Malaysia’s first telecommunications infrastructure was set up in 1874, connecting two senior British civil servant’s residences in Perak via a telegraph line.

Instant communication today, thankfully, isn’t exclusive to the government. Malaysia is now preparing to launch the most advanced networks that exist in the world: 5G. Recently in January 2020, the Prime Minister launched a 5G Demonstration Project undertaken by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in Langkawi to test and develop 5G applications further.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which 5G could reshape public services and industries in Malaysia.

Smart cities

City administration and service delivery will be more effective and efficient with 5G. Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM), through its enterprise and public sector business solutions arm, TM ONE, has signed a partnership with Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) for 5G trials to manage traffic, parking and public safety.

“Streets, buildings, public and personal devices need to be interconnected in order to manage the resources and operations in Subang Jaya. This can only be cost-effective and efficient if they are automated and connected”, said TPr. Hjh Noraini Roslan, Yang DiPertua of MPSJ.

TM has also begun 5G demonstrations in Langkawi. The technology used here is particularly advanced: it’s the country’s first Stand Alone 5G network, which supports much more complex use cases and offers ultra-low latency. This means videos and data can be sent in real time because of the near-zero lag time. Most other early deployments of 5G have been using existing 4G networks, so they don’t offer the full potential of the technology.

The trials, affectionately dubbed the ‘Langkawi trials’, will run for six months until June 2020, and will test and study how cities can further develop 5G applications. TM through TM ONE and its innovation arm, TM R&D, is implementing 11 use cases on the island including traffic lights, parking, VR, tourism, retail, utilities, agriculture and public safety.

City leaders across Malaysia are seeing the potential of 5G. “For smart city to be realised, we need 5G,” Maimunah Jaffar, Head of Planning and Compliance, Iskandar Regional Development Authority in Johor, told GovInsider. The city plans to make extensive use of data to increase food security and manage water demand.

Smart agriculture

One of TM ONE’s latest 5G-powered ventures is smart agriculture, with boxes of vegetables lining a long, narrow container. Each box holds at least 4 sensors, which monitor the temperature, humidity, nutrient level and carbon dioxide concentration for the vegetable it houses. Thanks to the large volume of data 5G networks can accommodate, as well as the large number of devices it can connect, urban farmers can control all of these factors remotely from a single dashboard.

“In traditional farming, at least 30 per cent of the crops will not sustain. But with this, maybe only 5 per cent of the crops are damaged,” explained Maznan Deraman, Head of Innovative Solutions at TM ONE.

Each container produces as much food as one acre of farmland does and farmers can harvest the crops within just 42 days. It can withstand extreme temperatures between negative 50 and 50 degrees Celsius, making it invulnerable to external environmental changes in climate or soil condition.

These smart agriculture containers may be the answer to Malaysia’s malnutrition, since the crops it produces are free from chemical residue. A global health journal found that almost a third of Malaysian children below 20 years of age were stunted, and another paper suggested that consuming food contaminated by pesticides is one of the main factors for stunted growth in children.

Farmers can also grow special crops to suit different dietary requirements. For instance, “people with kidney problems cannot take vegetables with high potassium,” said Maznan. “So, because we know the nutrient level of each of the crops, we can continue the growth to make it low potassium.”.

Smart water management system

Malaysia’s underground labyrinth of water pipes is the country’s lifeblood, but the aged system faces a number of issues. TM ONE, together with TM R&D, has found a way to solve them using a smart water management system.

Malaysia loses about half of its water through pipe leaks, explained Dr Sharlene Thiagarajah, CEO of TM R&D. The smart sensors installed along the junction of the pipes can monitor water pressure and easily locate pipe leaks. “Identifying or locating faults becomes much faster, and therefore we can dispatch and solve the problem more efficiently,” she said.

Authorities can also observe water consumption patterns from a central dashboard and forecast the demand over the next few months. “Cities can do better planning, and water departments can understand who’s using water a lot more in a particular location,” said Dr Sharlene.

The smart water management system has been implemented in Langkawi and the state of Selangor. Authorities can monitor water quality and water levels, which is helpful for drought seasons.

Leading with local talent

The range of services the Langkawi trials bring shine a spotlight on home-grown talents. Most of the 5G-enabled solutions were built in-house – something TM ONE and TM R&D were determined to do.

“Once you build things on your own, you have control over it, and you can tweak and change the flavour of it easily,” said Dr Sharlene. “If you just reuse other people’s products, it will always be built for a very mass scale and you will never suit the nuances of the local people.”.

With that being said, TM wants to keep the applications they develop open source. They have built an open innovation platform to share their services. “A third party can use the same API to come up with different kind of services. So with this kind of ecosystem, we can enrich the offerings back to the consumers,” said Azrin Aris, Head of Emerging Solutions at TM ONE.

These are just a taste of what’s possible with 5G. 2020 will be a crucial year for Malaysia as TM ONE prepares to enable the future of connectivity. In the meantime, this should whet your appetite before the full course.