SMA: Digital economy to propel state’s economic development

Dr Zaidi Razak

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, Dec 10: The Sarawak Government has identified the digital economy as one of the sectors it will focus on to propel the State’s economy in order to propel Sarawak into a developed State by 2030.

However, along the way, the State Government has faced many challenges in implementing the digital economy due to the lack of internet connectivity in rural areas.

With the setting up of the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA), the State government will continue to strive to bridge the digital gap between the rural and urban areas through its many initiatives.

Following are excerpts from SMA general manager Dr Zaidi Razak on the various initiatives and future plans:

Q. Can you elaborate on the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) initiative?

The VSAT initiative aka SALURAN 200 is an interim solution to expediently resolve internet connectivity woe in rural areas until the ongoing SMA tower (mobile broadband) project is fully rolled out. A total of 200 VSAT sites have been set for this initiative. The sites chosen will be prioritised based on a set of criteria.

Once mobile broadband service is up, the respective VSAT equipment will be re-positioned at the next-in-line of the priority list. The target date to start installation is in early Feb 2021.

Q. How much internet coverage can it provide?

The area of coverage extends up to 50-meter radius in perfect condition, the weather being a prime determinant of performance. The download speed is 25 Mbps and 5 Mbps for upload speed. It is worthy to note that user experience depends on contention ratio (CR) besides speed, an indication of quality of service. Typically, a commercial satellite broadband service has a CR ratio higher (100:1) * compared to SALURAN 200 (30:1)* Per block of users.

Hence, a 25Mbps bandwidth is shared by a maximum of 100 users for the former, while lesser the number of users (30) share the same 25Mbps for SALURAN 200 VSAT.

Q. How soon would Sarawak have full internet coverage?

For this, we align with MCMC’s national aspirations since the JENDELA plan includes 636 towers for the Sarawak portion. Together with SMA’s 600 towers, a total of 1,236 towers will serve an estimated rural population of 872,100 by the year ending 2022. Note that the connectivity solutions include satellite broadband and fixed wireless access.

By end of 2022: 99.9% broadband coverage in populated areas and non-commercial viable areas in rural Sarawak. Increase mobile speed from the current 25 Mbps to 35 Mbps.

Q. Can you share your future plans?

Digital infrastructure and its fulfilments are the main activities for connectivity. These initiatives are grouped under Sarawak Multimedia Authority Rural Telecommunication (SMART) project, formerly known as SMA300. The main objective of SMART is to expand the telecommunications coverage to non-commercial viable areas of Sarawak, a function that was solely managed by the federal government via MCMC in the past. This initiative is one of the state’s intervention efforts to reduce the socio-economic divide of our rural communities. There are basically six components of SMART:

• First 300 Telco Towers – Ongoing and expected 4G coverage service roll out in 3rd Q of 2021.
• Next 300 Telco Towers – target to start work 2nd Q of 2021.
• Mix of fibre and microwave solution for high-quality voice and data service (For towers that are 25 km apart and with reference to item 1 and 2).
• Coastal Road and Sebauh Fiberisation Project infrastructure project.
• Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) initiative – utilises Sarawak Energy Berhad OPGW infrastructure for data transmission.
• VSAT – Interim solutions as explained above. Expected to start work early Feb 2021.

Q. What are the challenges faced by SMA?

Basically, SMA faces the following challenges:

• Geographical challenge of rural sites leading to logistical double handling of equipment and materials for the respective sites.
• Landowners going back on their decision to allow the sale and use of the land for tower construction thus disrupting implementation timeline.
• Rakyat’s ‘instant mee’ expectation. SMA only began the erection of towers March 2019. Pandemic forced a re-jigged plan in line with JENDELA. While the pandemic was unexpected, the state government’s foresight in the digital economy in hindsight has been a blessing in disguise.

The challenges would’ve been greater had we not had this head start.

About SMA

SMA is a regulatory body established pursuant to Section 3 of Sarawak Multimedia Authority Ordinance 2017 with the primary objective to spearhead, oversee and facilitate the development and implementation of the communication, multimedia and the States Digital Economy Initiatives. – DailyDayak