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Wider cellular coverage as early as September

03 Jul 2002, CINDY YEAP and ALICE CHIA New Straits Times
CONSUMERS should be able to enjoy the first taste of a wider cellular phone coverage from domestic roaming as early as September this year, Energy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Amar Leo Moggie said. He said network operators have indicated full support towards the plan, and are currently propping up commercial arrangements for the commercial trial in three selected areas in September. "There are no difficulties with regards to the technical aspects. What needs to be propped up are the commercial arrangements. The commission is quite hopeful that timetable can be met," Moggie said. He was speaking at a press conference after presenting awards to winners of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) tower design competition in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. The Government wants to pave way for wider cellular phone coverage for all mobile phone subscribers regardless of their respective service providers. For instance, a mobile subscriber with DiGi (016) goes on the North-South Expressway and needs to make an urgent call but there is no coverage. With domestic roaming, he or she can roam on Time dotCom or Maxis's networks and make that phone call. Domestic roaming, once implemented, benefits both consumers and operators as it will increase coverage and reception of the services provided by operators, curb infrastructure duplication and under-utilisation, and reduce the cost of setting up new telecommunications infrastructure that run into millions of ringgit. It allows the infrastructure of one operator to be used by a rival to boost its service coverage and reception. MCMC chairman Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid said the commission is not looking at implementing domestic roaming in all areas, ruling out urban areas like Klang Valley where coverage is adequate regardless of the service provider. "We are first targeting areas in which we would like to enhance the sharing of network facility and services - such as in popular tourist spots, major expressways, and new development areas cum industrial parks - where there are more complaints of dropped calls," she said. Nuraizah said Bukit Tinggi resort and the North-South Expressway have been identified for implementation of the pilot project in September. A third spot, to be selected from a new growth area, has not yet been identified. "The domestic roaming model developed from the September trial will be used countrywide come December 1 this year," she said. Asked if numbering portability will be allowed together with domestic roaming by year-end, Nuraizah said no decision has been reached, but its advisers have submitted a report to the commission. "Our independent technical experts have submitted their report. There will be implications on consumers, so we want to have a thorough look before policies can be made and an official statement released," she said. The commission in its five year industry growth blueprint has earmarked implementation of numbering portability by year-end. This allows a cellular subscriber to keep its existing phone number when switching to a new network service provider. On commercial arrangements for domestic roaming, MCMC's technical division general manager Zamani Zakariah said billing and charge patterns based on the international roaming model is only one of several ways commercial arrangements can be agreed among cellular operators. "This has yet been finalised but the working group should work this out in few weeks," he said. Leo Moggie also said network operators will be encouraged to adopt the new base transmission station designs, some of which entails a local cultural touch, where practical, to minimise environmental impact. "The towers should be located and designed where they would be least noticeable," the minister said. He reiterated that domestic roaming is pushed because it is "the most effective way to ensure infrastructure sharing".
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