This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 18, 2021 - January 24, 2021
edotco Group CEO Adlan Tajudin took up his post at the regional telecommunications infrastructure company in 2020, an eventful year that saw the demand for connectivity rise rapidly due to the government’s restrictions on movement. This also brought to light the lack of internet coverage in rural areas at a time when the government and businesses were looking to create a 5G-connected digital economy.
“As we have seen, 2020 was not an easy year across industries and the telecoms sector has not been spared. The impact on the tower [services] sector has been inevitable,” says Adlan.
“Despite the unprecedented uncertainties, I am optimistic about the year ahead. Across the region, there is plenty to be done as nations strive to get back on track with their 5G ambitions, narrow digital gaps and improve connectivity and capacity.”
edotco has more than 31,500 telecommunications towers in Asia. It specialises in end-to-end solutions in the tower services sector, including co-locations, build-to-suit, energy, transmission and operations and maintenance.
The pandemic-driven lockdown highlighted the importance of having sufficient connectivity for everyone in Malaysia. It also resulted in a shift in network traffic demand from business districts to residential areas, as more people worked from home.
“In the first week of the Movement Control Order alone, the country saw a 23.5% surge in internet traffic. The sudden increase in data consumption [caused congestion in] networks, leading to reduced speeds,” says Adlan.
“This issue can be addressed by increasing the capacity of existing coverage by adding more base stations and deploying next-generation solutions where the networks are congested.”
He believes that telco players should adopt a strategic and holistic approach to address the shifting consumption patterns and demand for greater connectivity. They should also take the opportunity to introduce next-generation technologies. For instance, as more activities are done in the cloud and edge computing becomes more common, they would need to offer solutions that cater for these technologies.
“Players in the ecosystem need to invest in and prioritise agile networks that provide a quicker time to market, network automation through the digitalisation of processes and scalable solutions that ensure growing capacity needs are met. I suppose this is both an opportunity and a challenge. If we are able to come together and do it well, the nation’s telecommunications industry will be enhanced manifold,” says Adlan.
What about the lack of connectivity in rural areas? Before the country embarks on 5G, the potential of 3G and 4G must be maximised in underserved areas first, he points out. “At edotco, we are striving to narrow the digital divide by enhancing nationwide connectivity to ensure no one is left behind. In Malaysia and in countries where we have a footprint, we are working closely with local governments to deploy optimal infrastructure solutions that enable mobile network operators (MNO) to provide connectivity in underserved areas.”
One solution is by providing connectivity infrastructure that relies on renewable energy in rural areas. For instance, in 2019, edotco deployed a renewable energy solution with fuel cells to power off-grid sites in Sabah. This would accelerate the deployment of telecoms infrastructure in remote areas that have limited access to the electricity grid.
As Malaysia looks to adopt more next-generation technologies such as the Internet of Things to implement smart cities and Industrial Revolution 4.0 initiatives, the demand for connectivity will increase. What can telecommunications players do to enable this digital-driven economy of the future?
“To meet these requirements, we need to look at the enablement of connectivity as a shared responsibility that requires cross-industry collaborations. While edotco has the right next-generation solutions on hand [to meet growing data demand and capacity needs], players in the ecosystem need to come forward and collaborate,” says Adlan.
A few limitations need to be addressed by industry players, he adds. One is that connectivity should be considered a utility and given equal importance to other utilities such as water and electricity. “[This way,] the ecosystem can benefit from proper frameworks and seamless planning.”
Second, property developers should work with telecommunications tower companies from the beginning as deploying telecoms infrastructure or laying fibre cables should not be an afterthought. “[Third,] as we head towards 5G and meeting the rising demand for capacity, MNOs need to ensure that investment for next-generation connectivity solutions are accounted for in their business plans,” says Adlan.
Investments also need to be made for the laying of fibre cables, fiberisation of towers and deployment of next-generation solutions, he adds.
In 2021, edotco’s immediate priority is to secure new build-to-suit opportunities and co-locations in its existing markets, says Adlan. Another immediate focus would be to improve operational excellence.
“With MNOs seeing a downward trend in data yield due to competition, there is a lot of pressure to reduce costs. Here is where edotco can play a significant role in helping MNOs achieve this by continually innovating and coming up with new solutions and design structures and leveraging our state-of-the-art platform to deliver service at the lowest cost,” he says.
The company is accelerating the digitalisation of its operations and using data analytics to anticipate trends, drive down costs and identify sites with high potential for co-location.
A next-generation technology that excites Adlan is small cells, which connect mobile devices to mobile networks in a small area, improves coverage and supports new user experiences while meeting space and aesthetic requirements in urban areas, according to an edotco blog.
“Small cells can optimise the management of public infrastructure to increase capacity while blending seamlessly into urban environments. Various smart street furniture can be connected through small cells to share data. This will see the coming together of utilities, security, hospitality, transport, public safety and so on to provide citizens with services in a more efficient manner, truly bringing the smart city concept to life,” he says.
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