Tuesday, December 14, 2010

DiGi needs fibre optics too

Just minutes after Maxis Bhd seals a 10 year deal to buy capacity on Telekom Malaysia Bhd's Unifi, Time dotCom Bhd and DiGi.Com Bhd decides that they should do something similar.
DiGi has dished out RM139mil contract to Time to build a fiber optic network over a 10 year period. 
All boils to fibre, will it be the game changer in the future?These two cellular giants are getting serious with fibre, wonder what is Celcom Axiata doing?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Set things right in the telecoms industry

SO much has been said by so many people over the past month or so about the way some things are done in the country's telecoms industry.
The hot talk from coffee tables to the blogosphere, the mainstream media and brought up in Parliament included:
● the way nine companies were assigned the 2.6Ghz or 4G LTE spectrum recently;
● the RMbil netbook scheme;
● the allocation and usage of the RM4bil USP fund; and
● the one that caught even the Prime Minister's eye allegations that one party is allowed to hog a large chunk of the 700Mhz spectrum band.
People are expressing their views whether via the mainstream media or blogs and some of the things they are saying cannot be ignored.
Some, unfortunately, went to the extreme. What with all the mud-slinging, even the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was dragged in.
Malaysians will say a resounding ‘Yes’ to more transparency in the country’s telecoms industry, including the awarding of spectrum.
Had there be more transparency from the onset, could things have panned out differently? Damage control is not easy and some parties attempting this just seem to be failing miserably.
Whilst we understand the Government's perspective in delivering things for the rakyat and perhaps those involved got over-zealous in trying to get the latest technology to connecting too fast and too wide, the policy-makers should have taken a moment to ponder on what is really needed to go forward.
There are lessons to be learnt from this episode; it depends on whether one is willing to listen and make the changes.
A case in point is the award of nine spectra to nine companies. This begs a question are we opening the floodgates for a rationalisation? Previously, seven spectra were dished out and the mobile industry was forced to consolidate to three players.
Spectrum awards should be put to test after market assessment rather than letting the market absorb the number of players, and seriously, do we really need nine to serve 28 million people?
Now that we have rushed to 4G, has someone taken stock of what spectrum has been used thus far and how much of it has been used to provide services to the rakyat?
Giving out computers is a noble thing initiated by the Government. But the Government got a lot of flak as allegations mounted that some of those who got the computers free, sold them.
Perhaps some units were given to the wrong people but we cannot build a society on that premise. We need a proper approach to ensure delivery only to the deserving and those who will appreciate the netbooks.
It is plain truth that there is a need for a common infrastructure so that all players can use it. For the growth and benefit of the industry, a single party should not be running a common infrastructure. Does this need to be re-told, over and over again, and do we need to rush to do things again?
As for the USP fund, it was a great idea. It is noble to bridge the digital divide but has someone done real checks in the remote places to see if the money has been well spent before more is pumped to fund expansion? Checks and balances are vital so that the rural folks also get on the Web.
The Government wants the best for the rakyat in terms of technology so we cannot afford a confusing state of affairs.
All the brouhaha should serve as lessons to move forward. It is imperative that the views of the rakyat be taken seriously. There should be pooling of resources and most critical of all, that there be transparency all the way.
No way should we repeat a rationalisation exercise and that is the route the younger generation wants to avoid as they'd rather be going forward than consolidating and doing damage control.
Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu hopes to learn something new everyday.
(Published in The Star on Dec 10, 2010 - Friday Reflections By B.K. Sidhu))

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mine with caution: Lives at stake

