Share This

Friday, 29 November 2013

Poor 3G services under MCMC scrutiny, a move in right direction

3G services under MCMC scrutiny - Telcos using 900/1,800 Mhz instead of 2,100 Mhz

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has issued a stern warning to cellular companies that are providing 3G services on lower-than-agreed bandwidth, causing a deterioration in the quality of 3G services.

Most of the 3G players are using the 900 megahertz (MHz) and 1,800MHz frequency bands to roll out 3G services instead of the primary 2,100MHz band meant for 3G.

The regulator has given the players till the end of the year to come up with a plan to rectify the situation or face hefty fines, given the rise in the number of complaints regarding the capacity and speed of 3G services.

“We did an audit over three months ago and this has come to light. They have been putting up 3G coverage but not capacity and speed, and hence, the 3G services are slow. We issued the warning two weeks ago and have given them till the end of December to come back to us or action will be taken against them,” MCMC chairman Datuk Mohamed Sharil Mohamed Tarmizi told StarBiz yesterday.

He, however, added that “some of them have taken steps, but a lot more needs to be done”.

The rationale for telco operators to roll out their 3G on the lower bands is simply because it is more cost-effective to do so, according to telco experts.

Simply put, the higher the band, the higher the data capacity that can be carried on that network. However, the higher bands have smaller areas of coverage, and hence, the investment has to be higher.

“Some players have economised on investing in 2,100MHz to push coverage instead of higher capacity and speed. They are trying to compromise on quality. They may be stretching their dollar by not putting in enough base stations despite having made a lot of money all these years,” said an telco expert.

Another added that “consumers need more bandwidth for tablets than phones and this means the players may have compromised on the quality of service. Perhaps, some of the players had underestimated the tablet demand and had under-provisioned”.

The four recipients of the 3G spectrum are Celcom Axiata Bhd, DiGi.Com Bhd, Maxis Bhd and U Mobile.

The four players did not respond to queries from StarBiz as at press time.

“The concern is two-fold – first, there is concern about the quality of service of existing customers on the 900MHz/1,800MHz spectrum.

“Second, and more important, is the fact that rolling out 3G on any spectrum other than 2,100MHz could mean under-utilisation of the 3G primary band given to the players by the Government to provide maximum benefit of higher data capacity and speed to consumers,” said the expert.

“The onus is now on the regulator to find out if the Internet data rates charged for 3G services commensurate with the actual delivery of speed and capacity. If not, then consumers should not be burdened.”

Late last year, MCMC also dished out parts of the 2,600MHz spectrum band to eight players, including the main incumbent telco operators, to roll out 4G/ long-term evolution or LTE services.

Some of the players have asked to be allowed to upgrade on the 1,800MHz, on top of the 2,600MHz. Again, this would be a move to provide less capacity, but the regulator does not want a repeat of the 3G debacle.

Sharil said: “We have mandated that for every two base stations on 1,800MHz, operators will have to roll out one base station on 2,600MHz, as they have to provide adequate capacity and not coverage alone.

“The lower-bandwidth base stations are to accommodate for some handsets usage.”

MCMC has been making serious efforts at raising the quality of services for consumers in Malaysia.

Last year, it conducted a survey and found that the rate of dropped calls was bad among certain operators, and highlighted its findings.

- Contributed by  B K Sidhu The Star Nov 28 2013

MCMC moving in right direction - Operator must live up to their 3G claims!

KUDOS to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission or MCMC for checking on what the operators have been doing on 3G deployment.

The commission seems to be moving in the right direction in checking on the quality of services, which is a concern, and said to be lagging behind Hong Kong, Seoul and even China.

Over two months ago, the regulator did an audit check and came up with some interesting news. It found out that most of the 3G operators have not been using the 2,100 megahertz (MHz) spectrum fully to roll out 3G services. Instead, some have been using the lower bands, 900MHz and 1,800MHz, to roll out the services. It’s more economical to do so. They have been providing 3G coverage but not real 3G speed and capacity.

3G is meant to give you higher speeds just like 4G can give you super-fast data speed.

3G has been in the country for nearly a decade. The first two blocks of 2,100MHz spectrum were awarded to Celcom Axiata Bhd (then part of Telekom Malaysia Bhd) and Maxis Bhd in 2002.

Four years later, in 2006, Time dotCom Bhd (TDC) and MiTV Corporation Sdn Bhd got two more blocks of the same spectrum. MiTV’s spectrum is used by sister company U Mobile, while TDC, as soon as it secured the spectrum, sold it to DiGi.Com Bhd for a handsome profit.

To be fair, 3G has never taken off despite the hype. In Europe, operators paid hefty sums for the spectrum, while here, it was for a small fee.

But a decade later, finding out that the operators are still on a bandwidth that is lower than 3G and claiming to be offering 3G services makes us wonder if we have been overcharged.

This, perhaps, explains why there have been complaints about the 3G service; the speed and capacity have not been there, and it has been patchy and unreliable for most users.

There is no denying that the operators have been investing. It is not easy for them, as they have to deal with all kinds of challenges and authorities to get the service to the customer. However, when they claim it to be 3G service, it should be 3G service.

Two weeks ago, the operators were issued a stern warning to make the change or face hefty fines. One operator is rushing to do so, while the others are still waiting. They have till the year-end to face the regulator.

It is also unfortunate that it has taken the regulator so long to find out, as now the march is towards 4G and consumers will never find out how much extra they would have paid for the 3G service if it is not 3G speed and capacity they are getting.

But then, had the regulator not found out, consumers would not have found out, too. This tells us a lot about the state and quality of services, the promises and marketing pledges made, the pricing, the spectrum usage and all the money paid by consumers for what they had thought were 3G services.

However, as consumers, what do we benchmark our 3G services against? The onus is on the regulator to both set the benchmark and make sure it is adhered to. When we pay 10 sen for a product, we do not expect a five-sen product.

This is unfortunate, especially since our operators make among the highest earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation margins in the world. When they make so much, they should not compromise on service in the pursuit of profits.

Consumers should get a fair deal for what they are paying for. If indeed there has been any inconsistency, then the parties involved should be gracious enough to admit it and compensate the consumer.

Contributed by B K Sidhu The Star Nov 29 2013
Business Editor (News) B K Sidhu feels the local regulator should follow what the European regulators do; force operators to drop broadband charges.