Half-hearted Broadband Upgrades do more Harm

This article first appeared on DNA.

Recently, I received a phone call from Telekom Malaysia (TM) offering me a free upgrade of my high-speed broadband subscription from the previous 10Mbps package to the brand new 30Mbps package, for the same price.

I must be one of those irrational people mentioned in my previous article, who prefer to subscribe to slower broadband packages, because I rejected the offer of a free upgrade and decided to stick to my present 10Mbps package instead.

Previously, TM used to sell several high-speed broadband packages ranging from 5Mbps to 20Mbps, for both home and business users. Today, it has abolished all these packages in favour of offering only 30Mbps and 50Mbps packages to new subscribers.

According to a study by the Internet Society and TRPC on Unleashing the Potential of the Internet for Asean Economies, published in 2015, the average broadband speeds globally, within Asean, and in Malaysia, are about 20Mbps, 15Mbps and 5.9Mbps respectively.

These new TM packages should significantly bolster our national average to hit the 20Mbps target mentioned in the 2016 national budget, propel us to become the second fastest nation in Asean, and a world-class broadband nation. Bravo!

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. These new packages come with mere 5Mbps and 10Mbps upload speeds for the 30Mbps and 50Mbps packages respectively. There is currently no package on offer with more than a 10Mbps upload speed.

That is why I rejected the purported upgrade because if I had agreed, while my download speed may have improved from 10Mbps to 30Mbps, my upload speed would have dropped from 10Mbps to 5Mbps.

This has a negative impact on the way that I work and live. I do not understand why TM is packaging it this way.

Historically, before we had high-speed broadband in Malaysia, the broadband service that we had – Streamyx – was deployed over ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line). The ‘A’ stands for asymmetric because the upload and download speeds are different – for example, 8Mbps download with 512Kbps upload.

This difference in speeds was due to a technical limitation of ADSL technology. However, even the slowest upload speeds offered were still faster than dial-up speeds at the time.

As a result, consumers readily adopted ADSL and got used to the idea of having different upload and download speeds.

However, the high-speed broadband deployments of TM’s UniFi in landed residential properties use Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) while most high-rise buildings use Fibre-to-the-Building/ Curb (FTTB/C) coupled with VDSL2 (very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line) into each individual residence unit.

These technologies are symmetric in nature.

VDSL2 has a 100Mbps bandwidth and FTTx technologies have multi-Gbps bandwidth. Our neighbours down south can subscribe to symmetric 1Gbps broadband for a mere S$39 (US$28 or RM119) per month.

Therefore, I feel that it is disengenous for TM to set arbitrary asymmetric bandwidth limits when there is neither a technical nor a financial reason why such a difference should exist.

I will humbly suggest that this behaviour of arbitrarily limiting our upload speeds has a negative economic impact.

According to Pemandu, the very first Entry Point Project, EPP1 for the Communications Content and Infrastructure sector aims to, “enhance capacity, capability and competency in Malaysia’s creative industry to produce world-class content and make the country a regional hub for digital content.” It is expected to create 10,000 jobs and increase GNI (gross national income by RM3 billion.

Pemandu is the Performance Management & Delivery Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, tasked with overseeing the Government’s aspiration of transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020.

If you’re someone trying to answer the call of the Government to turn Malaysia into a regional hub for digital content, you may be making a mistake if you decide to upgrade to the new packages.

Slow upload speeds definitely affect you if you’re a content creator. If you’re a filmmaker, you will already know that it takes a lot of bandwidth to upload your latest HD (high-definition) videos.

However, high upload speeds do not merely impact filmmakers.

Higher upload speeds allow people to communicate better, by using video-conferencing instead of mere voice calls. It also allows people to work from home as effectively as they work in the office, which would improve family values.

It would also enable broad deployments of telemedicine, which could save countless lives especially in the interiors.

It’s not cool that TM has decided to arbitrarily limit our ability to work and live.

Furthermore, by arbitrarily limiting upload speeds, TM is inadvertently hurting our national aspiration of becoming active content creators and turning us into a nation of passive consumers instead.

TM has even graciously allowed us to consume content five to six times faster than we can produce it.

To be fair, if you’re currently on the 5Mbps package, then you will not have any negative experience from the upgrade other than having to pay more for it.

