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.

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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.

Love Me Like You Do

Having seen the film – 50 Shades of Grey – in the cinema, I have to say that the film was kind of under-whelming. The premise was simple enough but I guess that it is a very fine line for the director to walk – to make a feature film that didn’t cross the line into porn.

However, the theme song is another matter altogether. The tune has stuck in my head the entire day today. So, here it is.

Bonsoir Paris! Comme, ca va?

I came home from dinner to news that things are getting out of hand in Paris.

I have to commend the French authorities for swiftly tracking down the Charlie Hebdo murderers. Within days, they have identified and cornered the suspects. I have the feeling that if such a thing were to happen in Malaysia, our authorities would be at a loss.

However, the Kuoachi brothers are now ready to die as martyrs. I would say, don’t give them the pleasure. These people need to face justice in the Courts, not with the barrel of a gun. I hope that the French police do their best to apprehend these killers and bring them to justice.

Unfortunately, there is another hostage taking situation, which does make me wonder if there might be a third. You know the old saying that trouble comes in threes. I sure hope that it doesn’t happen though.

Now, the thing that I have to wonder is how these things will change Paris and France as a whole. I sure hope that the tensions don’t boil over and cause a meltdown in the French social structure.

Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Multi-lingual Malaysians

Malaysians are generally multi-lingual. That’s a statement of fact, not an opinion. Of course, levels of competency vary with each individual but most Malaysians are able to speak at least two languages well, particularly if they are educated.

At least two compulsory languages are taught in all schools – Malay and English. Then, many primary and secondary schools provide an option to learn a third language, be it Mandarin, Tamil, Arabic, French, Japanese, etc.

As they always say, the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse oneself in a society that speaks that language. Malaysians are fortunate because we are able to speak and understand each other in multiple languages. In fact, our sentences are often made up of words from more than one language.

However, the amazing thing is that we do not seem to realise how truly blessed we are. Most Malaysians take our multi-lingualism for granted. We don’t seem to realise that having the ability to speak three or more languages is a boon.

What I truly cannot understand are those who choose to avoid learning a language completely.

There are some who think that it is unnecessary to master the Malay language since it is only primarily used locally, and within the government circles. Work anywhere else and you will hardly find anyone using Malay, be it local or overseas.

There are some who think that it is wrong to master the English language since it is the last vestige of our colonial masters that must be cast off if we are to ever be truly merdeka. By doing this, these people also reject knowledge, since most modern knowledge is transmitted in English.

I am truly thank for for being born in Malaysia, where I had the opportunity to be fully immersed in so many languages.

Language is important. It helps us to understand one another.

Resolution 2015

It’s that time of the year again – to come up with a list of things that we are unlikely to achieve. But before doing that, I’d like to review my resolutions last year.

It turns out that of the five resolutions that I made last year, I have achieved most of them! Yeay!

I managed to finish my Law degree, with honours. I also made a little more money this year. I managed to change up my daily routine to work less and play more, especially towards the end of the year. Heck, I have a level 22 Awoken Hunter in Destiny and read more than 20 books this year!

So, this coming year, I should really get the following things done:

  • Professional Engineer
    I have put this off long enough. I should just get things done this year. I must get my forms in this year before the new legislation comes into effect.
  • Write More
    I’ve found a healthy outlet for my creative juices – writing articles for the press. I should increase my output though. I should also consider starting my book.
  • Make Money
    With rising cost of living due to the introduction of GST and the falling MYR, it goes without saying that I should try to increase my income to compensate.

I honestly think that these things should be enough for this coming year. It’s going to be a tough year but I’m hopeful that it’ll be a good year in retrospect.

Happy New Year!