‘5g-capable’ network modernisation programme underway

James Kon

As of September 1, 2019, Unified National Networks Sdn Bhd (UNN) has taken over the responsibilities in operating the entire telecommunications network infrastructure in Brunei, following the transfer of infrastructure assets from all three telecommunications companies.

The consolidation of the telecommunications network infrastructure under UNN is set to allow Telekom Brunei Berhad (TelBru), Datastream Technology Sdn Bhd and Progresif Cellular Sdn Bhd to focus on retail operations, with equal access to network infrastructure.

On the sidelines of the handover ceremony yesterday, UNN CEO Dr Steffen Oehler said, “A 5G network is in the plans, and we will be running a massive modernisation programme for the radio network in the country so we need to have more coverage, as well as increase capacity.

“We will renew up to 100 per cent of the existing radio infrastructure in the country and the system that we will put on the tower, so that they will be 5G capable.”

However, he said, “To introduce 5G, we will need to wait for the market to be ready by providing and selling 5G mobile handsets. By 2020, I feel that the market will be filled with 5G handsets with affordable prices for the majority of the public to fully utilise 5G.”

UNN CEO Dr Steffen Oehler. PHOTO: JAMES KON

He added, “Before the introduction of 5G, we will discuss with all stakeholders of the telecommunications industry on the case for 5G. 4G is already delivering good service.

“5G will only be launched if it creates a value for the country. So we are looking at Smart Nation, smart government applications. We believe we can start 5G by 2021, but the system to be installed needs to be 5G ready. It’s already in the planning, and we will not be rolling back on this.”

On the transfer of TelBru’s infrastructure assets to UNN, he said, “Assets transfer is not only a legal process and a financial transaction – it’s also a transaction that is putting a heavy responsibility on our shoulders because we are operating network assets of the entire country which are fixed networks and two mobile networks.

“Everyone will be looking at us to improve these networks.

“From September 1, 2019, we are responsible for operating all the networks, following the transfer of 95 per cent of infrastructure assets. There are certain assets which are currently on constriction phase, and as soon as they are ready, they will be transferred to UNN as well.”

On the benefits of consolidating telecommunications network infrastructure, he told, “Today, we have a lot of parallel infrastructures where each mobile network has a transport network. TelBru also has a transport network.

“Each operator has an international connectivity which we are able to consolidate to make infrastructure highly resilient and abundant, so that if something is broken in the middle, the service will not be impacted. In the future modernisation of the network, we won’t have to invest three times, we are investing only once with a lot of capacity, a lot of fibre to transport terabytes of data, so it will be less expensive. This is economy of scale. This would allow us to provide wholesale service on a really affordable level, helping to give better prices to the public.”

He added, “TelBru can sell mobile services now, while the other mobile companies can sell broadband services. Each telecommunications company can offer a broad range of products, with more options for customers.

“This enables customer to have a choice, while 4G will be available for everybody. Progresif and DST will have access to 4G, and so will TelBru, so they are equal in terms of what they can offer.”

He said, “We are looking forward to investing heavily into next three years and refurbishing all the networks to modernise. We will build more towers in areas where people are underserved. It’s a commitment for the country. We have a lot of work in front of us, and our main objective is to make it visible and tangible in terms of good quality services in affordable pricing.”