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.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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