Sarawak digitalisation efforts aim to bridge urban-rural divide

By Huawei

Malaysia's largest state, with a land area of over 124,000 square kilometres and a population of 2.45 million, aims to improve 4G coverage to 93.6 per cent by the end of 2024, as part of an ambitious drive to grow the digital economy while fostering an inclusive digital society.

Working with multiple federal and state agencies, across various infrastructure programmes, the Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) aims to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas in the state. It aims to achieve 99.9 per cent 4G coverage by 2030. Image: Canva

As part of an ambitious digitalisation drive, the Sarawak state government aims to improve 4G coverage from the current level of about 66 per cent to 93.6 per cent by the end of 2024.


A delegation led by Sarawak’s Minister for Utility and Telecommunication, Dato Sri Haji Julaihi bin Haji Narawi, shared this with GovInsider on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress 2024 in February.


Located in Borneo, Sarawak is Malaysia’s largest state with a population of 2.45 million and a land area of over 124,000 square kilometres, of which 80 per cent is covered with forest.


Through the Sarawak Digital Economy Blueprint 2030, the state government aims to grow a digital economy while fostering an inclusive digital society.


“The Blueprint recognises that government plays an enabling role with the economy driven by public and private sectors, and individuals,” said Dato Julaihi to GovInsider, adding that developing digital infrastructure would be key in bridging the urban-rural divide.


“We have to improve [connectivity] and bring the population in rural areas into the mainstream of our development. Otherwise, they might be left behind.”

Leveraging state and federal digitalisation for connectivity

From left: Sudarnoto Osman, CEO of SDEC; Sarawak’s Minister for Utility and Telecommunication, Dato Sri Haji Julaihi bin Haji Narawi; and Anderson Tiong, General Manager at the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA), outlined Sarawak's digitalisation plans at February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Since 2018, state and federal agencies have cooperated around a state government initiative known as SALURAN, which stands for Sarawak Linking Urban, Rural and Nation, to enhance digital connectivity in the territory.


These include the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA), which has been working on the SMA Rural Transformation (SMART) project to build 600 telecommunication towers throughout the state;


The National Digital Network Plan (Jendela) provisions for public cellular and mobile broadband services at 1,661 locations nationwide, include 636 locations in Sarawak;


And the Sarawak Rural Broadband Network (MySRBN), a high-speed connectivity initiative of the Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) aiming to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas. With these initiatives, SDEC is aiming to achieving 99.9 per cent 4G coverage by 2030.


Sudarnoto Osman, CEO of SDEC, said that once these targets have been met, citizens can more readily tap on Digital Economic Centres (PEDi) and Digital Community Centres for digital literacy, digital innovation, and transformation opportunities.


“These are initiatives by the state government that are not only looking at infrastructure, but also at developing the people themselves,” he said.

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End-to-end digital government services


Anderson Tiong, General Manager at SMA, the state infocomm regulator, highlighted two digital government projects that would help to bridge the urban-rural digital divide.


One was the S Pay Global e-wallet, incepted in 2017 as Sarawak Pay, which had more than 600,000 registered users and over 85,000 merchants onboarded as of January 2022.


“This is one of the apps that the government intends to push to the rural areas, to enable the people there to also make secure cashless transactions,” he said.


The other was the planned adaptation of SarawakID from a single sign-in government app into a more feature-rich trusted digital ID to access both public and private sector services. Tiong said the SMA had recently visited Singapore to study the SingPass digital ID.


Grace Huong, Director of the Sarawak Civil Service Digitalisation Unit, added that the state authorities would also be looking into integrating artificial intelligence into e-government services, such as chatbots powered by large-language models.

Technology partners play a vital role 


According to Huong, the state government aims to fully digitalise its 1,106 public services by 2030, ramping up from the current rate of 20 per cent. It is also pursuing a multi-cloud strategy as it looks into migrating applications and services onto the cloud.


One of the cloud providers is Huawei, which is also a partner in the state’s digitalisation efforts. According to SDEC’s Osman, the continued rollout of 5G coverage, currently at 60 per cent in Sarawak, will also be a “main driver for the economy, especially when it comes to industry.”


Speaking at the same media briefing, Nicholas Ma, President of Huawei APAC Enterprise Business, called Sarawak’s use cases “a very good reference for the whole Asia-Pacific” and said that Huawei had collaborated with countries in the region for 20 to 25 years.


He added that Huawei’s mission and vision dovetailed with that of the Sarawak government, which is to bring intelligent digital connectivity to every person, home and organisation, and to promote inclusivity for people living in remote areas.


As a cloud provider, Huawei supports various verticals, such as the government sector, fintech, energy, education, and health, all of which would facilitate a robust digital economy and bring positive impact to citizens’ lives, Ma added.


Framing the multiple digital transformation initiatives within the Digital Economy Blueprint, Dato Julaihi reiterated the vision for the next six years.


“This blueprint [will help Sarawak] achieve inclusive, responsible, and sustainable socio-economic development. It will benefit the public sector, businesses and the society through improved public service delivery, new sustainable business models and access to global market, new job opportunities and social well-being.”