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Malaysia still mulling over LTE spectrum

Government still not ready to decide which operators will be awarded license to offer commercial LTE services in country, almost six months after submission of operators' business plans.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--The government has yet to finalize details on which operators will be approved to operate the country's commercial LTE (long term evolution) networks, almost six months after operators were instructed to submit business proposals.

Industry regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), in November 2010 issued temporary licenses to nine players for the use of spectrum in the 2.6GHz band. Since then, all operators were asked to submit detailed business plans in January to MCMC, outlining their use of the spectrum. To date, the regulator has yet to make a decision on the final list of spectrum licensees.

Quizzed on the holdup, Joseph Salang Gandum, deputy minister of information, communications and culture, said LTE is still not a mature technology "and so there is no real rush to distribute the spectrum".

Pressed further on the issue, he said: "The ministry looks at the broad guidelines and not the operational aspects of the spectrum assignment." He revealed that details of the spectrum distribution rest with the MCMC and not with the ministry.

Gandum was speaking to reporters here Tuesday after officiating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signing ceremony, in which China Mobile and Malaysia's Packet One Networks (P1) will jointly promote and develop Time Division LTE (TD-LTE) as a global standard, and drive its early adoption across Southeast Asia.

Industry observers have criticized the Malaysian government for taking its time to decide on the matter, given that many of the local operators which include P1 are ready to upgrade their networks to LTE.

One industry player who was involved in the detailed business plan, said on the condition of anonymity: "I have a suspicion that the calling of the detailed business plan was rushed and done with no clear objectives. Now that the documents are in, the powers that be don't seem to know what to do with it. In fact, they just recently asked us to put in some new details into our proposal, long after we submitted.

"What we want is to know what is going on so that we can start making plans with respect to LTE. We don't need a trial as we're ready to get into it," he said.

Several sources ZDNet Asia contacted noted that the MCMC was still evaluating some technical details and that until this process is finalized, the spectrum will not be issued.

A MCMC spokesperson told ZDNet Asia that the announcements on the LTE spectrum will be made in due time.

China, Malaysia in LTE together
Meanwhile, as part of the MOU, China Mobile, which is the world's largest mobile operator by subscriber base, and P1 have agreed to promote the Global TD-LTE Initiative (TDI) in the region. Led by China Mobile and comprising operators including Softbank, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, the TDI aims to promote TD-LTE as a global standard.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, P1 CEO Michael Lai said the new collaboration ensures P1 will not only gain the expertise of China Mobile's research knowledge base in TD-LTE, but will also benefit the local operator in terms of advancing the TD-LTE ecosystem.

"China Mobile has about 611 million subscribers," Lai told reporters at the event. "The operator is already conducting trials with TD-LTE and we can now benefit from the knowledge gained from these trials."

He added that PI, under the MOU, will be able to gain insights into how China Mobile has adopted TD-LTE, thereby, allowing the Malaysian operator to learn the most efficient ways to implement the technology.

"We can effectively shortcut certain aspects of our own TD-LTE deployment," he said, adding that both companies will be working out the details as to how this can be done in the next few months.

Lai said P1, which is Malaysia's first WiMax operator, will also reap further benefits in terms of the economies of scale that China Mobile can bring to the table, particularly in the device ecosystem. When the Chinese operator eventually rolls out TD-LTE, he said a huge number of devices comprising modems, routers and other broadband devices will come into the market, driving prices down.

Through GTI, he said the new alliance will also spearhead the adoption of TD-LTE in Southeast Asia and help other operators use the technology in their respective countries.

Singapore operator, M1, last week launched its LTE offerings which are targeted at the enterprise sector, with initial network coverage focused on the financial district.

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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