Time fires first high-speed broadband salvo

A couple of weeks ago before Chinese New Year, local service provider Time dotCom (TdC), announced the launch of Time Fibre Broadband, what it claims to be the fastest high-speed broadband Internet service in Malaysia, touting packages that allow users access at speeds of up to 50Mbps (megabits per second).

A couple of weeks ago before Chinese New Year, local service provider Time dotCom (TdC), announced the launch of Time Fibre Broadband, what it claims to be the fastest high-speed broadband Internet service in Malaysia, touting packages that allow users access at speeds of up to 50Mbps (megabits per second).

At the launch of its service, TdC claimed its Time Fibre Broadband system is based on a full fiber optic network connected directly to the home and supports most broadband applications such as voice, video streaming, e-commerce and other Internet based applications, while boasting of new levels of speed and service quality never seen before in the country.

TdC CEO Afzal Abdul Rahim said the company is focused on delivering the first and only pure fiber optic broadband network, while others work on packaging services around existing or hybrid infrastructure.

"Simply put, Time Fibre Broadband is the answer to the long awaited needs of Malaysian Internet users, providing the highest speed and bandwidth capacity available in Malaysia," he said at the launch.

TdC's Fibre Broadband is, however, only in its initial phase, where it has launched its services only in Mont Kiara, a small suburb to the west of Kuala Lumpur , and is confined to seven condominium blocks.

The company noted that coverage expansion in phases two and three are still in the works, and it would not commit to an exact launch date. TdC is offering three packages; a 2Mbps package for 149 ringgit (US$44), a 5Mbps for 199 ringgit (US$59) and a 10Mbps for 329 ringgit (US$97).

Notwithstanding this, TdC's announcement and launch pre-empts the more highly publicized high-speed broadband project, dubbed HSBB, which incumbent operator Telekom Malaysia (TM) first announced in 2007. The state-linked company was awarded the mega HSBB project, which targets to cover 2.2 million premises at an estimated cost of 15.2 billion ringgit (US$4.46 billion) over 10 years.

Since announcing its plan more than two years ago, TM, according to industry sources, has been lagging behind in its initial HSBB roll out in targeted areas in the country.

In fact, reports began to surface in the middle of last year suggesting that TM would only roll out HSBB in late 2009. However, until now, all consumers have experienced are teaser advertisements about its HSBB service on its Web site.

With TdC's recent announcement, the spotlight is now trained on TM over its plans to roll out HSBB on time this year. To date, TM advertisements claim that it will launch its HSBB service sometime by first quarter of this year, with more areas to follow later in the year.

While TdC may have boasting rights as the first service provider to get into high-speed broadband services, industry observers have noted this is a very limited offering since the service is only available in a small confined area in an affluent neighbourhood in KL.

Still, some have argued that TdC's foray into such a service has thrown down a gauntlet to TM and that the fact that another company other than the incumbent has first mover advantage is good for the overall broadband landscape in Malaysia.

Candidly admitting that Time Fibre Broadband is a direct competitor to TM's HSBB, TdC's Afzal noted that it introduces healthy competition, cultivates better service quality and gives the user more choice in the market.

It remains to be seen how TM will react to this challenge and whether it will rise to the occasion in a bid to stave off the challenge thrown down by TdC. I do believe the competition introduced by TdC, albeit in a small way, is the beginning of positive step for the country.

However, competition is not merely about introducing a broadband service, but also about growing the service and rolling it out continuously so that this will keep the pressure on the incumbent and keep prices down.

In the past, many companies have tried to introduce competition in the broadband arena but have failed to consistently offer quality service as an alternative to the incumbent. These companies have seen better days, with their services and promotions coming to naught and have been since consigned to distant memory.

TdC therefore, will have its work cut out for it as rolling out fiber to the home is going to be a major challenge outside of condominium settings and into landed properties in disparate areas of Klang Valley.

Also, besides making the customer the center of their attention, something I've blogged about before, there are challenges pertaining to pricing for the service and content availability facing broadband players.

The two issues are not mutually exclusive as pricing of a high-speed broadband service is related to content provision. As of now, TdC has said "it is not working in partnership with any content provider as its focus is to offer the best infrastructure possible, with faster connection speeds and zero-downtime".

Some consumers I've spoken to have already commented that 329 ringgit (US$97) for a 10Mbps pipe without content is too much to pay, while others even argue that 199 ringgit (US$59) for 5Mbps is too high a price to pay.

As for TM, not much is known about what it plans to offer, as it has been quite tight lipped about it. Industry observers expect TM to bundle some kind of offering in the form of IPTV along with its HSBB service but very little has been revealed about this.

Whatever the case, my hope is that with these developments, Malaysians can finally take that first step into the illusive high-speed broadband experience sometime this year without having to pay and arm and leg for it.

Besides that, I also hope that the service will be coupled with useful content and applications that will spur ordinary citizens to want to get onto the high-speed bandwagon and enjoy the rich and holistic experience the Internet has to offer.

Otherwise, subscribing to high-speed broadband in the country may be a moot point.

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