Monday November 13, 2023

5G Performance Shines in Malaysia, but There Is Room for Greater Adoption

Person looking at mobile phone smiling, light is reflecting on face in dark room

Affandi Johan | October 31, 2023

Malaysia launched its nationwide 5G network less than two years ago, adopting a distinctive 5G deployment approach. Ookla® data shows that the country’s 5G performance has been impressive, ranking as one of the top performers globally. In this article, we will compare Malaysia’s 5G performance with 5G in select countries, and we will also look at Malaysia’s 5G utilization based on the devices running Ookla Speedtest®.

Key takeaways

  • Malaysia continues to improve its Speedtest Global Index ranking. Malaysia’s overall mobile speed performance has steadily increased since the introduction of 5G at the end of 2021. In September 2023, the country’s median download speed was 61.50 Mbps, 2.9 times faster than its pre-5G speeds in September 2021. This led to a 45-place climb on the Speedtest Global Index™, from 86th place in September 2021 to 41st place in September 2023 after 5G had been deployed in Malaysia.
  • Malaysia is one of the top performing 5G markets globally. Malaysia ranks third globally for 5G download speed, with a reported speed of 485.25 Mbps, according to Speedtest Intelligence® data for Q3 2023. This puts Malaysia not only ahead of its Southeast Asian neighbors but also some developed markets, including the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.
  • A proportion of 5G-capable devices have yet to utilize the 5G network. Over 55% of all nationwide tests were conducted on 5G-capable devices in Q3 2023. However, only 25.1% of those tests were conducted on a 5G network. Operators with a lower subscriber base in the country reported a better percentage of Speedtests conducted on Malaysia’s 5G network.
  • 4G LTE performance sees continued improvement alongside 5G rollout. Median download speeds on 4G have increased from 24.04 Mbps to 36.95 Mbps from Q3 2022 to Q3 2023. 5G network offers much stronger performance than 4G, with 5G providing thirteen times faster download speeds and five times faster upload speeds than 4G.

Unique deployment strategy utilizing a Single Wholesale Network

In 2021, the government of Malaysia established Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), responsible for rolling out a nationwide single wholesale network (SWN) to deliver 5G coverage. According to DNB, the 5G SWN model aimed to centralize infrastructure rollout, promoting efficient resource use, cost savings, and equitable 5G access across urban and rural landscapes.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) assigned 5G spectrum to DNB in the 700 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 26-28 GHz bands. DNB is currently utilizing 3.5 GHz spectrum across selected deployment areas. As discussed in our recent spectrum analysis, the upper mid-band (otherwise known as C-band) offers the best of both worlds in terms of coverage and capacity, which is important for DNB as they aim to reach 80% of populated areas by 2024. As of the end of September 2023, DNB has achieved 70.2% coverage of populated areas (COPA), with more than 5,800 sites deployed.

Yes was the first operator to enter into the Access Agreement with DNB and launch 5G services in Malaysia in Q4 2021. Following Yes, other operators such as Celcom, Digi, Unifi (Telekom Malaysia), and U Mobile launched their 5G services in early November 2022. In August 2023, Maxis became the latest operator to launch 5G services in Malaysia.

5G helped Malaysia climb 45 places in Speedtests mobile rankings

Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence® data reveals that Malaysia has experienced a noteworthy increase in mobile median download speeds for all technologies since the launch of Malaysia’s first 5G network. In September 2023, Malaysia’s median mobile download speed increased to 61.50 Mbps, 2.9 times faster than the country’s 21.27 Mbps median download speed recorded in September 2021, before the launch of 5G in the country. As a result, Malaysia has improved its position on the Speedtest Global Index™, climbing 45 places from 86th in September 2021 to 41st in September 2023. This development places Malaysia ahead of some of its Southeast Asia neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as some developed markets, including the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.

Malaysia leads on 5G performance in Southeast Asia

In our recent report discussing 5G in the Asia Pacific region, we discussed how the region is on track to become the largest 5G market globally, with some markets in the region outpacing major European markets in terms of 5G performance. Comparing global 5G performance, Malaysia has emerged as one of the top performers in 5G connectivity. According to Speedtest Intelligence data in Q3 2023, Malaysia ranked third globally for 5G download speed, with a reported speed of 485.25 Mbps. This puts Malaysia ahead of its Southeast Asian neighbors, such as Singapore (338.36 Mbps), Thailand (141.65 Mbps), and the Philippines (124.58 Mbps).