A miracle was what New Zealanders had sought since the Pike River coal mine blast last Friday. Even Prime Minister John Key was hoping for a miracle.
But 118 hours and 52 minutes after the first blast, a bigger blast shattered any hopes or dreams the New Zealanders had. Many people are just devasted after the second blast on Wednesday.
At the beginning of this week most newspapers carried the words hope and prayer'' in their headlines but yesterday, those changed to mourning and darkest hour.''
The front page of the New Zealand Herald was in black yesterday with the stories and pictures of families crying, while The Dominion Post's front page was in black too, with pictures of all the 29 miners and the headline Our Darkest Hour.''
The TV stations aired live feeds of the twice-daily press conferences since the first disaster and updates every now and then.
The Pike River coal mine blast is a major catastrophe that has gripped the nation. Wherever you go people just want to know the latest and the newspapers and TV stations are running around to provide updates.
You cannot blame people for hoping for a miracle as New Zealand has a population of only 4.5 million people, of whom one million are tourists. This is a country where the sheep population over 45 million far surpasses that of humans.
That aside, getting the miners out alive after the first blast had slim chances of success and as NZ Herald put it in its editorial yesterday: It is unlikely anyone could have survived the second explosion which was bigger than the first and if anyone survived the first blast they would have succumbed to carbon monoxide later.''
This is the second disaster to strike the country since Christchurch was hit with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 on Sept 4.
It is also the worst disaster in three decades since 257 people died when an Air New Zealand flight crashed into Mt Erebus in November 1979.
Of the 29 miners who would have been entombed in the 2.5km underground mine, the biggest number were New Zealanders, but there were also British, Australian and South African nationals.
The coal mine operated by Pike River Coal Ltd is said to be the country's largest underground coal mine.
Following this disaster, what's next?
For families who have lost their loved ones, the newspapers are talking about recovery.'' It is not going to be easy for the family members but that may be the only route to take let go and move on.
The good thing about Australia, New Zealand and some other countries is their solid base in counselling as counselling helps in coping with grief and depression.
But the solution does not lie in counselling, or compensation and help with the funeral expenses for the families. There will be questions as to whether Pike River had been operating according to standards specified in the country.
Since the mine was in a national park, there will also be queries as to whether the environment had been compromised.
New Zealand takes a lot of pride in conservation and sustainability and it believes in recycling efforts to preserve the environment. Could there have been a breach somewhere and could the blast have been avoided in the first place?
Coal extraction is a dangerous business and there is a human cost. When something goes wrong, the cost is not just in dollars and cents, it is about people's lives for which there is no replacement.
Not long ago there was the Chilean mine tragedy, now it is New Zealand and who knows where next.
The question is: are companies going to allow humans to perish because they need to meet demand for more coal or will something drastic be done to change the way mining for coal is carried out so that lives are not compromised?

  • Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu, who is in Auckland, is saddened by the incident.

  • (Published in The Star on Nov 26, 2010 - Friday Reflections with B.K. Sidhu)

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Tokyo as low as RM99 one way

    AIRASIA X will fly to Haneda airport, its 12th destination, on December 9 and is offering promotional fares of RM99 one way from KL to Tokyo. Booking period is from 23 to 26 September 2010 for travel from Dec 9, 2010 to July 31, 2011.
    It will be flying three non-stop weekly services between Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. Its other destinations are in Australia, India, Taiwan, China, Europe and Korea.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Perak MB: No relocation for airport

    IPOH: The state government has no plans to relocate the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport here.

    Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said with this, the proposed RM60mil upgrading of the airport would go on as planned.
    He added the state government was also mulling the possibility of setting up another international airport elsewhere in the state.
    Some quarters have stated that the current location of the airport is very strategic and can act as a catalyst for the city’s economy.
    “Therefore, the state government is of the opinion that the upgrading of the airport should be continued to enable small-sized aircraft to land,” he told reporters after chairing the state exco meeting here on Wednesday.
    Dr Zambry was responding to statements made by an MCA special committee set up to gather feedback on the proposed Ipoh Draft Local Plan 2020, which had recommended that the airport be relocated.
    The committee’s chairman Datuk Yik Phooi Hong had said that the airport should be moved to Seri Iskandar, which had been earmarked as a possible site for a new airport.
    Yik had said Seri Iskandar was an ideal location as it was situated between Lumut and here, two of Perak’s tourist attractions.
    His deputy, San Chak Chun was reported as saying that the Government should not waste RM60mil to upgrade the airport here but should put the money to better use elsewhere since it had not contributed much to the growth of the city.
    On the possibility of setting up an international airport, Dr Zambry said the state has been in discussions with a private company to develop such an infrastructure to serve as an aviation hub for the northern area.
    “This is, however, still in the planning stage. I will make my announcement in due time,” he said without disclosing the location of the proposed development.
    (Published in The Star on Sept 9, 2010)

    Astro TV conducting IPTV trials with Time dotCom

    PETALING JAYA: With Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) venturing into the broadcasting business with its IPTV (internet protocol TV) offering, Astro TV is not about to let any of its market share slip by without a fight.
    It is learnt that Astro TV is conducting trials for its IPTV offering in Mont Kiara by riding on Time dotCom Bhd’s (TDC) fibre optic fast-speed network.
    Astro TV needs an IPTV platform and if it were to wait till sister company Maxis Communications Bhd completes its network build-up, that may well give TM an edge in some places.
    Hence, the trials with TDC which began at the end of July involving about 100 users.
    Sources said this was a technical trial for the Astro b.yond to determine if the network was able to carry enough video content at fast speed. TDC is providing the GPON infrastructure for the trials.
    A GPON access network not only enables telcos to build and support video services, but provides the ability to scale the network to deliver any bandwidth-hungry services such as HDTV (high definition TV) and VOD (video on demand), an IP-based broadband video service.
    Astro needs a minimum of 15-20 megabits per second (Mbps) for content delivery and TDC’s network can provide up to 100Mbps. Sources said trial users were able to watch all of Astro’s programmes in HD and 3D quality.
    The trials make TDC a potential contender for access to Astro besides Maxis. However, since TDC only focuses on multi-dwellings such as condominiums and apartments blocks, its reach may be limited. TDC finds it too costly to focus on fibre to the home as done by TM.
    TM is bundling IPTV with its high-speed broadband service known as Unifi. But content will remain the differentiating factor in the IPTV business. For now, Astro has rights to loads of content but don’t underestimate TM as it is tying to link up with a lot of content providers to make its IPTV proposition appealing.
    Maxis, on the other hand, is working overtime to get a fast-speed Internet network up. It has appointed Huawei as the exclusive supplier for the next generation network. Maxis said the job would also include the building and managing of a full-service Fibre To The X network using GPON technologies.
    Maxis has also conducted trails for IPTV involving 50-odd users during the recent World Cup.
    Whether Astro will need more than one player to deliver its IPTV content is unclear but Maxis certainly is building a fibre optic network in its quest to become a quad player and it will have to rely on content from Astro.
    (by B.K. Sidhu)
    (Published in The Star on Sept 9, 2010)