However, if you’re currently on the 10Mbps package, you’ll experience a downgrade if you decide to upgrade to the 30Mbps package. Instead, you should get the 50Mbps package.

I would have willingly upgraded to 20Mbps upload and download for the price of my current package. That would have been an improvement. It’s unfortunate that such an option is no longer even available.

While I applaud the effort to improve our high-speed broadband to meet international standards, I think that it should be done whole-heartedly.

Preventing Future Volkswagen-like Scandals

This article first appeared on Digital News Asia.

I am sure that most would have heard about the recent software scandal at Volkswagen. It has been widely reported by all international media and many have weighed in with analyses on why it happened.

It has even been likened to Libor on wheels, and this scandal may just change the entire automotive industry.

In the immediate aftermath, the price of VW shares have tanked by 30% and the chief executive officer has resigned. Millions of VW vehicles are being recalled and lawyers are tripping over each other to file class-action lawsuits. Even VW subsidiaries Audi and Skoda have been implicated.

While the immediate repercussions are grave, nobody really knows how far the fallout of this scandal will reach.

Personally, I think that this scandal presents an opportunity for reforming a part of the industry.

The automotive industry has always played a leading role in setting standards for software reliability and safety. Now, it has the chance to lead the way in ethical software standards too.

While there are questions about how such an unethical thing could have gotten past management, with the associated implications such questions bring, what’s shocking to me is how the engineers who have a professional responsibility of ensuring design safety could have written the software to lie about potentially harmful emissions.

A comparison has been made between the VW software engineers with the accountants in the Enron case who collaborated with the organisation to create accounting loopholes, and who failed to protect the public by not providing proper auditing.

Therefore, some feel that the solution is to do a better job of teaching engineering ethics.

With all due respect, I don’t think that teaching ethics is going to solve the problem of gaming the system. It’s clear that this VW scandal is not merely the product of rogue engineers.

I would humbly submit that the only way to prevent this ethical problem is by increasing transparency in the design of automobiles. As far as software is concerned, this can be accomplished by adopting an open-source philosophy for car manufacturers.

With an open-source philosophy, anyone would be able to study and verify that the cars work as advertised. No car manufacturer would allow their engineers to cheat if they would be discovered by a simple examination of the software source code.

In fact, a source code audit should be made part of any compliance process.

In addition, not only does providing open-source software ensure a permanent fix for this ethical problem, it has also been shown to improve overall software quality.

The previous automotive software scandal of Toyota’s killer firmware might have been detected earlier or avoided altogether if the source code had been made available for examination and audit.

With modern cars being very much software driven, it is also going to be a juicy target for hackers, as recent cases with Jeep and BMW have shown.

Hackers can now remotely kill a vehicle while it is moving on the road. While recent hackings were done by researchers, you can be sure that there are those who will do this for nefarious reasons. Our very lives are at stake.

Therefore, it is crucial for vehicle safety that all software must be securely written and audited. This cannot be provided for as long as vehicle manufacturers hide their software behind an opaque wall.

It is a well-established mantra in information security that security by obscurity is not security. While merely opening up the software will not guarantee security, it is at least a step in the right direction.

This open-source philosophy is already so deeply ingrained in the computer software industry that it should not be difficult to implement in the automotive software industry.

All that is required is a mind-set change in the boardroom and this scandal might just provide the necessary impetus to make that change.

One of my big frustrations with driving a car is with the dilapidated state of its software. While the embedded software that runs modern cars seem to be stuck in the 20th century, it doesn’t need to be.

Automotive software has already seen more innovation in the last few years than it has in the previous decade. It is now set to drive the growth of the modern car.

With the automotive industry set for an industry-wide software disruption by the likes of Tesla, Google and Apple, I don’t think that the traditional car manufacturers have a lot to win by protecting their software silos.

Instead, they could choose to lead by adopting a standardised software platform that is open-sourced and is widely available for all automotive use.

Look what such a thing did for the entire smartphone industry and how it changed the lives of billions around the world.

It is time for Volkswagen to issue an industry-wide call for a major collaboration on a standards-compliant and open-source automotive software platform.

Irrational Malaysians Prefer Slow Broadband?

This article first appeared on DigitalNewsAsia.

