Malaysia Opens Futuristic Cybercity
July 8, 1999
CYBERJAYA, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysia opened its version of Silicon Valley today, cutting the ribbon on a high-tech cityscape in a giant clearing where wetlands and rubber trees once stood.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unveiled phase one of the 1800-acre futuristic "intelligent garden" city named Cyberjaya - a project expected to eventually cost US$5.3 billion and usher Malaysia into the information age.
The first event will be the launch of smart labs at two schools in the town of Dengkil. Following on July 1, the MSC Central Incubator will open its doors to entrepreneurs and start-up companies looking to develop their ideas to market. The official opening by the Prime Minister of Malaysia will coincide with a three-day meeting of the Third MSC International Advisory Panel (IAP) meeting, made up of high profile leaders of the world's information technology companies.
"The (Multimedia Super Corridor) initiative will carry the Malaysian success story of growth and stability well into the next millennium,'' Mahathir said during the opening ceremony in a man-made tropical garden with cascading waterfalls and giant computer-generated images of himself.
Cyberjaya - "jaya'' means success in Malay - sits in the center of the so-called Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a suburb of Kuala Lumpur and one of Asia's most ambitious construction projects. It is due for completion in 2011. Wired with high-speed fiber optics, the corridor spans 300 square miles - an area roughly the size of New York City.
CYBERJAYA - an MSC designated multibillion dollar cybercity - is to be developed as an intelligent IT city designed for a population of 240,000, with about 90,000 living in the Flagship Development Zone. Nestled in a jungle of palm oil plantations outside Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjaya envisages offices for high-tech companies, providing top-quality business and recreational facilities, housing and supporting infrastructure. The MDC estimates that around 500 IT companies will be located in Cyberjaya by the year 2020.
At one end of the Multimedia Super Corridor are the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings, anchoring the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) located 45 minutes way from Cyberjaya. At the other tip is the US$2.3 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport - 30 minutes away. In between is Putrajaya, the new US$5.3 billion federal administrative capital of Malaysia, and Cyberjaya. Cyberjaya is also less than an hour from Port Klang and West Port, the country's premier ports. It is bounded by the proposed South Klang Valley Expressway in the north, the proposed Putrajaya Urban Motorway in the south, the North-South Central Link Highway in the west and Putrajaya in the east.
The project is Mahathir's crowning glory. The 73-year-old leader envisioned it as the nation's stepping stone to the developed world, transforming it into Southeast Asia's hub for information technology.
In step with Mahathir's dream, Malaysia is today the world's largest exporter of microchips. So far, 225 companies have applied to set up shop in the MSC. Among them are 78 foreign firms including giants like Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd.
But amid the grand opening, Cyberjaya faces uncertainty. While officials say the essentials are in place and hail its opening six months ahead of schedule, many are not rushing in just yet. A railway line to Kuala Lumpur has been stalled until 2001 and a network of three expressways is still under construction.
Aside from Cyberjaya's headquarters -- a few dozen neat two-story office chalets and manicured gardens -- much of the 7,100-acre high-tech valley is unfinished.
The essential infrastructure -- roads, some of the fiber optics cables, power and telephone lines and some buildings -- are in place. Cyberjaya will be equipped with a high bandwidth telecommunications infrastructure provided by Telekom Malaysia Berhad.
When completed, Cyberjaya promises 28,000 apartments and enough offices for 150,000 people, said Abdul Karim Abu Bakar, Cyberjaya's developer. Shopping centers, sports complexes and schools are slotted to spring up, all wired with state-of-the-art technology, he said.
Still, many companies say they'll wait until the blueprint becomes reality.
"You can't create a Silicon Valley in the jungles of Malaysia just building businesses and fiber-optic networks,'' said Darryl Carlton, the Australian founder of BizTone.com, a software company that plans to set up shop in the MSC. "I'm in no hurry to move out there,'' Carlton added.
The government has approved 103 of the 175 companies that had applied to set up shop in Cyberjaya. Of these, 41 have booked office space and 28 have made cash deposits. Among those approved are 12 European, nine American and five Japanese companies including Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Fujitsu, Motorola and Lucent Technologies (see WHO'S IN?). So far, 21 companies have moved in, including eight foreign firms. Notables include NTT MSC Sdn Bhd, the second largest R&D facility of Japan's telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT), and British Aerospace PLC. Also located here in Cyberjaya is the Multimedia University.
When initiated in 1996, the project wooed Silicon Valley's elite, offering incentives such as 10-year tax breaks and a cheaper alternative to Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which have similar high-tech projects.
Oracle, for example, was to build a telecommunications center in the MSC, "but we've put that on hold until we see what happens,'' William Houng-Lee, managing director of Oracle Malaysia said.
Analysts say Mahathir, the project's main architect, is largely to blame for the reticence.
During the region's economic turmoil, Mahathir scared off investors by blaming foreigners for the nation's woes. When he fired and jailed his popular deputy Anwar Ibrahim in September, it sparked concerns of political upheaval.
"Everyone's watching Mahathir. He hasn't been able to convince the big players to commit,'' said Bruce Gale, a Singapore-based analyst with Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.