    Initial analysis of Qantas' failed Rolls-Royce engine completed

    Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has completed preliminary analysis of a Qantas Airways Rolls-Royce RB211 engine that experienced an uncontained failure in mid-flight.
    It is shipping the engine to a facility in Hong Kong for a "detailed disassembly and examination, under the supervision of ATSB investigators", says the bureau.
    On 30 August, engine number four of the Rolls-Royce RB211 powered Boeing 747-400 failed shortly after the aircraft took off from San Francisco airport for Sydney.
    The failure was mechanical in nature and uncontained, and ejected material punctured a hole in the outboard engine and damaged the aircraft's leading edge flaps. The aircraft returned to San Francisco after the flight crew dumped fuel. No one was injured in the incident.
    An investigation into the incident is ongoing, says the ATSB. This includes detailed analysis of recorded flight data, aircraft maintenance documentation and interviews with crew members and passengers, says the bureau.
    The aircraft, registration VH-OJP, was built in 1992, according to Flightglobal's ACAS database.
    (Published in Flight Global on Sept 9, 2010)

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    YTL Comms’ WiMAX launch may not be on time

    KUALA LUMPUR: YTL Communications Bhd’s (YTL Comms) November commercial launch date for its WiMAX service may not be met if it does not get the necessary network interconnection with the other four cellular players on time.
    The interconnection agreements with the four cellular companies have been signed. A two-month period is needed for the execution.
    “The only thing that could stop us from doing the November launch is the interconnection,’’ said YTL Comms executive director Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong.
    Interconnection is vital since YTL Comms will offer data and voice connectivity, and the cellular prefix allotted to YTL Comms is 018. If all goes as planned, about 65% of the population in the country will be covered by YTL Comms’ WiMAX network at the point of the commercial launch.
    YTL Comms was supposed to launch the service in July but now the dateline has been pushed to November. But YTL Comms CEO Wing K. Lee (pic) claims that the July dateline was only for a soft launch and not a commercial launch and the latter will be in November.
    “We have been testing our network for a while now and we are very much on track on our network built-up,’’ Lee told StarBiz recently.
    Sadly, the service will not be available in east Malaysia for the licence that YTL Comms has is for Peninsular Malaysia and that does not allow it to roll out services in Sabah and Sarawak as well.
    But YTL Comms is hoping it would land itself with the extension into east Malaysia. It is still holding talks with the regulator on the matter.
    “It is part of the country and it needs to have good connectivity (as well),’’ Lee added.
    He would not talk on pricing plans and on the speed of transmission, he would merely say “it will be five times better than 3G and it will come in multiple of megabits.’’
    Converged services is what YTL Comms is working towards launching. That means you can have voice, video, data – all in one offering. The devices are being tested and by the time the service is available, the devices will be offered in the market place.
    Whether or not the interconnection comes on time, YTL Comms would go ahead with its plans with an educational programme of what WiMAX can do and what to expect at the launch date.
    YTL Comms is investing RM2.5bil to bring converged services to the market place. It is working with several partners such as Cisco, Samsung, Clearwire, CGT Semiconductors to bring the service. It also has a tie-up with Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Fiberail for backhaul operations.
    (By B.K. Sidhu)
    (Published in The Star on August 24, 2010)