MALAYSIA’S newly minted Communications and Multimedia Minister, Dr Salleh Said Keruak, courted controversy recently by saying that Malaysian Internet users prefer the slower Streamyx broadband package that offers speeds of between 384Kbps and 1Mbps.

Many – including a former minister – have rubbished this assertion.

With all due respect, I think that our Minister has confused correlation with causation. No Malaysian would prefer to have a slower broadband package, if they had a choice.

The problem with the situation in Malaysia is that most people lack that choice.

The Minister himself points out that, in the end, it all boils down to affordability. This is completely accurate. If we had affordable high-speed broadband, nobody would rationally prefer the slower broadband packages.

In a recent study by the Internet Society and consulting firm TRPC on Unleashing the Potential of the Internet for Asean Economies published in 2015, they identified the Asean countries that do have affordable broadband access, taking into account GDP (gross domestic product) and purchasing power parity: Singapore and Thailand only.

The same study shows that these countries have average broadband speeds that are higher than the Asean average of about 15Mbps.

Malaysia’s average broadband speed of about 5.9Mbps is well below the Asean average. This is just plain embarrassing for the home of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia).

We are now lagging behind many of our Asean neighbours and this may have a detrimental effect on our already suffering economy.

Another study by Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University in 2011 has quantified the impact of broadband speeds on national GDP. It claims that a simple doubling of broadband speeds increases GDP by 0.3%, while additional doublings can yield even more growth – for example, quadrupling of speeds increases GDP by 0.6%.

Read the other way, this means that by preferring to have slower broadband speeds, Malaysians are also choosing to reduce our GDP by a significant amount.

To put things into perspective, according to the World Bank, Malaysia’s GDP was US$326.9 billion in 2014. So ‘halving’ our bandwidth decreases our GDP by more than RM4.34 billion (US$980 million) a year.

Now, chew on that number for a bit and consider why our Government is not too concerned with increasing our broadband speeds.

Sure, some may argue that we do not need to have super-duper high-speed broadband in this country. Some even suggested that the demand for high speeds in Malaysia is purely driven by file-sharing piracy.

But the fact of the matter is that higher bandwidth means more modern services can be supplied to every home.

The same study by Ericsson claims that growth stems from a combination of direct, indirect, and induced effects. The induced effect, which includes the creation of new services and businesses, is the most sustainable dimension and could represent as much as one-third of GDP growth.

Everyone already knows that the future of computing lies in the ephemeral ‘cloud.’ This means that we will need high bandwidth for everything, since all our data and our everyday lives are going to be stored and processed on the Internet.

There is no escaping this new paradigm of computing as those who have no knowledge of a world without the Internet embrace this.

Personally, I don’t like to speculate on what people are going to do with their high-speed broadband when it arrives in their homes. I believe that Malaysians are a creative and entrepreneurial bunch. Once there is abundant bandwidth, I can guarantee you that someone will find a way to profit by using it for something other than piracy or porn.

Of course, broadband speeds are not the magic doorway to a high-income economy, but it sure is a step in the right direction.

Furthermore, a recent report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has declared that access to the Internet is a basic human right. The same report states that Internet access facilitates economic development and enables individuals to enjoy a range of basic human rights, such as freedom of opinion or speech.

In fact, in some parts of the world, broadband rights are already codified into local law. While none of our Asean neighbours have adopted such lofty ideals, we can all immediately appreciate how faster Internet access provides more opportunities for people to better their lives.

Even the most authoritarian governments understand this.

In the case of broadband speeds, more is definitely better. Higher speeds allow people to communicate better, by using video-conferencing instead of mere voice calls. It also allows people to work from home as effectively as they work in the office, which would improve family values.

And it would also enable broad deployments of tele-medicine, which could save countless lives, especially in the interior and remote areas.

To suggest that Malaysians would actually prefer to subscribe to slower broadband speeds is plain irrational and I refuse to believe that Malaysians are irrational people.

Debunking Our Denials

Our Prime Minister has been recently caught in some very serious allegations. In response, he has issued an official statement denying such claims and pointing the finger elsewhere instead. Unfortunately for him, his spin masters aren’t very good at their job. The denials aren’t based on fact but spin. Let’s take a look.

