Ecosystm research shows that enterprises in Southeast Asia are increasingly considering telecom operators as go-to-market partners (Figure 1). Enterprises are demanding more than just devices and connectivity and with the fervent digital transformation (DX) efforts underway, services such as managed services, business application services, cybersecurity and network services are in demand. Technology vendors have an opportunity to partner with the right telecom operator in each market to enhance their IT market offerings, ahead of the 5G rollouts.
The broad 5G ecosystem inculcates cross-sector innovation and greater collaboration leading to new business models and exciting new opportunities. Singtel is the leading operator in the region and has the enterprise segment contributing approximately 65% to its revenue in its domestic market. In the World Communications Award 2019, Singtel won both “Best Enterprise Service” and “The Broadband Pioneer” awards. This places Singtel in a fine position to capitalise on the 5G enterprise services.
5G Needed Now More Than Ever
The pandemic has seen a rise in network traffic, onboarding of the digital customer and rapid DX of businesses which has whetted the appetite for faster broadband speeds and new services. Southeast Asia countries stand to profit from the trade war between the US and China and 5G features of low latency and higher security can boost adoption of IoT, Smart Manufacturing and broader Industry 4.0 goals to drive the economy.
Fixed Wireless in Southeast Asia is expected to be very popular considering the low penetration of fibre to the home (with the exception of Singapore) and will provide enterprises with a viable secondary connection to the internet. Popular applications – including video streaming and gaming – which are speed, latency and volume hungry will also be a target market for operators. Mobile operators that do not have a fixed broadband offering can enter this space and provide a serious “wireless fibre” alternative to homes and businesses.
Governments and telecom regulators ought to make spectrum available to the major telecom operators as soon as possible in order to ensure that the cutting edge 5G communications services are made available to consumers and businesses. Many experts believe 5G can raise the competitiveness of a nation.
US-China Trade War Threatens to Change Equipment Supplier Landscape
Despite severe pressures caused by the US-China trade war, Huawei posted an impressive 13.1% YoY growth in 1H 2020 registering revenue of USD 64.88 billion. Both Huawei and ZTE generate approximately 60% of their business from their domestic markets which is critical with the current unfavourable global sentiments. Huawei has diversified its business and built its consumer devices business which should withstand the disruptions caused by the political challenges.
Ericsson and Nokia stand to benefit from Huawei’s current global position and this was evident with the wins for the 5G contracts by Singtel and JVCo (Singtel and M1). The JVCo announced it selected Nokia to build the Radio Access Network (RAN) for the 5G standalone (SA) mmWave network infrastructure in the 3.5GHz radio frequency band. Singtel selected Ericsson to provide for the RAN on the same mmWave network.
However, while there is an opportunity for NEC and Samsung to join the party, Huawei is expected to do well in most other countries in Southeast Asia.
The Indonesia market is the largest in the region and is expected to hit USD 133 billion from USD 40 billion in 2025. Indonesia’s lack of a world-class telecom infrastructure coupled with their slowness in 5G adoption has not impeded the country’s attractiveness for global technology investors who see the 270 million population as an immense opportunity. US tech giants, Facebook, Google, and PayPal have invested in Indonesia to reap the benefits from the growing digital economy powered by unicorns such as Gojek, Bukalapak, Tokopedia. In June 2020, Google Cloud launched in Jakarta, only the second in the region after Singapore with the four big unicorns being anchor customers.
In 2025, Google predicts Thailand to be the second-largest internet economy worth USD 50 billion. The internet economy for Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are estimated to be over USD 27 billion each. Shopee and Lazada are the top eCommerce apps in the region and have seen an increase in sales due to the disruption in the Retail industry. In-store shopping contributes to more than 50% of Retail in Singapore and Malaysia – this provides a tremendous opportunity for eCommerce players.
While movement restrictions are gradually being lifted, some things may never return where they were before COVID-19. Public debts have risen with numerous aids and handouts impacting economic growth forecast and rising unemployment is impacting customer spending power. On the plus side, DX of businesses and sharp onboarding of customers have redefined interactions, and sectors such as Education, are going online which will boost the digital economy. While the challenges are evident, exciting times are ahead for the technology and telecom sector in Southeast Asia.
