency, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on a talk show Sunday that the government wants at least half of rural areas to have 5G coverage by the middle of 2024. That coverage should reach no less than 85% by the end of the year, Zahid added.

"We are carrying out this coordination, because we feel that rural folks deserve it also. We don’t want when trying to get access to the internet, they have to climb up trees to get coverage,” he said.

Last month, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) – Malaysia’s sole wholesale 5G network operator – said it had achieved 68.8% coverage of populated areas, and was on track to achieve 80% coverage by the start of 2024.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Communications and Digital said it will allow the entry of a second 5G network in early 2024, provided DNB hits its 80% coverage target by then. Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil said earlier this month that a decision on the second 5G operator will be made by mid-month.

While adding a second 5G operator is expected to make the market more competitive, it’s unclear to what extent it will accelerate extension of coverage into rural areas. Apart from the capex and opex involved in serving small remote populations, there’s also the issue of uptake by paying subscribers. Last month, Fahmi said Malaysia’s 5G adoption rate is just 4.2%.

Meanwhile, Zahid said on Sunday that the government is capping its 5G rural coverage target at 85% because the other 15% will be the mountainous areas where it’s too difficult and expensive to build and operate 5G.

For the indigenous Orang Asli population that lives in those areas, the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development (which Zahid also heads) is working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital and the Orang Asli Development Department to install Starlink satellite devices, Zahid said.

Zhahid noted that the 2024 budget tabled by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim includes RM333 million (US$70.2 million) for the Orang Asli community for socio-economic development projects, infrastructure and social assistance.

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