Missing Monies

Tun then created a crisis when he recklessly claimed that RM42 billion was missing from 1MDB, when in fact these are audited debts backed by RM51 billion audited assets.

This is the tactic of denying the side accusation without addressing the actual issue at hand.

The actual issue is the mismanagement of 1MDB funds. Everyone wants to know if the monies were mishandled, siphoned or abused. While it may be true that 1MDB holds more assets than liabilites on paper, this does not mean that the funds weren’t abused or misused. Even if 1MDB made a profit on its ventures, it still doesn’t mean that the funds weren’t abused or misused.

When Tun asks where the money has gone missing, he doesn’t mean that the entire RM42billion is lost. In fact, Tun did a very simple calculation to show that there are monies that are known but that there are also monies that are not known where they have gone, potentially due to mismanagement of funds.

As an example, we would like to know why hasn’t the Finance Minister been charged for lying to parliament. It is evidently clear that the so-called 1MDB money redeemed from the Cayman Islands turned from cash into units of some kind. There are just so many discrepencies in the story of 1MDB that it would make an excellent Hollywood film later.

The fact that they were audited doesn’t help when 1MDB changed so many auditors in so few years and has delayed its audited accounts too. 1MDB must have one of the highest turnaround rates – 3 CEOs, 3 auditors and 2 chairmen in 5 years. Something must be seriously amiss since nobody seems to want to stick around even when they are amply compensated.

Using this argument of having more assets than liabilities is very weak when everyone knows that a large portion of those assets are merely inflated due to the prices of the land banks being revaluated. So, 1MDB spent a small sum of RM194million to buy TRX land, which it then revalued to RM7billion. then, it spent another RM1.69billion to buy land that was revalued to RM11billion.

If we merely consider the capital appreciation gained from these two pieces of property, then the assets of 1MDB should be significantly more than RM51billion. Anyone who knows basic finance knows that there are questions to be asked. There are a lot more loopholes in the 1MDB denial that has been reported all over.

So, trying to shut down accusations by claiming that the accounts were audited and that there are more assets than liabilities, isn’t the right way to go. Just completely open up 1MDB’s books for the public to consume if you truly want to convince the people that 1MDB was not mismanaged or misused in any way.

Personal Funds

The latest allegation is that I have taken state-linked funds for personal gain. I believe Tun, working hand in glove with foreign nationals, including the now discredited political attack blog Sarawak Report, is behind this latest lie.

This is the tactic of making up an accusation yourself and then denying it yourself.

Thing is, nobody has claimed that the monies was for personal gain. Sarawak report asked if the bulk of the funds – US$680million – was used as an election fund. (One should actually read the whole article before writing your denial.) This piece of denial is not denying the real allegation but merely denying a made up allegation.

Also, it is clear that Sarawak Report is not the only media making serious allegations about the monies. While nobody will take  Sarawak Report (an admitted blog) as the golden standard of journalism and reporting, the Wall Street Journal is quite another matter entirely.

The WSJ has also reportedly seen documents that traced the funds into our PM’s accounts. This is far more serious because people actually take the WSJ seriously. I doubt that their journalists would make such an allegation without seriously credible evidence in their hands. This is why the WSJ article is the one being quoted by other international news agencies and not Sarawak Report.

I don’t see the PM making the same discredited claim against WSJ even though they were both reporting on the same thing as a primary source. While the Tun may have some influence in Malaysia, I don’t really think that he has much influence over the WSJ or any other major international news outlet.

So, the PM should immediately demand for a retraction from WSJ and issue a stern warning of taking further legal action against them instead of trying to punch holes in their report by making false denials.

Doctored Documents

As we now know, a number of the documents on which recent allegations have been based were reportedly doctored. The person who was leaking these documents is under investigation by authorities overseas for attempting to extort and blackmail his former employer. This says a lot about the reliability of the documents, and those who are using them to damage our government and our country.

The trouble is that, the documents were never reported as being doctored. They are merely reported as being tampered with. There is a big difference between being tampered and being doctored. The choice of words used in the denial is quite telling. I think that someone is trying to spin it the wrong way.

Doctored is defined as, “change the content or appearance of (a document or picture) in order to deceive; falsify”, while tampered is defined as, “interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.”