    Minor reshuffling at UEM Group

    Changes in senior management to meet group’s ambitious targets

    PETALING JAYA: A minor reshuffle of senior management at UEM Group Bhd is taking place but this could signal the beginning of more changes to come since group managing director Datuk Izzaddin Idris has ambitious targets for the group to achieve RM3bil net profit in five years time.
    Suhaimi Halim, who is the current MD of Opus Group Bhd, will now head a new company that will undertake the asset management business.
    He will be MD of the new company. Opus is currently into asset development and asset management.
    It is learnt that Opus International (M) Bhd chief operating officer Muhinder Singh has been re-designated to UEM Group country head for India.
    Datuk Izzaddin Idris wants the group to strengthen its position abroad especially in the Middle East, Brunei, Indonesia and India.
    This would mark the group’s return into the Indian market since it left a few years ago. According to Izzaddin, things have changed for UEM Group in India as “the non-performance contractor status has been removed now and we are in a good position to bid for projects under the National Highway Authority of India.”
    It has been reported earlier that UEM Group was now free to pursue projects in India after being blacklisted earlier as a non-performing contractor in the country.
    Izzaddin wants the group to strengthen its position abroad especially in the Middle East, Brunei, Indonesia and India.
    Chief operating officer of PLUS Expressways Bhd Nik Airina Nik Jaffar will succeed Suhaimi as MD of Opus. Propel Bhd MD Tajul Azwa Bani Hashim will in turn succeed Nik Airina at PLUS.
    “The change is necessary to revitalise the group. The contracts of some senior team members are also up for renewal, so some shuffling will do the group good,” said a source.
    Those in the know claim that this is just the first phase of management reshuffling within the UEM Group and that more is expected as the right people will be needed to achieve the group’s ambitious targets.
    UEM Group now has a leaner business focus in four core areas – expressways, township and property development, engineering and construction, and assets and facility management.
    (By B.K. Sidhu)
    (Published in The Star on Aug 24, 2010)

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    The change you never thot...

    The head of Communications at Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM), Mariam Bevi Batcha has quit. She will join TM's rival, Maxis Communications Bhd soon. She will head Maxis Coms dept. To succeed her, Izlyn Ramli from Axiata Bhd will take over as head of coms at TM sometime in September.

    Izlyn is not new to TM. She was there before the demerger of TM and TM International Bhd (now Axiata) and is seen as going back home.
    Faridah Hashim, who how handles the media at Axiata moves up the ladder. She will take over as head of Coms at Axiata, a post Izlyn had held before she quit.
    Congrats to all the power ladies of the telecoms industry.

    FASCINATING AIDA - Cheap Flights

    MAS gets higher bookings for H2

    About 80% from travel agents, the rest from online

    PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has seen a 10%-15% improvement on its forward pre-load bookings for the second half of 2010 from a year ago, said its senior general manager, sales and marketing, Datuk Bernard Francis.
    The average seat factor for the third and fourth quarters in 2009 was 76.7% and 76.5% respectively. Its load factor for the 2Q09 was 65.8% but for the same period this year the airline reported average load factor of 74.2%, which is the highest achieved in the second quarter in five years. Traditionally the second quarter is the weakest for airlines.
    “It is looking good and passenger traffic is growing. We will continue to build traffic with our new aircraft and we believe we have the right business model for profit sustainablity,’’ he told StarBiz in an interview.
    MAS reported a RM553mil net loss for the second quarter ended June 30, 2010 mainly due to derivative losses from its fuel hedges. In comparison, rival AirAsia Bhd reported RM199mil in net profit for the same period on the back of strong growth in passenger volumes, ancillary income and higher average fares.
    Bernard said the bulk of the bookings for the second half of this year came from the Asian region, while bookings from Europe appeared flat for now. About 80% of its forward bookings are from travel agents and 20% from online bookings.
    The air passenger travel market, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), was recovering faster than expected and the Asia-Pacific region recorded the most significant demand improvements of 15.5% for June.
    IATA said load factors were in line with historical highs at 79.8% for passenger traffic in June and international passenger demand was up 11.9%.
    While forward bookings looked positive, the challenge on MAS going forward is to improve its yields. No doubt yields improved by 2 sen to 23.9 sen for the second quarter, but it is lower than what its rivals Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Cathay Pacific (CX) recorded. SIA yields increased 15% for the quarter and CX 17% for the first half.
    “The internal target is to push yields by 10% system-wide going forward,’’ Bernard said.
    To do that, MAS needs to shift its focus to the front end of the cabin. It could since first and business class travel is improving globally. During the economic downturn, airlines opted for economy class travel for their executives. The growth is seen faster in Hong Kong and Singapore due to its position as financial centres of the region, Bernard said.
    Malaysia Airlines aircarft on tarmac at KLIA. - Starpic by AZHAR MAHFOF
    He said MAS would focus 50% of its time on the front end, from 30% previously as the need to drive yields was crucial. That is one of the three things it will do. The other two are to conduct more aggressive sales campaigns and capitalise on its refreshed fleet and expand its network further. MAS is to receive three new B737-800 aircraft which it will deploy for certain routes.
    The airline has about 1,000 global corporate clients. Of this, 60% are on a corporate sales programme where they enjoy discounts of up to 25%.
    “Our plan is to push for corporate sales and our internal target is drive up corporate sales revenue to RM1bil this year. We are quite confident of achieving it as we have some aggressive programmes in place to push corporate sales,’’ he said. Last year, corporate sales revenue totalled RM500mil.
    Participating in trade fairs will remain a way to boost sales, and its recent participation in the MITM Travel Fair earned the company RM20mil in sales. The airline also tried pushing business class seat sales during the fair and to its surprise, RM1mil worth of sales were recorded.
    The airline would continue offering “everyday value fares” which it started two months ago, he said.
    Growing yields will remain a challenge for MAS as competition is steep in the market place and there is already overcapacity in the market since most airlines have since last year put back capacity they took out during the economic downturn.
    Bernard remains confident that yields will improve and he considers it is a matter of pushing harder as the airline offers “value propositions, and in markets where demand is growing, travellers want value propositions and not just cheap fares.’’
    By B.K. SIDHU

