Malaysian operators finally agree to take stake in wholesale 5G network

The Malaysian government established an August deadline for operators to accept the stake in DNB or else lose 5G spectrum access

Malaysia’s transition to 5G has been plagued by a significant bottleneck stemming from the government’s decision to forego a spectrum auction and instead launch a nationwide, state-controlled 5G wholesaler, Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB). While the country’s largest operators — Celcom, Digi, Maxis, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia and Time dotcom — have been less than supportive of this approach, all six have now, and finally, agreed to take up equity in DNB.

Beyond complaints about DBN’s high pricing and lack of transparency, Malaysia’s operators felt they were more capable of rolling out 5G themselves. Because they were still refusing involvement with the wholesaler in early 2022, the government proposed that the operators take a combined 70% stake in DNB. Initially, the operators liked this idea, but from the government’s perspective they were still too slow to pull the trigger.  

In order to elicit a decision, the government established an August 2022 deadline to accept the stake in DNB. If they failed to do so, said the government, they will lose 5G spectrum access entirely, and foreign players would be invited to enter the market.  

That approach worked, apparently. Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz told the Malaysian media: “All the key terms were finalized last Monday [August 8]. One or two came very, very last minute and only because they realized if I don’t come in, my competition is there.” He added that there was interest from operators in India, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

The terms state that no one operator could own a stake greater than 20%, while in the case of mergers between two companies, the stake could not exceed 25%. The government will hold the remaining 30% stake.

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