YTL offers $1m in prizes to stimulate innovation on new
Wing Lee: Existing WiMax deployments
don’t do justice
to WiMax. It’s supposed to be a mobile
can you deploy mobile technology and then tell me
to use it at home?
One of Sprint’s passionate supporters of WiMax is
now in Malaysia building a nationwide 4G network and is
offering innovators around the world the chance to win $1
million for the best new application or device for the mobile
Wing Lee is the CEO of YTL Communications, owned by a large
Malaysian corporation, and is planning to launch its WiMax
network soon with the support of the country’s
government. "The government gets it," says Lee. "The country
And WiMax is more than just a wireless way of getting the
internet, he insists. First, it’s essentially
mobile — something that many WiMax operators have not
yet exploited. And second, its introduction is going to
stimulate the development of wholly unimagined applications.
That’s why his company is offering prizes worth $1
million for the best.
YTL is one of the largest corporations in Malaysia, with
interests ranging from power generation to construction and
hotels to transport — it runs, with Siemens, the rail
link from Kuala Lumpur to the airport. "Everything we do is
first class and first world," says Hong Kong-born Lee. And now
it is spending $850 million on the WiMax project.
It’s a rich company with, says Lee, "$3 billion in
the bank", and it has global ambitions. A national WiMax
network in Malaysia is not enough. "My goal is to make sure we
launch in Malaysia and then take it elsewhere."
He’s aiming for "a soft launch in Q3 and a
commercial launch in Q4" in YTL’s home
Order for one million chips
How big? Some idea of the scale that YTL plans is shown by an
order it placed with a chip maker, GCT Semiconductor, in
February 2010 for one million devices. YTL will deliver the
devices to terminal makers later in 2010.
"We’re not just launching dongles," says Lee.
"We’re not going to be investing this money just
to launch dongles. It’s safe to say that everyone
understands the potential of WiMax but few understand its true
WiMax, he says, "is synonymous with the vision of the mobile
internet. What are the new devices out there that need to be
connected to the internet but aren’t today? The
internet is going mobile. We’re changing the
paradigm and new opportunities are bound to show up."
Lee has been with YTL only since September 2009, but
he’s been with WiMax for much longer. Educated in
the US, he spent 15 years working in innovation at US operator
Sprint Nextel "which was where I got so passionate about
WiMax". Sprint originally had its own WiMax project in the US
but in 2008 merged its operations with those of a rival,
Clearwire, in which it is now the biggest shareholder
— along with some other significant companies such as
Google. Lee joined Clearwire to continue working on the merged
At the same time YTL was given the opportunity by the
government of Malaysia to build a 4G network. "As a new
technology the government decided it was best not to give it to
incumbent operators," says Lee. "They would sit on it because
they would not be motivated to disrupt their own business. That
decision was strategic and historic."
YTL did its own investigation of the technology. "They talked
to Motorola and Samsung, and did due diligence. They talked to
Sprint. That’s how they met me."
Samsung and Cisco as vendors
The company decided to work with "the world’s best
for wireless infrastructure", he says. "Samsung is the
world’s best for WiMax base station technologies.
We need a strong IP backbone. Who’s best for IP
networking? It goes without saying that it’s
So Samsung is providing base stations and in-building
technology, and "we have awarded the IP backbone business to
Cisco", says Lee.
"Cisco saw the vision and got excited." The company wanted to
take a larger role "and Cisco is now responsible for the design
and integration of the networks."
This is a deep collaboration between the wider YTL group and
Cisco. At the time of the deal, in 2008, Cisco and YTL said
they want to create a "WiMax centre of excellence in Malaysia
to become a world destination for WiMax technology
Cisco’s chief globalisation officer, Wim Elfrink,
said at the time "This collaborative model is a first for
Cisco, and demonstrates how governments and technology leaders
can together provide the network as a 'fourth
utility’ for delivering services that enhance
business productivity and quality of life."
As part of the deal, Cisco will be moving more into managed
services than it has before: running the network operations
centre once the network is commercial, says Lee. "Cisco will
take it over."
This launch, a few months away, will be "a multi-faceted
launch, not just data only", he adds, stimulated by the GCT
chip order — "the largest single order in WiMax
history", he says.
"With a network across the country the true potential of the
mobile internet can be demonstrated. There will be new
applications that wouldn’t come alive unless there
were a nationwide footprint." With such a wide-ranging network,
"the very proposition changes, the opportunities change".
But why WiMax and not 3G? "The biggest difference is the
chipset. Everything else is common," says Lee. "The chipset is
not yet a commodity, but you can drive down the cost and
improve adoption by removing the economic barrier. That opens
up the customer base. That’s powerful,
Existing WiMax deployments "don’t do justice to
WiMax", he adds. "It’s supposed to be a mobile
technology. How can you deploy mobile technology and then tell
me to use it at home?"
So WiMax will roam? "Roaming is not that complex," says Lee.
YTL is working with Clearwire which has "taken leadership in
global roaming. We have to build critical mass and roaming is
an important part of it. We are very much part of that
But the main goal "is to deliver on our promises in Malaysia",
he adds. "Once we’ve done that other opportunities
will open up."
Malaysia has 27 million people, with an average age of only 26,
and the internet reaches only 25%. "Our goal is to improve
Malaysia’s connectivity year by year to get
Malaysia to be comparable with its peers in the region
— which is much larger than 25%. We believe this
country deserves a lot more than it has now. I guarantee the
demand is there."
At the moment access is concentrated in urban areas: YTL wants
to run a nationwide service in the peninsula of Malaysia.
He returns to the scope of the service that YTL aims to offer.
"Globally WiMax operators are just selling dongles. That is not
what WiMax is supposed to be. Our aspiration is to unleash the
potential of WiMax."
The company has "a unique calling to show the world how this
promise is to be realised", says Lee. "The internet is about
democratising the flow of ideas."
What can it do? Clearly Lee and YTL believe it can do more than
just provide access to regular internet services — and
in order to stimulate the development of new applications and
devices the company has created a competition with prizes of $1
The mYprize Global Developer Challenge, as it is called,
"challenges developers from across the world to create unique
applications, content or devices that highlight the benefits of
YTL Communications’ 4G network in Malaysia", says
The competition — closing date September 30 2010
— is aimed at developers or anyone "who believes in
the impact of your creation". It is open to anyone around the
world, including individuals and teams, and ideas can be in
concept form or at beta stage.
There are prizes in three categories — applications,
ideas and devices — with prizes ranging from $200,000,
and a special extra prize for the best Malaysian winner of
But he’s expecting entries from everywhere. "We
welcome anyone who wants to create a better tomorrow.
Innovation is a global phenomenon." GTB
For details of the mYprize Global Developer
Challenge go to http://www.myprize.my/