For more insights on the key trends in the telecom services market in Southeast Asia, read Shamir’s report
For more information on “The New Normal for Telecom Providers in South East Asia”, report please contact us at email@example.com
In the blog, The Top 5 Fintech Trends for 2020, we had spoken about the impact of Fintech on financial inclusion. “Fintech will have a much greater impact than we realise, and we will continue to see it drive the induction of the unbanked into the mainstream economy. The growth in mobile phone penetration, however, continues to grow at a faster pace than banking accessibility across emerging economies. We will continue to see Fintech play a significant role in driving greater inclusion, especially to bring in the underserved in the emerging economies and reducing the gender gap when it comes to adoption of financial services – creating greater inclusion overall.”
Fintech Driving Financial Inclusion in Malaysia
Much of Malaysia’s economy is dependent on foreign workers with an estimate of 3-4 million migrants that roughly contribute to about 30% of the country’s labour force. Instapay, regulated by the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), caters to the underbanked community of foreign migrant workers, and recently announced a collaboration with Mastercard, to provide e-wallet accounts to Malaysian migrant workers. The app supports 9 languages and aims to have 100,000 users in the first year.
The widespread use of e-wallets by the migrant worker community is meant to bring benefits to both them, as well as their employers. It enables employers to use digital technologies for payroll management, reducing their dependence on cash handling, reducing costs and eliminating downtime as their employees no longer need to queue up on paydays.
The Instapay e-wallet also gives a largely underbanked segment of the society access to affordable financial products and services. The partnership with Mastercard gives Instapay’s customers access to the global network of merchants and ATMs, allowing easier access to financial services.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Dheeraj Chowdhry says, “Instapay’s foray into e-wallets furthers and supports the country’s objective of democratising banking and moving to a cashless economy. Collaboration with an international player like Mastercard helps a domestic Fintech to deliver a product that is country agnostic. The migrant worker can not only use the Instapay wallet within Malaysia but also in their home country.”
Malaysia’s Focus on Fintech
The Malaysia Government aims to create a cashless society, lower transaction costs and provide access to the underserved customers. There are two kinds of financial inclusion – for the lower income group as well as for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – and Malaysia is committed to both. Digital payments and e-wallets aimed at the lower income group receives an estimated 36% of Fintech funding. The stumbling block is that about a third of the country’s population does not have smartphones, so funds transfer using mobile phone messages is still relevant in the country. Development of the SME sector and eCommerce are twin focus areas for the Digital Economy vision. This provides a ready market for digital payments. Also, while the SME community will still have access to traditional funding, there is expected to be a greater push towards crowdfunding and peer-to-peer financing. It is expected that the share of Fintech funding for alternative funding will grow beyond the estimated 6% that it receives now.
According to a Mastercard Impact Study 2020, Malaysia has the highest e-wallet usage in Southeast Asia. As the country moves towards creating a cashless society, the Government is hoping e-wallet adoption increases. Several initiatives and schemes have been rolled out to promote e-wallets adoption. Last month, Malaysia announced the intention to spend an estimated USD 176 million in 2020 to encourage e-wallet adoption. Earlier this year, the Government announced the e-Tunai Rakyat program to boost the adoption of e-wallets, supported by Grab, Boost and Touch ‘n Go. Chowdhry says, “Instapay e-wallet is yet another manifestation of the amplified focus on e-wallets in Malaysia. BNM has set aside an estimated USD 108 million and has introduced a scheme to give USD $7.25 in credit for every adoption of any of the top 3 e-wallets. This scheme has accelerated e-wallets in the country that has set an adoption target of 15 million i.e. half of its population.”
“This push is backed by a structured approach of increasing the number of small merchants accepting card payments. With BNM’s focus, there are as many as half a million POS terminals out there for both credit cards and QR codes.”
“Malaysia’s regulators have to be applauded for having a well-coordinated, holistic and converging strategy on creating a cashless economy. The issuance, acceptance and regulatory policies have been completely synergised to deliver.”
