Malaysian satellite operator MEASAT Global Berhad is now providing satellite broadband in remote areas in Malaysia as part of plans to serve communities which cannot be reached via terrestrial communication infrastructure.
MEASAT is now serving villages and communities in Sabah and Sarawak, both part of BIMP-EAGA.
BIMP-EAGA considers digital connectivity among its development pillars because of its potential to spur trade and investment and empower individuals and societies to contribute better to the digital economy.
In Southeast Asia, BIMP-EAGA countries, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, ranked second and third place respectively in the Digital Inclusion Index 2020 of global consultancy Roland Berger. Malaysia made it to the roster because it was able to boost accessibility, with a $5.4-billion plan to connect more of its citizens to the internet.
MEASAT’s venture into rural areas through its CONNECTme NOW service is an example of how Malaysia is improving access. According to its website, CONNECTme NOW targets areas without 3G or 4G mobile or fiber coverage. The company says it can provide service within days and speeds of up to 30 Mbps. As of December, the service has been installed in 1,000 sites in rural Malaysia.
In February, MEASAT, along with Kementerian Sains, Teknologi dan Inovasi Sabah, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, deployed CONNECTme Now in Kampung Walu-hu, Ranau, Sabah, following reports students had braved wildlife attacks just to find internet signal in a nearby forest.
In December, MEASAT installed its 1,000th satellite broadband service in Data Kakus in Sarawak.
Internet connectivity has become urgent in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic due to lockdowns which had forced students to resort to online learning and businesses to require employees to work from home.
Benefits to traders
Carl Moosom, chairman of the BIMP-EAGA Business Council (BEBC) Sabah, has welcomed MEASAT’s move to roll out the satellite broadband service in remote areas in Malaysia, citing benefits to traders. “Better connectivity among the traders will mean an increase in trade,” he said. BEBC is the body that represents the private sector in BIMP-EAGA.
He believes that providing satellite internet for BIMP-EAGA’s remote areas makes sense because there is no need to lay out cables and other infrastructure, which would take time and investment.
“It's like having a WiFi at your place or your home,” said Moosom of the service.
He said Malaysia will launch another satellite in orbit later in the year, which can mean faster internet speed for subscribers.
Moosom has also broached the idea of tapping MEASAT to provide internet in remote areas in other BIMP-EAGA countries.
One of the challenges that need to be addressed though is whether the islands being eyed for the service have power. Some areas are quite remote and may not have electricity. For these areas, Moosom said solar-based power will need to be deployed to run the equipment needed for the WiFI service.
Satellite-based internet is now seen as a viable option to provide connectivity to remote areas across Asia. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has an ongoing project providing affordable satellite-based, high-speed broadband internet to countries in Asia and the Pacific, especially in remote areas of small island nations in the Pacific and larger island nations like Indonesia and the Philippines. ADB, together with development partners, provided $50 million for the project.
The Asia-Pacific Remote Broadband Internet Satellite Project aims to make broadband internet connections more widely available to countries in the region, where more than two billion people do not have reliable internet access due to inadequate infrastructure, geographical challenges, and high service cost.