4G performance continues to see improvements in the 5G era

5G rollout has also propelled an increase in 4G LTE speeds thanks to the modernization of the underlying infrastructure. Improvements in 4G LTE speeds are also partly from offloading 4G traffic to the 5G network, reducing 4G network congestion.

Speedtest Intelligence data shows that, at a country level, the median download speeds for 4G between Q3 2022 and Q3 2023 have increased from 24.04 Mbps to 36.95 Mbps. Upload speeds on 4G also continued to improve over the same period, albeit slightly.

As part of the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021–2025), the government is implementing the Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela) initiative to address the need and demand for better quality fixed and mobile broadband coverage. Operators across Malaysia continue to roll out 4G to adhere to Jendela rollout targets. According to Jendela’s Phase 1 concluding report, 4G Coverage in Populated Areas achieved its target of providing 96.9% coverage by the end of 2022.

While current 4G network performance may meet the needs of most users for everyday tasks, such as browsing, streaming, and online communication, it is still far from the uplift in performance offered by 5G.

When we compare 5G and 4G performance in Malaysia for Q3 2023, Ookla’s data show that the median 5G download speed (485.25 Mbps) was 13 times faster than that of 4G (36.95 Mbps), while the country’s median 5G upload speed (54.62 Mbps) was 5 times faster than that of 4G LTE (10.61 Mbps).

Customers residing in areas outside of urban areas or in lower-income states may be reluctant to adopt 5G technology, as it may lead to higher subscription and upfront costs compared to previous mobile technologies. To that end, convincing consumers of the transformative advantages offered by 5G becomes pivotal in this context.

Potential to increase the adoption and usage of 5G technology

Apart from looking at the 5G performance in Malaysia, we also examined the percentage of devices utilizing the 5G network. This was done to gauge consumer uptake of 5G in the country. Using Speedtest Intelligence Q3 2023 data, we compared the proportion of unique devices that conducted consumer-initiated Speedtest using a 5G network to the total number of devices running Speedtest, regardless of network technology.

According to our analysis, in Q3 2023, out of all the mobile tests initiated by consumers in Malaysia across all technologies, 30.1% of them were carried out on the 5G network. This suggests that the adoption and usage of 5G technology among the general population in Malaysia still needs to improve. Although Malaysia launched its 5G network later than most neighboring countries in the region, its percentage of 5G users, while lower, is still noteworthy. In comparison, early 5G adopters such as Thailand and Taiwan, which launched their 5G network almost two years ahead of Malaysia, have a slightly higher percentage of devices connected to 5G, at less than 10 percentage points more.

Single wholesale network model levels the playing field

Unlike Malaysia’s previous 4G era, which followed a conventional approach to network rollout where individual operators owned the spectrum and were responsible for establishing their networks separately, Malaysia’s 5G SWN initiative takes a different approach from the traditional method adopted by most countries.

As stated by DNB, adopting the 5G SWN model can bring about several benefits, one of which is eliminating the duplication of infrastructure. Other advantages include ensuring uniform national coverage and encouraging operators to move towards a more service-oriented business model. While the long-term benefits remain to be seen, upon launch, operators with smaller 4G network footprints can immediately benefit from 5G coverage areas similar to those of larger and more established operators.

Ookla’s data shows that operators with smaller subscriber bases in the country reported a higher percentage of Speedtests performed on 5G-capable devices on the 5G network. Yes, the first operator to enter into an Access Agreement with DNB and the first to launch 5G in Malaysia in Q4 2021 reported the highest percentage at 53.3% in Q3 2023. U Mobile and Unifi, which launched their 5G networks in Q4 2022, reported 40.7% and 38.9% respectively.

Maxis, one of the larger mobile operators in Malaysia, had 33.0% of tests carried out on 5G. This is a notable uptake considering that Maxis only launched its 5G services in August 2023 after delays in its decision to enter into the Access Agreement with DNB. Both Celcom and Digi reported percentages below 22%.

