As a strong contender in the Malaysian market, U Mobile is catching up rapidly with aggressive network expansion. U Mobile CTO Woon Ooi Yuen talks about the achievements, the milestones it wants to further achieve under the Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) action plan as well as some of his thoughts about 5G implementation.
What are U Mobile's core strengths and network strategy for a highly competitive market like Malaysia?
Despite being the youngest telco, we have been able to make huge strides in this highly competitive landscape by adopting a challenger mindset.
The progress we have made on the network front especially over the last two to three years is a record in the industry in Malaysia. Today, our 4G sites have grown to over 7200, enabling us to achieve over 80% 4G availability nationwide and over 90% in West Malaysia.
Our progress on the network front has also gained recognition from Opensignal, which awarded us with the Rising Star award at their Global Awards 2020 for being one of the most improved telcos in the world for four metrics—Video Experience, Download Speed, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Availability. We are delighted that our efforts have been so widely recognized.
For any telco, apart from a robust network that is capable of bringing the best experience to our customers, we also need products and services that appeal to the market. Today, we have come to be known as an industry pioneer for various products and services including truly unlimited prepaid and postpaid plans that were the most affordable in the market at that time. We were also the first telco to offer free 1 GB of data per month for prepaid customers and we also enabled postpaid customers to use existing data to roam in foreign countries for free.
What do you foresee to be your biggest challenges for 5G rollout in Malaysia?
Currently, we are working very closely with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the industry on JENDELA, which is Malaysia's national action plan to improve coverage and quality of experience nationwide.
This initiative will see all the telcos collaborate in various ways including maximizing the invested infrastructure to realize JENDELA's aspirations of having 96.9% 4G coverage nationwide, increasing mobile speeds to 35 Mbps and enabling 7.5 million premises to have access to gigabit speed broadband connectivity.?
For U Mobile, we also have in place various milestones to meet the aspirations of the blueprint too. For the first phase, which is from now to the end of 2022, customers will enjoy even better 4G coverage as we are targeting to increase 432 U Mobile 4G sites across Malaysia.?Our customers will also have their user experience improved expon entially by 2022 as we are upgrading the capacity of more than 4,222 4G sites of our own.
5G is under phase 2 of this JENDELA plan and roll-out is slated to be after 2022. When the roll-out happens, apart from the cost of building the network that will involve brand new 5G equipment, additional fibre backhaul for site capacity and potentially even new towers to ensure a denser 5G network, we also have to consider the cost of acquiring the 5G spectrum.
Another aspect to consider is the commercial viability of 5G and to ensure that, telcos will need to develop next generation of products and services that are catered for industries such as manufacturing, medical and education to grab the opportunities since retail consumers may not be as willing to pay for the technology upgrades.
Operators are conducting 5G trials. What did you learn from these trials?
U Mobile has partnered with ZTE to conduct various 5G trials in verticals such as medical, tourism and gaming. With the support of ZTE, U Mobile has also been the first telco in Malaysia to enable customers to test 5G outside the confines of a store. All these use cases as we call them are vital in our planning for 5G roll-out.
Through these use cases, my team and I are able to have a better understanding of the relationship between network capabilities, device behaviours and how the 5G technology will influence various verticals in the future.
The insights also enable us to develop a 5G strategy more effectively and accurately, such as identifying collaboration potential with partners from within and outside the telco industry.
Finally, the knowledge also enables us to effectively develop the next generation of products and services that are suited for this technology upgrade.
Where do you think operators should direct their focus to reap the full benefits of 5G?
5G really presents new opportunities for telcos especially with industry 4.0 revolution. Hence, through use cases, telcos will be able to identify what the new revenue streams are and have a strong foundation for the eventual roll-out. In short, now is the time to experiment, experience and establish what is the best path forward with this much anticipated technology upgrade.
Apart from use cases, telcos should also be in continuous dialogue with various vertical industries, related government agencies and industry related organizations such as GSMA to gain further insights that will help shape 5G strategies.
Which do you think are the most critical 5G use cases?
While consumers will benefit from 5G, businesses are expected to be the greatest beneficiary as businesses evolve towards Industrial Revolution 4.0 where everything is connected, processed and digitized.
Apart from the businesses, I believe that the medical field is set to benefit too. We observed from our medical use case that 5G mobile connectivity will enable patients who ordinarily have no access to a medical consultation of a specialist, as the technology enables doctors to view high-quality and reliable clinical, physiological and diagnostic parameters in real time over a video call.
How is ZTE helping you in developing the network and future strategy? What do you expect for the future?
ZTE has been a long-term partner of U Mobile and we have been working together since our inception. ZTE has seen us through the technological evolution from 3G to 4G and is now paving the way for future 5G. With the support of ZTE, we have been able to future proof with an advanced network that is scalable and also capable of smooth transition.
Throughout our years of working together, ZTE has also provided us with a lot of insights especially on future technology and network roadmap. The information is invaluable as we are able to plan our technology evolution and network plans in a more effective manner.
We hope ZTE will keep up the great work and see us through our next phase of network evolution.
Can you highlight some of the key projects that you are set to embark on in 2021?
First, we are very committed to realizing the aspirations of the JENDELA plan put forth by the government. Apart from adding new 4G network sites, we are also increasing the capacity of our existing 4G sites.
Second, we will be working towards a better understanding of how we may bring an even better experience to our customers.
Third, U Mobile will be conducting more 5G trials. This year we were one of the first telcos to conduct 5G SA roaming with Starhub in Singapore where we managed to achieve download speeds of over 1.3 Gbps and a latency of under 5 ms. We will continue to conduct more of such trials to gain insights.
Finally, this pandemic has shown how important connectivity is. Without it, students are unable to study through e-learning, frontliners for COVID-19 can't communicate and working from home would be challenging for a large number of us. This sudden shift in customer's connectivity usage patterns arising from the movement control orders has caused a lot of strain on our network, resulting in congestion in different areas. The good news is that we managed to quickly upgrade our network despite it being a mammoth task with the restrictions on movements. As a result, we managed to reduce the congestion quickly, and based on the latest Opensignal results, our network experience is actually better than before. Our job now is to ensure this network experience continues to improve.