    (Published in The Star on August 23, 2010)

    QI invests RM100mil in Vasseti

    PETALING JAYA: QI Ltd, which is controlled by Datuk Vijay Eswaran, has fully subscribed to the entire offer of RM100mil redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares (RCCPS) in Vasseti Bhd, Vasseti said in a statement.
    Vasseti chairman Tan Sri Syed Yusof Tun Syed Nasir said the company had announced a fund-raising exercise earlier this month, offering an opportunity for high net worth investors and corporations to subscribe to the proposed RCCPS.
    “Coming as a pleasant surprise today, QI group executive chairman Vijay, on behalf of the parent company QI Ltd, has decided to fully subscribe to the entire offer,” Syed Yusof announced at the launch of the 1Gbps VDT Metro E Community Broadband in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
    “Further to the subscription, he has also decided to form a collaboration between his telecommunications unit QI Communications Ltd and our subsidiary, V Telecoms Bhd.”
    Syed Yusof said QI and V Telecoms would undertake joint offering or retail of telecommunication products, including broadband, voice and IPTV in all countries where the two are present.
    (Published in The Star on Aug 23, 2010)

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Syed Yusof buys into Vasseti, which is launching its broadband service today

    Latest..... Next location for service is Bangsar, in three months time

    KUALA LUMPUR: Businessman Tan Sri Syed Yusof Syed Nasir has bought a 30% stake in Vasseti Bhd, which is expected to launch its 1Gbps (gigabit per second) fixed line broadband service offering for residential users in select areas today.
    “Telecommunications is a growing business. It has a lot of potential and I believe it is not too late for me to be part of a growing segment of the market,” Yusof told StarBizWeek in an interview yesterday.
    Yusof has various business concerns and is well known for his interests in Hard Rock Cafe and Hotels and the Concorde Hotel chain. He is a partner alongside the Sultan of Selangor and Ipoh-born tycoon Ong Beng Seng in the RM2.5bil Four Seasons Place Kuala Lumpur which is being developed next to the Petronas Twin Towers.
    Syed Yusof at Vasseti’s network operations centre in Kuala Lumpur.
    With a paid-up capital of RM15mil, Vasseti has business interests in telecommunications and information technology, plantations, construction, tourism, real estate and human resource outsourcing services. Its other shareholders are Ranjeet Singh Sidhu and Datuk M. Harisharan Pal Singh.
    “I came on board early this year,” said Yusof, who is Vasseti chairman.
    Vasseti’s journey into telecoms began early this year when it undertook a corporate exercise to buy 80% equity stake in V Telecoms Bhd, which has a paid-up capital of RM502mil. V Telecoms holds network facilities provider and NSP network services provider licences.
    Yusof said V Telecoms had thus far invested RM500mil to build a fibre optic network that spanned the length of Peninsular Malaysia. As it does not have enough fibre in the ground, the company also buys capacity from other telecoms providers to cater to the needs of its clients which are mostly multinational corporations and some telcos. “It is a 50:50 combination between our own fibre and what we lease from others now. We need to expand our network and our target is to invest RM1bil by the year-end for this purpose,” Yusof said.
    V Telecoms’ investment far had been sourced via private equity and internal funding. The company has also just completed a fund-raising exercise for an additional RM100mil by issuing redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares.
    “We will need to raise more funding in the market for our expansion and we intend to source funding via private equity funds and high net worth individuals,” said Yusof.
    According to V Telecoms executive director Anthony Suppiah, wholesale makes up 70% of the company’s business and retail the remaining 30%. With the 1Gbps community broadband product, the company expects to reach out to more residential users to grow its retail business.
    “With 1Gbps, the network is capable of delivering very high speed broadband and can even cater for video streaming and IPTV (Internet protocol TV) besides voice connectivity. The residential offering will be available in Capital Square in Kuala Lumpur, The Loft in Bangsar and KL Sentral. We are charging RM199 per month for the 1Gpbs,” he said.
    Asked how the company could stand alongside bigger players with deep pockets and a much wider reach, Anthony said “we are not in competition with other fibre optic players, we see ourselves as complementing them. Our challenge is how we can brand ourselves to be a provider and expand at the speed the market demands. That, to us, is more crucial.”
    (Published in The Star on August 21, 2010)