One of the reasons for the variation in the number of 5G users is that the implementation of the 5G SWN model has enabled relatively smaller mobile players to offer more competitive plans, creating a more equitable playing field in the market. At the time of this report, Yes, U Mobile, and Unifi automatically included 5G services to their current and new customers. In contrast, Maxis, Digi, and Celcom, depending on which current plan their customers are on, imposed an additional surcharge between MYR 10 to MYR 20 (USD 2.20 to USD 4.40) per month for customers on lower-tiered plans to upgrade to a 5G plan.

Proportion of 5G-capable devices shows opportunities for better adoption

As DNB continues to expand its 5G network access to all populated areas across the country, motivating consumers to subscribe to the newer technology is critical. Operators already have a base of consumers who own 5G-capable devices, and we expect to see more consumers investing in 5G-capable devices going forward.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, in Q3 2023, over 55% of all tests conducted in Malaysia were carried out on unique 5G-capable devices. Of these devices, 30.1% of the tests were conducted on 5G networks, while the remaining 21.5% were on non-5G networks.

Around 50% of Celcom’s and Digi’s customer bases own 5G-capable devices, but only 16.7% of Celcom’s and 21.6% of Digi’s customers conducted tests on 5G in Q3 2023. Maxis, which has the highest percentage of 5G-capable devices (62.8%), saw only 33% of its customers perform tests on 5G. For these operators, approximately 30% of their customer base that own 5G-capable devices have yet to initiate a Speedtest on the 5G network. There is an opportunity to transition these customers to adopt 5G as they likely have not yet subscribed or reside in areas without 5G coverage. Again, it is important to note that Maxis launched 5G services in August.

Unifi and U Mobile had 18.9% and 12.5%, respectively, of users that own 5G-capable devices yet to take advantage of the 5G network. On the other hand, Yes customers with 5G-capable devices are already benefiting from 5G, with less than 8% of them yet to subscribe to 5G or reside in areas without 5G coverage.

The governments active participation is instrumental in achieving the national 5G connectivity agenda

Over the years, Malaysia has consistently invested in enhancing its digital infrastructure. With its National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) and the MyDIGITAL initiative, it is already ahead of some of its neighbors in terms of connectivity. This groundwork creates a conducive environment for 5G and the readiness to embrace next-gen technology into its digital infrastructure.

Malaysia has adopted a distinctive strategy by implementing a single wholesale 5G model. DNB serves as a neutral party responsible for deploying 5G infrastructure and network across the country. By the end of 2022, the country has achieved its target of providing 40% coverage of populated areas. The performance of 5G technology has been impressive so far, making Malaysia one of the top performers globally. However, DNB has an obligation to expand its coverage to 80% of populated areas by 2024. 5G performance is also expected to decrease over time as network traffic grows and more and more users switch to 5Gs.

A few pieces of the puzzle still need to fall into place before 5G can be widely adopted in Malaysia. Apart from encouraging users with 5G-capable devices to adopt 5G services, around 45% of tests were carried out on non-5G devices, leaving a significant portion of users in the country still reliant on 4G. To further encourage the adoption of 5G, The Communications and Digital Ministry recently kicked off the 5G Rahmah initiative, where participating operators will now offer more affordable 5G data and device bundle plans to Malaysians, with additional incentives for low-income groups and civil servants.

It is evident that the government and regulatory authorities have a vital role in making 5G accessible to consumers. Now that all operators have agreed to provide 5G services, they also have the responsibility to keep the service’s cost affordable and educate consumers about its benefits. Earlier this year, the Malaysian government announced its plan to transition to a dual network model once the current rollout under DNB has reached the targeted 80% coverage of populated areas. However, the impact of this transition and factors such as the speed of the rollout, 5G adoption, and infrastructure management by operators remains to be determined and requires further assessment.

We will keep a close eye on the progress and effectiveness of 5G implementation in Malaysia. If you are interested in benchmarking your performance or if you’d like to learn more about internet speeds and performance in other markets around the world, visit the Speedtest Global IndexTM.

Ookla retains ownership of this article including all of the intellectual property rights, data, content graphs and analysis. This article may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed or published for any commercial purpose without prior consent. Members of the press and others using the findings in this article for non-commercial purposes are welcome to publicly share and link to report information with attribution to Ookla.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article/press release are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the approved policy or position of the GSMA or its subsidiaries.

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