THE good news for the Malaysian Internet community is that they will be able to subscribe to the High-Speed Broadband Network (HSBB) – the fibre to home broadband initiative, to be jointly implemented by the government and Telekom Malaysia Bhd, by the third quarter of this year.
With the HSBB network, Malaysians will finally get to enjoy services such as television over IP and high speed data access which are already widespread in advanced countries like Sweden, Korea and Japan.
According to officials, retail offers for high speed broadband will be available in the third quarter and that the HSBB is expected to provide speeds of between 10Mbps and 100Mbps to home users.
Furthermore, by mid-March, the six months deadline expires for Telekom Malaysia to articulate the terms and conditions of access to the HSBB network for the rest of the broadband industry players.
These terms and conditions, also known as the access list, will be closely watched as one of the points of contention of the HSBB project was that it would potentially give Telekom a monopoly on high speed broadband services. The access list is supposed to mitigate that risk by ensuring fair and open access to the HSBB network for other broadband providers on a wholesale basis.
Currently, even connections as low as 384kbps are being classified as broadband. If the definition of broadband were revised upwards, this would affect the household broadband penetration rate. In short, the expectations of Internet subscribers have, thus, been raised that improvements to broadband connection are on the way, and that we could see something akin to the kind of Internet service available to Singaporeans, Koreans, Taiwanese and the Japanese.
Presently, the lowest fee paying subscribers are getting a raw deal from the Internet service. First, the service provider seems interested in only selling the service without much regard to whether the infrastructure is able to support an expanding network service. This has often led to a lot of customer dissatisfaction and even charges of subscribers being shortchanged.
The supervisory and regulatory body – the Malaysian Multimedia Commission – should be paying more attention to whether those licensed to roll out the new technology and services are delivering on their promises or whether they are only interested in making profits at the expense of a reliable and inexpensive service.
Malaysia aspires to become a fully industrialised nation by the year 2020 but the whole country should see full wi-fi even before then provided the current global economic slowdown does not drag on for a long time.
How much of peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah are already enjoying wi-fi services? Before any thought is given to that, the first thing the authorities concerned should do is to ensure current services in terms of access and speed are upgraded. Indeed, when the new system and technology are rolled out in the later part of the year, subscribers should be able to see the improvements and benefit immensely from them.
Secondly, the use of the USB wi-fi modem for mobile laptops is also becoming very popular. But the cost, although lower than when it was first introduced, is still considered prohibitive. In fact, telecos promoting the service, should only charge a nominal fee, say, RM50 for the gadget rather than RM400 to RM500, and also reduce the monthly subscriber fee to encourage population or greater mass usage as this will help defray the investment costs of laying the infrastructure.
Another aspect which Telekom should look at is a hurried programme for the installation of optic fibre communication and more dependable distribution points instead of continuing to rely on copper wire which is, in fact, outdated.
Any meaningful improvement will only be felt when Malaysians can watch TV and download or upload programmes with greater speed and efficiency on the Internet. Presently, it takes a long time to download a full-length movie and is also common to experience frequent buffering when watching YouTube.
We are still not there and may have planned to get there by rolling out the new technology but when the time comes, we could find the promise a little short on delivery. Hopefully, this will not happen by the third quarter when we expect to see the High-Speed Broadband Network come on line.