Interview, chief strategy officer, Telekom Malaysia: “The Public-Private Partnership was a ground-breaking collaboration”

Dr Farid Mohamid Sani,  chief strategy officer, Telekom Malaysia
Dr Farid Mohamid Sani, chief strategy officer, Telekom Malaysia

In the following interview, Dr Farid Mohamid Sani  (chief strategy officer, Telekom Malaysia) offers a ton of insight concerning Public-Private Partnerships, Malaysian connectivity, high speed Internet and more. Dr Sani will be giving a high-level strategic presentation on Malaysia’s joint national broadband network on Day Two of the Broadband World Forum,taking place on the 21st – 23rd October 2014 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. 

What has been the stand-out achievement for Telekom Malaysia in the last twelve months?

One of our most stand-out achievement recently, and something I’m really excited about, was probably our re-entry into the mobile space. As you might have known, after our demerger in 2008, TM became a pure-play fixed operator. This re-entry is part of our Information Exchange aspiration in moving towards offering converged services.

We started out last year by embarking on an expansion of our wireless broadband services in under-served areas using LTE over the 850Mhz spectrum. As a new entrant, we knew that we needed to have coverage and speed, and with that the spectrum, to come out with an attractive offering. Towards that, earlier this year, we announced our intention of investing in Packet One (P1). P1 is Malaysia’s leading WiMax provider with access to the 2.3Ghz and 2.6Ghz spectrum with around 300,000 subscribers. Our partnership with P1 is together with SK Telekom of Korea, who is also an investee in P1 and a major LTE provider in Korea. We believe that by combining our resources and expertise, we will be able to deliver a game changing LTE service offering.

Another recent achievement that I believe will become a game changer for TM is the joint-venture we embarked on to realise the aspiration of a ‘Nusajaya smart city’ in Iskandar Malaysia. The signing marked another milestone as the first collaboration of its kind between a service provider and master developers to provide Smart City infrastructure and services.

Could you tell us about Malaysia’s Public-Private Partnership journey and what advantages it presents to operators like TM?

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) was indeed a ground-breaking collaboration in the context of accelerating high-speed broadband deployment. Ever since Malaysia mooted Vision 2020 some 20 years ago, the Malaysian government has focused on accelerating ICT adoption. When the idea for the PPP started out, the nation realised that high-speed broadband would be crucial to support new generation services and for the nation to be competitive globally. However, it was also realised that organic adoption of high-speed broadband would not be enough to act as a catalyst. Thus, a supply-driven model was mooted. As the government wanted to ensure successful implementation of the PPP, a capable technology partner was required, and thus where TM was engaged.

The PPP has allowed TM to greatly accelerate the rollout of fibre infrastructure in otherwise non-economically viable conditions. It also provided the nation with a world-class Next Generation Network that is meant to support the whole industry. With the accelerated fibre deployment, TM was also able to avoid unnecessary investment in copper-based technologies which provided limited speed improvement potentials.

What impact will your purchase of P1 earlier this year have on your growth and what challenges will it bring?

I have to note that our proposed investment in P1 is still in progress and is expected to be concluded soon. On the investment itself, we expect significant opportunities for TM to solidify its leading integrated player position with our re-entry into the wireless space with valuable spectrum assets. The proliferation of smart devices and connection sharing make the evolution to mobility inevitable. Combining this with our strength in offering fixed services, we’re well positioned to move towards a converged service offering. We see this as an opportunity to remain relevant to our customers and to lock in sustainable growth in the future.

Malaysia’s Internet speeds have received criticism in the past. How else are TM working to improve things in this area?

While we’re building the necessary infrastructure to support high-speed bandwidth, TM is concurrently focused on improving the quality of our services and making broadband available universally. We’re continuously laying down more fibre and bringing it closer to the customers, with copper rehabilitation also ongoing.

To provide customers with a better broadband experience, we’re also working with big content providers in bringing high-demand content closer via CDN and other initiatives. This is on top of us increasing the nation’s international connectivity capacity.

Household broadband penetration have reached nearly 70% in Malaysia and we hope that we’ll reach a tipping point soon, whereby the driver for higher broadband speeds would come from compelling content, applications and services. To enable this, we’ve embarked on establishment of Innovation Exchange Accelerators to collaborate with the industry.

Further along, we see a compelling case in providing high-speed broadband access to areas beyond the initial 1.3 million premises passed under the PPP. On this, we’re working closely with the government to explore the viability of doing so.

How can high-speed Internet serve as an engine of social change in Malaysia?

I think the most important impact of the availability of high-speed Internet is as a driver for economic mobility. The business case on this has been well established, with a report from the World Bank showing that a 10% increase in broadband penetration correlates to a 1.3% GDP increase (Information and Communications for Development 2009). Other studies done by McKinsey & Co and other research houses have shown similar findings.

High-speed Internet opens up a host of possibilities for businesses, and lowers the barrier of entry for small participants. It allows for global market access and lowers certain business cost dramatically. Anecdotally, in Malaysia I’ve seen many small businesses sprouting from blogs and social media platforms, which would’ve been impossible 10 years ago.

I also view the proliferation of high-speed Internet as further enabling the democratisation of information, which I believe would be important in shaping Malaysia’s future landscape, be it socially, economically, or politically. This access have allowed Malaysians to have unparalleled access to information, both locally and globally.

You’re obviously coming a long way to attend the Broadband World Forum. What makes it such an important date in the diary?

I’ve always viewed the forum as a great meeting point of industry experts, and the line-up of presenters this year are impressive. I’m looking forward to some of the presentations, especially from those that are embarking on a similar journey as TM. The Access Evolution, Mobile Broadband and Connected World are some of the streams that I find interesting and worth the distance travelled.

Another thing I’m excited about is on sharing TM’s Public-Private Partnership story. I think what we’ve achieved and what we’ve learned during the journey is something that can benefit other operators and it is something we’re very proud of.

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