A drive to bring Malaysia’s internet services up to speed is gathering pace, with ICT infrastructure earmarked for an investment boost next year and longer-term solutions, which could include a fibre optic network roll-out, under discussion.
Malaysia currently lags behind several of its peers when it comes to download speeds, while demand for faster broadband is set to rise significantly in the coming years.
Increasing ICT’s contribution to growth forms a key part of the government’s master plan for the economy. Under its Malaysia Digital Economy initiative, the administration expects the industry to contribute 17% to GDP by 2020. The leadership is also targeting a compound annual growth rate of 9.8% in five key sub-sectors – ICT services, e-commerce, ICT manufacturing, ICT trade, and content and media – over the next seven years.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek told reporters in late November that the government was looking at undertaking an in-depth study into ways of boosting broadband speeds to between 40 and 50 Mbps by the year 2020.
According to the minister, there is a rising demand for faster data transfer speeds, with one study showing that Malaysians will want a service operating at 49 mbps by 2018. To achieve this, Ahmad Shabery said, would require significant investment and a shift away from wireless technology. “It requires the installation of fibre optics which is not cheap and cannot be carried out within a short time,” he said.
At present, Malaysia offers a limited fibre optic internet service, with operations restricted to key urban areas, mainly in the capital.
Proposals to construct a fibre optic network, providing a backbone service across the country, have already been submitted by the private sector. However, the project would have limitations and require feeder-link connections to be put in place for wide-ranging access to be made available.
A fibre optic roll-out would produce extensive opportunities for ICT service providers, while the faster rates offered by a new grid should also open doors for firms to market more advanced technology suited to higher speeds. However, the cost of achieving near-total connectivity through fibre optics would make any project a long-term initiative.
Strengthening existing services
In the meantime, Malaysia is focusing on strengthening its existing information and communications backbone.
The recent national budget, handed down at the end of October, allocated funds for several projects aimed at widening the reach of the net and boosting operating speeds.
Among the new initiatives is a $566m joint public-private project, which will expand high-speed broadband coverage. The budget also set aside $571.6m to construct 1000 telecommunication transmission towers over the next three years, which will help increase internet coverage in rural areas, while access in Sabah and Sarawak is set to be improved through the laying of undersea cables.
National broadband penetration currently stands at 70%, up from 30% in 2006, according to data from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.
However, research shows that Malaysia lags behind several of its South-east Asian peers when it comes to broadband speeds.
Data compiled by web analytics firm Net Index put Malaysia’s average broadband download speed at 4.56 Mbps when tested over a 30-day period. While marginally higher than the Philippines (4.55 Mbps), Malaysia’s average broadband speed was lower than that of Brunei (4.69 Mbps), Vietnam (11.70 Mbps), Thailand (12.47 Mbps) and Singapore (39.90 Mbps).
Malaysia placed 112th globally for broadband speed on the index, which was compiled using data from the broadband connection analysis website Speedtest.net. The Philippines ranked 114th, while Thailand placed 54th.
The country gave a stronger performance, however, in the second edition of the World Wide Web Foundation’s comparative study of international web penetration, empowerment and socio-economic impact, which was released in late November.
In its first appearance on the index, Malaysia placed 37th out of the 81 countries assessed, leading the emerging nations, and clinching second position among ASEAN members, behind Singapore.
However, the survey also identified areas where Malaysia could improve, including freedom and openness. In addition, the index highlighted issues around safety, online privacy and information protection.
The foundation’s results confirm that Malaysia would benefit from faster, cheaper and easier access to the web. The government will be hoping that a combination of investment during the coming years, supported by longer-term solutions, will help the country meet demand through faster internet speeds, closing the gap on its peers.