The pandemic has fast demonstrated the power of being aligned to the digital economy. Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta says, “Organisations that were digital-ready were able to manage their business continuity almost immediately in enabling a remote workforce. The transfer was almost seamless for such businesses as the teams had already imbibed the principles of remote collaboration and were already familiar with tools that enable collaboration and communication. For many of these organisations, it was almost a matter of employees packing up their work-issued laptop and heading home.”
“In addition, those that were fully digitalised were better prepared to continue not only interacting with their clients remotely but also in many cases were able to deliver their offerings to their customers through their website or mobile apps.”
Gupta also notes that Ecosystm research shows that before the COVID-19 outbreak only about 35% of SMEs considered themselves ready for the digital economy, compared to half of the large enterprises. “This needs to change – and change fast!”
Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint
In Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint that supports its Smart Nation vision, digitalisation is positioned as a key pillar for public service transformation. The focus for business stakeholders in this journey includes co-creating and facilitating the adoption of technologies (Figure 1).
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often struggle with going digital because of lack of resources – both financial and skills – and vision. In a country such as Singapore, where SMEs are estimated to account for 99% of all enterprises and 77% of employment, it is imperative that the Digital Economy vision includes a special focus on them.
Gupta says, “Despite significant incentives, there has been resistance from SMEs to go digital as it still involves time and monetary investment from them. The need to retrain and upskill their teams is also a perceived roadblock to the uptake.”
Singapore Empowering SMEs to go Digital
As the Government looks to open the economy up in a phased manner, it sees this as the right opportunity to make SMEs digital-ready. It is “seizing the moment” and has established the SG Digital Office (SDO) in an effort to enable every individual, worker and business to go digital. Initiatives include the recruitment and deployment of 1,000 Digital Ambassadors by end June to provide personalised as well as small group support to seniors and owners of local eateries, who require additional assistance to adopt digital solutions and technology.
In 2018, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had launched SGQR to unify the fragmented e-payment landscape in the country, making it compatible with 27 payment schemes. The SDO aims to drive SMEs (especially in the F&B sector) to adopt SGQR codes for e-payments. The goal is to engage 18,000 stallholders of local eateries (hawker centres, wet markets, coffee shops and industrial canteens) to have the unified e-payment solution by June 2021. Further, multiple government agencies – IMDA, National Environment Agency (NEA), Jurong Town Corporation, Housing Development Board (HDB) and Enterprise Singapore – come together to offer a bonus of SGD 300 per month over five months to encourage more F&B SMEs to adopt e-payments.
“Financial Inclusion is one of the mainstays of a progressive economy. Given the significant investment that has gone into the e-payments infrastructure by government agencies led by MAS, we are placed well compared to other nations,” says Gupta. “However, there is work to be done in certain demographics and sectors. The drive to support F&B outlets and local eateries to get on the bandwagon will be an exceptional step and will be well received by consumers.”
“There are only a handful of governments that can compare with what the Singapore Government has put in place when it comes to initiatives to drive the uptake of technology by SMEs. This current crisis may well become the catalyst for SMEs to recognise the urgency of getting digital-ready and they should use this as an opportunity to leverage the government support around technology adoption and emerge as digital-savvy organisations.”
Like many countries, Malaysia has announced economic stimulus packages to ensure help for the poor and needy, that workers do not lose their jobs and that companies avoid bankruptcy – albeit with an inevitably reduced output – to keep the economy functioning. The stimulus offered is short-term covering a few months, and more assistance will be required should the epidemic linger and for the recovery period.
The Government announced a stimulus package on the 27th February worth RM20 billion (US$4.5 billion) and another one on the 27th March worth RM230 billion (US$52.6 billion). The packages comprise of direct fiscal injection of RM25 billion (US$5.7 billion) as well as loan deferments, one-off cash assistance, credit facilities and rebates. The focus of the stimulus packages is to assist people in the lower-income (B40) and mid-income (M40) groups, aid for employees in the private sector and for traders during the movement control order (MCO) which is to run until 14th April 2020.