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    You get a new date ... don’t stand us up again

    “MARKETEERS, geeks, web geniuses, Internet superstars, network gurus and finance wizards. Over 200 different positions in sales and marketing, product, IT, network, finance, supply chain and general administration are available. Now is your chance to be part of a world class team that will shape the future of 4G mobile Internet''
    That was how an e-mail from YTL Communications Bhd (YTL Comms) was worded.
    And if you log onto its website you will hear half a dozen professionals, including its CEO, cajoling you to join the team.
    If that is not convincing enough, go to JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur from 10am to 4pm this Saturday. Bring your CV too. The website says walk-in-interviews are running from Aug 14 to 21.
    YTL Comms may be finally getting to where it should have been more than a year ago.
    It got a WiMAX 2.3Ghz spectrum and was to roll out services for wireless broadband. It set a July deadline for a big bang nationwide roll-out. But, July has come and gone, and we are still waiting.
    However, to say YTL Comms is not doing anything would be unfair. Perhaps it is the speed issue. Which train is it on? The fast speed or one with coal-fired engine?
    It has a hub in Sentul where many of its engineers are mapping out its network; it has a list of partners that is the envy of the industry; there is a RM2.5bil commitment to the venture and YTL Comms has even thrown US$1mil at innovators to get the desired content for delivery to enable it to stand out from the rest of the pack.
    Let’s not forget the WiMAX and LTE (long term evolution) fight for 4G supremacy; that may have been a factor for the delay in YTL Comms’ nationwide launch.
    All the same, you cannot ignore remarks from the industry like this one: “It looks like YTL Comms is finally putting its act together after months of no roll-out of its WiMAX service, being slammed with a fine and yet again missing a promised date in July.
    “We hope the new delivery date of October/November is for real. What a delightful Christmas and New Year present it would make for the Government and the rakyat.’’
    That YTL Comms is hiring is good for the market as it provides job opportunities. But expect increased movements in the industry. A CEO of a WiMAX company said his engineers are “sought after...and keeping them is a constant challenge.’’
    YTL Comms may be working round the clock to roll out the service but one other WiMAX player recently had to retrench some workers due to network issues. Hopefully, this company can resolve its issues soon and return to the market with an improved offering.
    Jalenas Sdn Bhd, which was supposed to wire up Malaysia with high-speed broadband over a year ago, only recently hired some expatriates to jumpstart the operations. Its CEO James Angelone is now working overtime to get things moving.
    U Mobile Sdn Bhd, which has Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT) as its shareholder, hired Dr Kaizad B. Heerjee as CEO recently. We wonder when will U Mobile surprise the market with a killer offering since it has STT as a partner.
    What the market needs are players that can widen the reach and deliver quality services at reasonable prices. The minimum speed offered should be one-megabit per second and they should realise that the age of 256 or 512kbps is over.
    And since the whole premise of dishing out four WiMAX licences was to help increase broadband penetration rates, players who have not done much should get into delivery mode now.
    Hopefully, by year-end we can all say “it was worth the wait after all.’’
    (Published in The Star on August 20, 2010 - Friday Reflections by B.K. Sidhu)

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Cellular industry needs to consolidate, save spectrum and avoid duplication

    FROM seven players over a decade ago the cellular industry in Malaysia had to consolidate to a three-player environment.
    We know the reasons for that and all the “bailouts.”
    Along the way, a fourth player got a 3G spectrum and that brought the number of mobile players to four.
    And not so long ago licences for WiMAX were dished out to help push broadband penetration rates in Malaysia. Now there are four companies with the 2.3GHz spectrum.
    That adds to eight the number of players offering, or supposed to offer, wireless/mobile broadband services. Not all eight are in the fifth gear; some have not even rolled out services and others are still looking for investors and/or merger partners.
    Those who are in the game are cherry picking, focusing on prime areas, leaving a lot of space uncovered and the rural areas with no decent broadband services.
    Granted, we should not subscribe to a monopolistic environment and having more players creates competition. We need competition as this drives prices down and, hopefully, improves quality of services.
    But is every player delivering and did anyone look at their business plan to see if they have kept up to the plan? If not, why are they not taken to task?
    Essentially the situation has not changed from over a decade ago. In fact we have more players and, like the old days, “some are in trouble.”
    In comes 4G technology.
    The mere mention of 4G excites so many WiMax players for they believe they have the 4G standard to take them into the future.
    Agreed, the 2.3GHz spectrum gives them the ticket but it is also too early to say which standard will reign as the battle for 4G supremacy between WiMAX and LTE (long-term evolution) is getting hot.
    The 4G technology is the enabler of the next evolution in computing – mobility. Therefore it does represent an important shift in the market.
    The need for 4G networks arises with the uptake of mobile broadband and smarter mobile devices. The 4G enables the necessary data support for devices and is much better equipped to handle the way smart devices communicate in small bursts. But you may have to wait four to five years before 4G becomes widespread.
    In the country it is not clear how many 4G spectrum blocks will be dished out as the regulator is looking at a spectrum re-farming initiative.
    Demand for capacity and speed will force 3G players to adopt LTE. Whether they have invested enough and capitalised on their 3G networks is left to be seen but they surely want 4G as that is the natural evolution.
    But the 3G players are not the only ones eyeing the 4G spectrum.
    The lure of big margins and growth of Internet/broadband business has made some prominent businessmen excited about its potential and naturally the lobbyists’ work is at play.
    It is definitely good for new players to enter the industry as new ideas are welcome but if the players are not going to focus on investment and delivery, then it is a waste of spectrum and duplication of resources should be avoided at all cost.
    So the onus is on the decision makers to ensure that when the bids for the 4G spectrum are called, there must be transparency and the award must be based on merit and delivery rather than political patronage.
    As for the current eight-player environment, the decision makers should push for consolidation and cooperation, but no bailouts please.
    They should get tough with players on non-delivery or else consumers will continue to get inferior services in parts of the country and any delays are seen as roadblocks to the Government’s dream of having a knowledge and innovation-based society.
    Let’s learn from past mistakes and move on in the name of progress for the nation.
    (Published in The Star On Aug 13, 2010 - Friday Reflections By B.K. Sidhu)

