Malaysia hands 5G spectrum to little-known firm controlled by politically linked tycoon

  • Malaysia has quietly awarded the highly sought-after 5G telecommunications spectrum to several players, including the little-known Altel, a firm controlled by the reclusive but politically connected tycoon Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary, seemingly without an open tender previously promised.
  • The 15 May 20 decision, signed off by Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, went unannounced to the public and appears to be the first major reversal of infrastructure policy by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.
  • Prior to being ousted in Feb 20, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had promised an open tender to allocate the spectrum, but encouraged industry players to form a consortium that would avoid duplication of heavy expenses in rolling out infrastructure for the next generation broadband service.
  • The rollout of 5G is a key plank in the MYR22bn (SGD7.2bn) National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan, which PN has promised would continue despite the change of government.
  • Despite the fanfare concerning 5G services, the signed orders were only uploaded to the MCMC website in a buried section on spectrums, with no media statements issued since.
  • A check on the MCMC website found that no tenders were called, and executives from various telecoms firms also told The Straits Times they were not aware of any invitations to bid for the spectrum.
  • “It is strange because some of the companies that were awarded are public listed. They would have to announce it to the stock exchange once they are aware as there are also hundreds of millions in fees involved,” one executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
  • Leading mobile service providers Maxis, Celcom and DiGi were awarded two bands of 10 megahertz (2x10MHz), while Altel, despite being a minor player, was given 2x5MHz. Telekom Malaysia, the state telecommunications firm which largely operates fixed line services, was allocated 2x5MHz.
  • Altel, a subsidiary of Syed Mokhtar’s Puncak Semangat, was awarded the most spectrum in the 2.6GHz band to deploy 4G services by MCMC in late 2012. Instead of building its own infrastructure, it leased the spectrum to other telcos and piggybacked on Celcom to offer services as a mobile virtual network operator.

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