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Malaysia Needs to Choose 5G Partners Wisely

Malaysia needs to choose its partners wisely and protect the people from digital inquisition.

Malaysia's 5G rollout has been argued about since last year.

With the increasing digital demand among Malaysians that has changed 180 degrees since COVID-19 hit us, we have no option but to shift our way of life into the digital mode.

From ordering food to getting our vaccine, the reliable and fast connectivity is more than just about needs, it has become an everyday staple.

Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela) is the government's plan that lays the groundwork to expand the reach of the Internet in Malaysia and strengthen connectivity with the rollout of 5G.

The execution of 5G technology will be carried out by Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), a Special Purpose Vehicle company owned by the Finance Ministry. Set up in March last year, DNB is tasked with driving the development and delivery of 5G.

The implementation of 5G drives a global debate on the technology to design and build it.

The issue did get murkier due to allegations of Huawei's engagement with corporate espionage to steal competitors' intellectual property and security.

More countries have taken precautionary measures by banning and cancelling their providers' contracts.

Amid the fiasco, Ericsson won the DNB tender over eight other competitors, with an RM11 billion contract to design and build our 5G telecommunications network.

DNB and its proposed single wholesale network are fresh alternatives to our telco landscape.

The government will be responsible for building, upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure, controlling the quality of services provided and regulating the charges for telco operators.

Our local telcos would also benefit. They will not have to worry about capital-intensive infrastructure costs and will ensure that their needs and wants are well taken care of.

As the country continues with its economic recovery, we need to boost investors' confidence, rebuild our reputation as a reliable trading partner, and adhere to the highest governance, transparency and compliance.

The government needs to be firm and clear on the 5G direction. Any uncertainty would drive progress backward and jeopardize our reputation.

The rollout of 5G technology across the globe is more than just about enhancing connectivity.

As a country with strong diplomatic ties and relies heavily on trade relationships with other countries, the choice of the provider is the impetus in maintaining sustainability of our economy.

Not fewer than 18 countries have alleged that Huawei's products may purposely contain security holes that China could use for spying purposes.

Some countries alleged that Huawei steals intellectual property from foreign technology companies.

In Singapore, Huawei missed its opportunity after Singtel and the StarHub-M1 joint venture decided to partner with Ericsson and Nokia to build the city-state's standalone 5G network.

Singapore's decision reflected a turning tide against Huawei, causing it to lose its grip on its competitiveness in Southeast Asia.

In the proliferation of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the Internet of Things, every single device and activity in Malaysia will be connected through 5G.

Therefore, Malaysia needs to choose its partners wisely and protect the people from digital inquisition.

It has been interesting to note how the local 5G debacle has been going. Cash-strapped and profit-hungry telcos have been surprisingly obedient, although famished and already eyeing the vast 5G cake on DNB's plate.

We must learn to navigate our ship between the ebb and flow of global power, which includes 5G.

The writer is Dr Muhammad Danial Azman, Senior lecturer, Department of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Malaya


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