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Water dispute may result in higher price for consumers

    THE cost of water to consumers could potentially go up if the water treatment plant for the transfer of water from Pahang is built in that state, according to those crunching the numbers. And the ones who have to bear the cost will be consumers in the Klang Valley.
    That is bad news and if it is due to the reluctance of one or two parties, they should resolve their differences.
    Even if it is a one or two sen rise per cu m of water it can set consumers back in their monthly bills by a few ringgit.
    Clean water should be made available to all at reasonable prices.
    Consumers in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya depend totally on Selangor for their water supply.
    The question is, should consumers be subject to higher prices because the Selangor government and the Federal Government cannot agree on issues relating to water in the state?
    The story of water has turned murky in the state.
    The Government, in its bid to consolidate the water sector, had set up Pengurusan Aset Air Bhd (PAAB) to buy over all the water assets in Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan.
    PAAB has been successful in some states but it faces a stumbling block in Selangor.
    The water industry in Selangor is fragmented; there are several concession holders.
    Offers have been made but to the concession holders, the offers are not compelling enough for them to part with their assets.
    They are holding out for better terms.
    But it is a stalemate where the concession holders are concerned.
    That is one issue.
    The other is that of the treatment plant.
    The Klang Valley is going to face water shortages in the years to come and Pahang is an ideal source of water.
    For that, an RM8bil tunnel is being built to transfer water from Pahang to the folks in the Klang Valley.
    Works are in progress.
    The ideal location for the water treatment plant is Selangor.
    The issue here is that the state is not giving its approval to the Federal Government so that the treatment plant can be built.
    The Federal Government wants to hurry things up, but the state says, “Take a ticket and wait for your number to be called.’’
    If the state government does not act fast enough it will face a water crisis in 2014 and that means you can forget about your luxury baths three times a day.
    Water will be rationed.
    The state denies this will happen and the bickering continues.
    Amid this, Pahang has offered land at its border with Selangor for the plant to be built.
    Bravo to Pahang. It resolves one issue but not all as the plant on Pahang land could potentially mean higher costs given the distance and other logistical considerations.
    Whatever the decision, consumers should not be held ransom by any one party.
    (Published in The Star on August 6, 2010)

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Telcos can afford to cut roaming charges

