Malaysian communications minister issues unexpected directive allocating 700MHz spectrum

3 Jun 2020

In an unexpected development, it has been revealed Malaysia’s communications minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, has issued a directive ordering the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to assign spectrum in the 5G-suitable 700MHz band to five companies. The directive – dated 15 May 2020 – has only just now come to light, after it was discovered on the regulator’s website, with no official announcements having been made at the time of the development.

According to ‘Direction No.4 of 2020’, three companies are to be allocated 2×10MHz in the 700MHz band, namely: Celcom (723MHz-733Mhz/778MHz-788MHz); Digi Telecommunications (703MHz-713MHz/758MHz-768MHz); and Maxis (733MHz-743MHz/788MHz-798MHz). Meanwhile, the other two companies to be allocated spectrum will receive a 2×5MHz block, Telekom Malaysia (718MHz-723MHz/773MHz-778MHz) and Altel Communications (713MHz-718MHz/768MHz-773MHz). No word regarding pricing for these new spectrum allocations has been forthcoming, however, while notably a new ministerial determination (‘Determination No.1 of 2020’, also dated 15 May 2020) has revoked an earlier piece of related legislation (‘Determination No.2 of 2017’, 8 September 2017), which had set a fixed price for spectrum allocations in the 700MHz band.

Previously, in January 2020 the MCMC published a final report on the allocation of spectrum, including frequencies suitable for 5G, in which it said it was considering plans to allocate both 700MHz and 3.5GHz frequencies to a single entity comprising a consortium formed by multiple licensees. However, given this latest development, and the award of 700MHz frequencies to individual companies, the authorities’ plans for the 3.5GHz band are now unclear. Indeed, according to local press reports requests for further information regarding the matter have not been responded to by the MCMC, which has still yet to release an official announcement regarding the new spectrum allocation.

Alongside the developments related to the 700MHz band, yet another ministerial direction (‘Direction No.5 of 2020’, 15 May 2020) has ordered the MCMC to allocate a 2×5MHx block in the 900MHz band to Altel. Finally, a further determination (‘Determination No.2 of 2020’, 15 May 2020) has ordered the reallocation of a spectrum in the 2600MHz band, noting that the new frequency assignments are pursuant valid for 15 years. Coupled with this, a third direction (‘Direction No.3 of 2020’, 15 May 2020), detailed the frequency allocations in the 2600MHz band for eight companies, broken down as follows:

· Altel (2540MHz-2560MHz/2660MHz-2680MHz)

· Celcom (2530MHz-2540MHz/2650MHz-2660MHz)

· Digi (2560MHz-2570MHz/2680MHz-2690MHz)

· Maxis (2510MHz-2520MHz/2630MHz-2640MHz)

· Redtone Engineering and Network Services (2500MHz-2510MHz/2620MHz-2630MHz)

· U Mobile (2520MHz-2530MHz/2640MHz-2650MHz)

· Webe Digital (2575MHz-2595MHz)

· YTL Communications (2595MHz-2615MHz).