An additional COVID-19 stimulus package worth RM10 billion (US$2.2 billion) was announced on the 6th April to address the challenges of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that employ two-thirds of the workforce and contribute to 40 percent of the GDP. The wage subsidy is to benefit 4.8 million workers earning less than RM4,000 (US$915) per month. In addition, SMEs will have access to interest free loans of RM200 million (US$45.7 million) from the National Entrepreneur Group Economic Fund and a further RM500 million (US$114.4 million) via Bank Simpanan Nasional. The Government allowed 750,000 SMEs to postpone income tax payment for three months from 1st April – companies in the tourism sector are allowed to postpone income tax for six months.
Impact on Industries
Banking & Financial Services. Banking institutions will support the Government’s stimulus initiatives by providing a six months’ loan repayment moratorium, corporate loan restructuring and conversion of credit card balance to long term loans. Banking and financial institutions are focussing on business continuity planning to ensure minimal disruption to their business and customer support. Many key business processes are now being put to test in-home working with scaled-down office operations. Digital Transformation (DX) has been accelerated as a result.
Contactless payments have seen a boost and many financial institutions have increased payment limits for such payments. Early last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Bank of England had issued advisories against the use of banknotes, as it could increase the chances of the virus spread, instead recommending the use of contactless payment where possible. This might give a boost to the use of Cryptocurrency and cross-border payment services in Malaysia. In 2019, cryptocurrency start-ups received an estimated 12 percent of Fintech funding – but, only three cryptocurrency exchanges were given conditional approval by the Securities Commission. The current situation may well see that changing.
Insurance. The Prime Minister announced that the Insurance industry is to create a fund of RM8 million (US$1.8 million) to cover the cost of RM300 (US$68.6) per policyholder to undergo COVID-19 tests. In addition to this, insurance companies are to offer a 3-month suspension on premiums for policyholders whose income is affected by the pandemic.
Agriculture. Even prior to COVID-19, there has been a brewing narrative against globalisation, favouring a nationalistic emphasis as reflected globally by Brexit and the China-US trade wars tension. Food security is key, and COVID-19 has further highlighted its importance with priorities shifting to local requirements over exports. The Government intends to distribute a food security fund of RM1 billion (US$228.8 million) to increase the local production of farms, fisheries and livestock. According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia’s food and beverage imports amounted to RM54 billion (US$12.3 billion) in 2018 while food exports stood at RM35 billion (US$8.0 billion) resulting in a trade deficit of RM18.8 billion (US$4.3 billion). As countries focus on internal supplies instead of exports in the current scenario, Malaysia needs to address this risk by producing more locally.
Impact on Industry Transformation
Amidst the gloomy outlook, there are plenty of opportunities, especially to the country’s Digital Economy. Malaysia has been committed to the Digital Economy vision with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) estimating that the country’s Digital Economy is worth US$3 trillion. The COVID-19 crisis may well be the key driver in achieving that vision. DX efforts are being accelerated with businesses adopting more cloud and mobility solutions. More workloads have to be digitalised and there is greater adoption of Cloud for storage and services. AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud will be beneficiaries in this area.
I have already spoken about the Financial Services industry – other industries are also getting transformed out of a necessity to survive this crisis. The Education sector has seen an increase in access to educational content and traffic to education portals and blogs. Some schools have implemented online lessons and group chats between teachers, students and parents to ensure education continues through this pandemic. Many universities have used their e-learning platforms to move lectures online.
The Telecommunications industry is being appreciated more than ever and it is the backbone to normal life, in both a social and business sense. The Government’s stimulus package includes offers of free internet to all customers until the MCO is over at RM600 million (US$137.3 million) and an investment of about RM400 million (US$91.5 million) to improve coverage and quality of service. Leading operators Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U Mobile have offered 1GB free data during the MCO period. The Axiata Group recently announced a cash fund of RM150 million (US$34.3 million) to assist micro-SMEs within the ecosystem providing eCommerce, digital payments and related services.
Video conferencing traffic is on the rise as it is the next best thing to face-to-face meetings. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been the biggest winners so far. The home working trend should continue in the recovery stage and beyond, due to improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure and the impending rollout of 5G.