    BOTH Singapore and Malaysia want to reduce roaming rates for mobile phone users by the year-end. The commitment was made in Singapore on Tuesday.
    That would mean travellers to Singapore will pay less to call back home or even receive calls using their mobile number while in the republic. It would be the same for travellers from the republic coming to Malaysia.
    The last time this topic came up was in October 2008 when a study for rate cuts in Asean was talked about but not much progress was reported after that. Hopefully, roamers will not have to wait two years before the topic is revisited.
    Judging from the reports coming from Singapore, the celcos there are willing to sit down and talk about it, so hopefully some consensus can be reached.
    The suggested rate cut for voice and SMS is up to 30% and 50% respectively between the countries.
    SMS cost 5 sen within Malaysia but jumps to RM1 when sent from Singapore.
    Similarly, voice calls locally are from 5 sen per minute within Malaysia but soars to RM2 per minute when coming from Singapore.
    Tourist arrivals into Malaysia from the republic hit 12.7 million in 2007 and even if someone makes two calls a day while in this country, you can imagine the volume of traffic generated.
    But analysts crunching the numbers are saying that any cut in roaming charges between the two countries are not likely to dent the bottomlines of any celco as the cut is too small to make an impact. What this tells is that the margins for roaming charges are huge.
    In Europe, the mobile network operators are said to be making profits of more than 200% for mobile calls made by users while they are in another European Union (EU) country, and 300% to 400% for calls received.
    To be fair, operators here do periodically offer roaming discounts and some even have rate caps. Despite that, roaming charges ought to be reduced by more than half.
    Consumers in Europe are going to enjoy mobile roaming charges cap by July 1. The big four – Vodafone, Telefonica 02, T-Mobile and Orange – got together to try to circumvent the three-year-old legislation but failed. The laws were implemented to protect consumers against excessive prices there.
    A report said the maximum permitted charge for making a mobile call while travelling will fall to 32p a minute and the rate for receiving calls will drop to 12.5p a minute.
    For data calls, users will be cut off once they reach around £41.20 of data roaming charges per month, unless there is an explicit agreement with the customer to bypass that.
    Even the authorities in Australia and New Zealand are looking to cut rates for the Trans-Tasman area. This is given the big volume of roaming traffic between the countries, as about one million visitors travel annually between the two countries.
    Roaming is not cheap and it can make your heart stop when you get a huge bill after a fabulous holiday. The bill shock has forced many to leave their phones at home or look for cheaper alternatives such as call-back cards to make phone calls while travelling.
    Think of it this way. If EU can push its weight around so many countries and operators to cut rates despite the court action by the four, surely, the regulators in Malaysia and Singapore can make the operators come to some consensus.
    But do not allow operators to drag their feet or roamers may never see a cut. Roamers have enriched celcos enough, so now is the time for operators to show they will charge fair and competitive prices and give a fair deal for roaming. The cut would make a great New Year’s gift.
    If roaming for calls and SMS is not reduced, then roamers may have to wait forever for data roaming charges to come down as their data bills are just going to continue skyrocketing. That is another issue waiting to be addressed.

  • Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu is glad that her hometown Malim Nawar has finally made headlines the last few days and hopes an overhead bridge for the railway tracks there can be built to restore the charm of the once bustling mining town.
    (Published in The Star on June 18, 2010 - Friday Reflections by B.K. Sidhu)
  • Friday, January 29, 2010

    Making effective use of USP fund

    IT is a RM5bil question and the issue of contention is why the snail’s route is preferred in its distribution.
    That figure is roughly what is sitting in the coffers of the telecoms industry regulator, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
    As at end 2008, the amount was RM4.7bil but would have surpassed the RM5bil mark in 2009 given that about RM800mil is collected each year for the universal service provision (USP) fund. Telecom players in Malaysia part with 6% of their annual revenues to help bridge the digital divide in the country.
    The fund was set up in 2003 as players were reluctant to go into non-profitable areas to offer telephony services. A lot has changed since and the fund can also now be used to deploy broadband and cellular services.
    MCMC has identified over 350 underserved areas in the country that will have telephony/broadband/cellular access, but the pace of the entire process from tender to contract award is just far too slow and complex and creates uncertainties.
    Players continue to wonder why so much money sits idle year after year when it could be put to better use to provide access to a bigger population. That would also mean players being able to recoup some of the investments they put into the USP fund every year.
    What is really the problem here?
    Last year, the regulator called for several tenders beginning May, July and August, and up to now only very few contracts to wire up the underserved areas have been given out. The reason for the delay is unclear but certainly it points to the evaluation process.
    “There is lack of clarity even in the upfront briefing process and you can imagine what we have to go through to fill the tender documents, and when we cannot meet deadlines, we are penalised,’’ said one industry player.
    One particular contract all the players are hoping for a part in is worth RM1.4bil to RM1.6bil and involves several parcels. The contract was to be awarded last year but nothing has come out of the tender.
    The whole evaluation process aside, players have been waiting for two years for answers from the MCMC on the “clawback provision’’ where contributors are able to get back up to 50% of their contribution by applying to roll out their services in underserved areas. When is there going to be any communication from the MCMC on that?
    To make matters worse, the pace at which payments are processed after jobs are completed can test even the most patient of the players.
    About RM200mil of jobs have been completed but only RM30mil has been paid out, and this leaves doubts if players will receive timely payment if they were to take on more jobs from the regulator. Also, they are uncertain if the regulator checks on the completed jobs to see whether they follow the specs.
    The delay raises more questions than answers at a time when our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak wants things to be done expeditiously.
    So if things are not working out smoothly and the USP fund not being put to effective use, perhaps the model isn’t working out as planned. A review may be necessary to achieve the desired results or else ambiguity will continue to sow doubts in the minds of many.
    Whatever the issues, the Government’s 50% broadband penetration rate by year-end must be met and the underserved areas should not be the stumbling block when there is RM5bil waiting to be put to work.
    Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu hopes for greater transparency, clarity and fairness in the RM5bil distribution issue.
    (Published in The Star on January 29, 2010 - Friday Reflections by B.K. Sidhu)