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Bridging Malaysia’s Digital Divide: FSO Tech for Remote Internet Access

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Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) is leveraging Free-Space Optical Communication (FSO) technology to provide high-speed Internet to residents of Pulau Bum Bum, demonstrating a potential solution for other remote areas in the country to provide better digital inclusivity, according to Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil.

Image credits: BERNAMA

During his visit, Fadzil observed the effectiveness of FSO in delivering internet access where traditional telecommunications infrastructure is challenging to implement. He noted that this innovative technology could be a crucial solution for bridging connectivity gaps in remote areas across the country.

FSO technology uses light transmitted through free space for telecommunication purposes, wirelessly transmitting data over distances up to 3 km. TM One executive vice-president Shazurawati Abd Karim highlighted that FSO enables high-speed gigabit broadband internet comparable to urban areas. Since 2022, TM has successfully deployed this technology in Pulau Bum Bum, Pulau Aman in Penang, and Maludam and Beladin in Sarawak.

About 3% of populated areas in Malaysia, encompassing roughly 2,800 communities, still lack internet access. According to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), only 15% of these communities are suitable for internet access via telecommunications towers. The remaining 85% may require a hybrid solution involving satellite, VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), or new technologies like FSO. Fadzil has requested expedited efforts to address this issue, involving the Communications Ministry and MCMC.

The National Information Dissemination Centre (Nadi) on Pulau Bum Bum, part of a nationwide initiative to develop 186 such centres, plays a crucial role in providing high-speed internet access and other facilities to local communities. The expansion of these centres in Sabah will see an increase from 118 to 132, benefiting over 3,000 community members in Pulau Bum Bum alone.

Fadzil emphasised the importance of community economic development through the Sejahtera Komuniti Madani (SejaTi Madani) Programme, which offers funding of up to RM100,000 for projects that enhance local economies. He also noted Pulau Bum Bum’s potential as a tourist destination, urging upgrades to internet access and other facilities in preparation for Visit Malaysia Year 2026.

Malaysia is encouraging wider access to the internet to ensure a comprehensive and inclusive digital transformation. By enhancing internet connectivity infrastructure, the country aims to bridge the digital divide and foster growth.

The country has made significant strides in enhancing its internet connectivity infrastructure as part of its digital advancement and inclusive growth agenda. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) recently reported substantial progress in internet coverage in Negeri Sembilan, a key state in this initiative.

OpenGov Asia reported that Bukhari Yahya, Head of the MCMC State Coordination Division, announced that internet coverage in populated areas of Negeri Sembilan reached 98.35% in the first quarter of the year. This achievement highlights Malaysia’s dedication to closing the digital divide and ensuring nationwide access to reliable, high-speed internet.

The notable progress in Negeri Sembilan is driven by the National Digital Connectivity Plan (Jendela), which has seen the completion of 27 new towers to enhance internet infrastructure. Of these, 11 towers are already operational, with the remaining expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Additionally, efforts to improve the 5G network in the state are advancing, with 225 out of 233 sites ready for operation, focusing on the Seremban and Port Dickson districts. This progress underscores Malaysia’s commitment to expanding digital connectivity and fostering inclusive growth.

FSO technology, the expansion of Nadi centres and better digital infrastructure illustrate Malaysia’s commitment to using innovative tech solutions to bridge the digital divide, ensuring that even remote communities have access to high-speed internet and the economic opportunities it brings.

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