The eCommerce sector should see a major improvement in Malaysia with physical channels to the market being suspended. Malaysians have not embraced eCommerce like mature economies have, and it has significant room for improvement. Development of the SME sector and eCommerce are twin focus areas for the Digital Economy vision. Statista reports that the average Malaysian eCommerce shopper spent just US$159 on online consumer goods purchases in 2018, considerably lower than the global average of US$634. There is huge opportunity to provide for necessities such as online grocery, food and delivery of goods. As a consequence, the Transport & Logistics sector will have to adapt their business operations in order to ride this wave successfully.
Video streaming and gaming has also seen an increase in consumption in these times as they provide for entertainment for millions stuck at home. Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox and PlayStation are among the winners in this sector. YouTube provides for a primary news source and commentary on the epidemic for many. There provides a tremendous opportunity for both telecom operators and content providers to increase their number of services in this area.
Malaysia, like all other countries, will have to ride out this wave. It has made a positive step in the direction with the stimulus packages, especially for the SME sector. How well the country rides this wave out will depend on how targeted the future stimulus packages are and how fast industries can transform to handle the new world order that will emerge after the COVID-19 crisis.
The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has estimated that the country’s Digital Economy is worth USD3 trillion. Several initiatives have been introduced to promote the vision of a Digital Economy including: creating the Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Programme (MTEP) aimed at tech founders who want to make Malaysia their base; the Malaysia Innovation Policy Council for industry collaboration on digital technology initiatives and streamlining policy/regulatory issues to support innovation; and the National eCommerce Roadmap aimed at small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to promote cross-border eCommerce.
Data Protection Laws for a Digital Economy
However, any country that aspires to be a Digital Economy, must have robust data protection laws that safeguards its citizens’ data. Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (PDPA), was passed by the Malaysian Parliament in 2010 and came into force in late 2013. While the PDPA does provide guidelines for personal data protection to some extent, in light of technological advances, newer laws such as GDPR that are shaping the industry, and to keep up with the aspirations of creating a Digital Economy, there is a need for more comprehensive privacy laws.
“Growing the Digital Economy is a key agenda for Malaysia and a revised PDPA is a key component in ensuring trust and transparency,” says Shamir Amanullah, Principal Advisor Ecosystm. “The increasing and complex use of data and the proliferation of devices pose serious challenges which the data protection laws have to address. The recent US Federal Trade Commission’s hefty fines on Facebook and Equifax highlight the need to protect data of consumers and businesses alike.”
The PDPA is clearly a work in progress where while fast-growing areas such as electronic marketing and online privacy are mentioned in the act, there are no specific provisions to deal with breaches in these areas.
Updating the PDPA
In the last few years, Malaysia has realised that the PDPA fails to cover some areas. As an example, it does not take into consideration the proliferation of biometric data. The national ID card (MyKad) stores data using biometrics (thumbprints) and there is a clear rise in use of facial recognition technology in the country. Grab partnered with the Ministry of Transport last year, to use facial recognition technology to protect their drivers.
Malaysia is committed to their Digital Economy vision and is looking to update the PDPA, to make it more appropriate for contemporary needs and technology. The Government is consulting its citizens on possible ways to improve the PDPA. Between 14-28 February, the public can provide feedback on their thoughts and requirements on data privacy, through the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia’s web portal.
Some of the areas that have been found lacking and where feedback is being sought are expanding applications of the PDPA to data processors, making it compulsory to notify data breaches and simplifying cross-border personal data transfer.
Speaking about the areas that are likely to be addressed, Amanullah notes, “The review of the PDPA and the ongoing public consultation will deliberate extending the PDPA to non-commercial transactions. The existing PDPA does not cover non-commercial transactions involving charities, religious activities and even social media. The EU, Japan and – closer home – the Philippines have data protection acts which regulate both commercial and non-commercial transactions.”
Malaysia’s Communications & Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh Deo, has from the start spoken about the need to update and bring the PDPA up to speed. “The goal of the Digital Economy is to take Malaysian enterprises beyond the country to Southeast Asian and global markets,” says Amanullah. “The EU GDPR is recognised as a leading global framework for data protection and is set to play a big role in the revised PDPA, to ensure that Malaysian companies adhere to the same data protection standards as global organisations.”
“The appointment of Data Protection Officers will be a major move to ensure that companies that hold sensitive private data have the necessary skills, processes and technology in place to comply with data protection laws.”
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