YTL Communications, the fifth-largest mobile operator in Malaysia by subscribers, set its sights on industry verticals as the main driver of future 5G growth, despite recently offering what it claimed are the lowest-priced unlimited tariffs for consumers in the world.

The operator had 1.7 million subscribers at end-March and last month became the first to introduce 5G service in the country in the most-populated region, following a soft launch in December 2021 to verify the system was working, measure the experience and collect feedback to optimise the network.

CEO Wing Lee (pictured) told Mobile World Live existing MNOs have “a rather arbitrary” fair usage policy in which they don’t tell customers the parameters for enforcement. “It’s opaque. We feel there is dissatisfaction amongst many of the local users.”

As it developed its next-generation price plans under the Yes brand, Lee said YTL Communications wanted to make sure it “offered something that addressed the current pain point”, unveiling true unlimited 5G with fallback to 4G for MYR58 ($13.19) a month.

The 5G footprint jumped from around 100 base stations at end-2021 to more than 800 sites last month, delivering nearly 90 per cent population coverage in the greater metropolitan area of Klang Valley, which includes Kuala Lumpur.

With new sites being rolling out in Johor, Penang and a few other states, Lee said “we felt the momentum was strong, the network quality was good and decided to flip the switch and go into commercialisation mode”.

The number of sites is expected to rise to between 1,200 and 1,300 within the next two weeks.

YTL Communications’ main focus, however is on industry verticals, with recent moves into schools and smart manufacturing.

“We launched a smart ambulance service using 5G. YTL will continue to drive meaningful use cases. 5G is not just cheap SIM cards, which is just a consumer point. The real point about 5G is about transformation for various industries,” Lee explained.

Wholesale network
Lee praised state-owned Digital Nasional for getting a new 5G network up and running in just 11 months, offering average data rates of 665Mb/s and rising as more sites are deployed. “I think we are on the right trajectory. It was the right decision made by the Malaysian government because we have limited spectrum.”

He noted while the government’s plan is to deploy national population coverage for the mass market, Digital Nasional agreed to allow YTL Communications to build private 5G networks at specialised locations based on specific B2B opportunities.

“We have real customers waiting for us to help them energise 5G projects in the manufacturing, logistics, education and healthcare sectors. We cannot tell them to wait for two or three years.”

Commenting on an approaching deadline for the country’s four major mobile players to sign up to the national 5G wholesale network, Lee said he understands MMOs are private enterprises and can make their voices heard. “But at some point, we have to start thinking about whether we are part of the nation-building project, or are we just so self-serving that we can’t see beyond our own P and L.”

To support a surge in data demand, YTL Communications lined up Casa Systems to boost capacity by upgrading its 4G core network using commodity servers in a virtualised environment. “This approach gave us scale and more elasticity, similar to the public cloud.”

The CEO said it was able to cost-effectively grow capacity by purchasing more servers, which is “the lowest unit-cost way for us to scale our network. We’ve done well using this commodity-based server approach towards network building, and the software has proven to be quite reliable and robust”.

YTL Communications also chose Casa Systems to construct its 5G core network, citing cost benefits from the vendor’s cloud-native approach.