The consumer landscape for telecommunication services changed in 2020 with the introduction of Unified National Networks (UNN) and subsequently the impact of COVID-19.
According to the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications (MTIC), the sector has shown a cumulative increase from 2016 until August 2021.
The impact from COVID-19 has given Brunei Darussalam the opportunity to push the digital agenda forward. Innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) technology, including the dissemination of digital services, has been accelerated, in an effort to increase response and recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
As of December 2021, over 75 per cent of households in the Sultanate have Internet subscriptions, proving that the nation’s digitalisation efforts are showing progress, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Minister of Transport and Infocommunications Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib bin Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Setia Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yusof said this during the virtual ICT Ministerial Meeting 2021.
The Sultanate through the MTIC has targetted to achieve 75 per cent of households Internet subscription by 2025 under its strategic plan.
As of September 2021, almost 80,000 fixed broadband subscribers were recorded, equivalent to 75.2 per cent of the nation’s households. This is further complemented by 135.7 per cent of mobile broadband penetration among the population.
The minister shared that Brunei is embracing technologies in its national agenda towards digital transformation by embarking on key technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT).
The Sultanate is also looking towards enhancing broadband connectivity, among others, through 5G pilot projects and 5G talent development.
Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib also touched on the need for a safe and secure environment, highlighting the need to increase efforts against cybersecurity threats, with the newly formed agency Cyber Security Brunei (CSB). This includes having a key legislation on cybersecurity, which is now in its final stage towards enactment.
Among other aspects of ICT that has notched progress is the jump in the number of TransportBN app users since the introduction of new app features on December 15. The MTIC recorded 16,600 new users – an increase of 21.1 per cent from 78,500 users at the beginning of the month to 95,100 users.
Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib said that after taking into account feedback and towards improving features in the updated TransportBN app, access to driving and vehicle licences in digital form have been added.
The minister assured that the protection of users’ personal data in the latest version of the TransportBN app is a key feature.
Users, who can access the application without a password, are only able to make use of the ‘search’ feature on the app or the website to determine the status and validity period of driving and vehicle licences as they are public information, he said.
A password is required to access the user’s information, such as licence and road tax details, which can only be obtained by registering with e-Darussalam.
“Security features of the app will be continuously tested and improved upon. Insya Allah, we can ensure users’ personal information will be protected,” said the minister.
In further supporting Brunei Vision 2035 of a Smart Nation, the MTIC in March 2021 shared that it had activated 983 telecommunication towers to provide extensive network coverage services, and with an allocation of BND3 million, four villages under the National Development Plan (RKN) Rural Tower Project will be covered as well.
Among these villages are Kampong Sukang, Kampong Melilas and Kampong Apak-Apak in Belait District, and Kampong Long Mayan in Tutong District.
The continuous effort to upgrade the telecommunication infrastructure has placed the Sultanate in second place among ASEAN member countries, in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Index, according to the United Nations E-Government Survey Report 2020.
Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib also said that the 176 cases of cable theft from September 2019 to March 2021 needed to be addressed in an integrated manner with the cooperation of several parties, including enforcement agencies and grassroots leaders, adding that “dissemination campaigns are needed to generate awareness and public cooperation in combatting it”.
The minister also shared that MTIC-implemented initiatives are guided by three key strategic policies launched last year – the Digital Economy Masterplan 2025 under the Digital Economy Council as the main policy to make Brunei Darussalam a smart country while encouraging and enhancing the socio-economic growth through digital transformation; MTIC Strategic Plan (MTIC 2025) to support Brunei Vision 2035; Brunei Darussalam Road Safety Strategic Plan 2025 to drive safety initiatives and standards of the country’s land transport sector.
Following up on this in August 2021, the minister shared that two remote areas – Mukim Sukang and Mukim Melilas – had been identified by the MTIC as places that have yet to get full coverage of mobile connectivity.
He said there are long-term plans to build a tower under the RKN. However, in the immediate term, the minister said a pilot project is already being done on satellite services carried out by the Network Integrity Assurance Technologies Sdn Bhd (NiAT).
The initiative by NiAT is through close collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI), which has plans to continue on with the pilot while assessing the feasibility. Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib said, “However, due to the COVID-19 situation in Brunei Darussalam, some of the plans may have slight delays on the ground to safeguard all parties involved, including an assessment of residents’ health status among others. Insya Allah, I have been informed that in a few weeks, they will be exploring to continue the pilot.”
Meanwhile, with MTIC being the Co-Chair of the Digital Economy Council, Dato Seri Setia Awang Abdul Mutalib also touched on the ‘Digital Office’. There are three parts to it, with the e-office being the first, enabling civil servants to work on-the-go at the office, at home or anywhere using a digital platform.
“There are three ministries carrying out this pilot, MTIC is one of them, in fact, we started it,” the minister said. “Now there are two other ministries. It is at about 80 per cent, and that’s why all of us are able to mostly work from home.”
Citing MTIC as an example, the minister said there are about 80 per cent correspondences in most administrative work, allowing them the capability to perform all work from home using the e-office as their working platform with minimal staff to administer work correspondences from office to home.
“A very good example of the civil service progression to digital office is the Human Resource System coordinated by the Public Service Department (JPA) under the Prime Minister’s Office, with close collaboration with relevant ministries and agencies,” he added.
According to statistics reported by the E-Government National Centre (EGNC) and JPA, there are about 63,000 accounts with 95 per cent of these accounts having email capability within the public sector, which is the minimum form of the Digital Office.
“If you have an official government email, you can work from home as well. I understand this is for the civil service only and not including government-linked companies (GLCs) and statutory bodies,” said the minister.
The third part is the digitisation of documents leading to a Document Management System (DMS).
“Insya Allah, in my opinion, we have fast-forwarded by three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some already saying ‘Welcome to 2025’,” added the minister.