These two words have very different meanings. The documents were merely reported as being tampered with. In fact, Sarawak Report has admitted that these documents were tampered with and has stood behind their reporting by claiming that the documents are still true as the tampering did not alter the content of the document, with evidence of the chain of edits to the document.

Now, the trouble is that according to a deputy minister, even the claims of tampering are questionable as these were made based on logical conclusion and not a clear factual assertion. In fact, a report claimed that the party that has originally made such a claim has refused to entertain any sort of confirmation that they had indeed made such a claim, which brings to question the veracity of the entire claim itself.

Furthermore, one should realise that blackmail and extortion only works if the documents are authentic. No blackmail would work if the documents are false, period. You cannot blackmail anyone with a claim that is patently false since such allegations cannot be proven and can be easily disproved. So, if this Justo guy was indeed trying to blackmail PetroSaudi, then there must be some truth in the documents.

So, they should actually release the real documents from 1MDB to show what are the actual details of the PetroSaudi deals. Let us have the real contracts to see if the deal was lopsided or if it was above board.

Unwanted at Home

I just read an article on TMI about Malaysians who give up their citizenship. While everyone has the right to renounce their Malaysian citizenship, I was curious as to why this was happening. One such person was quoted as saying that:

Lim, a single mother in her 40s, said the idea of renouncing her Malaysian citizenship was not foreign. She had grown up being told that as a Chinese, she was not welcome in the country.

What struck me was that, she had grown up being told that as a Chinese, she was not welcome in the country. I truly wondered who the hell told her such rubbish?

So, I thought back on how things were during my time growing up in Malaysia. The only people whom ever repeated such rubbish were the local Chinese community. I have never been told such things by my school teachers, by the government official or by any other random non-Chinese person on the street.

Therefore, I wonder if such a myth has been perpetuated through the generations, within the community, without any real pith or substance?

I can understand how such a myth could have started. When I was young, I used to be told that the local Chinese are unwanted and therefore, we have to work hard in order to survive. There are a lot of rather unkind sayings about the local non-Chinese community that often accompany such statements. So, being unwanted serves as a sort of motivational push to force the kids to excel at school so that we could all go overseas and leave this godforsaken place.

If that was the reason for creating such a myth, then I can understand the reasons for it but it is a myth nonetheless.

The scary thing about this myth is that I often see it spouted by those who have very little contact with the non-Chinese local community such as those who grew up living in local Chinese neighbourhoods, attended local Chinese schools and had friends mainly from the local Chinese community. These are often the people who shout about it the most.

While I have never attended Chinese school, I have heard rumours of their teachers spouting such nonsense. I would think that the purpose was to motivate the kids to study so that they could all go overseas for their education. In the end, I think that many are encouraged to go overseas including to places like Taiwan, where there is an active effort to attract Malaysians.

However, what I fear is that the myth has become self-perpetuating and is turning into a reality simply because everyone believes it to be true. Unlike in the past, today, we hear more and more stories of people saying such things and there are more and more people leaving our country.

While I don’t think that it’s a bad idea for Malaysians to work overseas for the exposure and experience gained, I do think that renouncing our Malaysian citizenship is an extreme stance to take.

In the end, I honestly think that such a myth should not be perpetuated further. Everyone is welcome in their own home. While the local Chinese may feel that we are unwanted in our own country, I think that we have ourselves to blame for the perpetuation of this myth.

Being Whiplash

One of my interns mentioned to me that her internship experience at my company reminded her of the film, “Whiplash”. I wasn’t aware of this film and looked it up – turns out that enjoys a very respectable 8.6 score on IMDB.

According to my intern, I have pushed them quite hard and she has taken it positively as she has also learned a lot during her internship with me. Personally, I do agree with the view taken by the villain in the film, that is a person cannot achieve greatness unless they are pushed to their limits.

That said, it doesn’t mean that I am a villain!

I just don’t treat my interns with kid gloves, especially if they’re already in their penultimate year. I am of the opinion that, in a society that has descended to a state where people are rewarded for simply turning up, it is our duty as part of the industry, to train our interns to produce quality work because an engineer that produces sub-par work can kill.

Well, to give you an idea of the film, here is the trailer:

PS: She has not been physically harmed by me, yet.