Much of last year in Malaysia was focused on telco players in the mobile wireless space, which is not surprising given that existing cellular players such as Maxis, DiGi Telecommunications, Celcom, and to a lesser extent, U Mobile, were all trying to ramp up their wireless products and services and outdo each other in the market.
So it comes as a refreshing surprise last week when Maxis launched what it claims to be the first multiple-play service in the country that touts the ability for customers to have the freedom to choose the rich content and services that they want.
Dubbed Maxis Home Services, the service gives access to voice, high-speed Internet, value-added services and content to customers.
Customers will also be able to receive the service in the formats of their choice and be able to view these through multiple screens, be it their computers, tablets or mobile phones, at a time and place convenient to them, noted a Maxis press statement.
Speaking at the launch, CEO of Maxis Sandip Das said customers will now be able to access Maxis Home Services through fiber built by either Telekom Malaysia or Maxis' own fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) built-out areas.
Speaking of FTTH, since the launch of high speed broadband (HSBB) in Malaysia last March, incumbent player Telekom Malaysia has gone on record to say they've racked up about 60,000 subscribers with a target of reaching 125,000 by year-end.
Alternative fiber player, TIME dotcom, meanwhile is connecting businesses with its TIME Fiber service with packages of up to 50Mbps. The company claims to be able to reach 30,000 premises in Kuala Lumpur with 16,000 more to be connected in the coming months.
In the age where so much focus is given to wireless broadband not the least because of the mobility factor as well as the sexy gadgets that utilize wireless networks, it's easy to forget that fiber is still the de facto standard where high speed broadband is concerned.
While wireless providers have come a long way since their inception in Malaysia, the fact is that the reliability of a pure wireless system is not as good as the fixed line.
Although the chief advantage being touted is that subscribers can get hooked up almost immediately after subscribing to a wireless service, the truth is far from that.
This claim only holds true if you have wireless coverage in the first place. And in any wireless system, the service is only as good as its coverage; and coverage expansion can be a thorny issue because there are often problems associated with site and land acquisition for transmission towers in urban areas.
So it's good to know that industry players are bringing FTTH to the public and that with Maxis entering the fray, there hopefully will be more competition. Admittedly, there was a time in the past when FTTH wasn't the choice for broadband rollout because it was just too expensive to lay fiber on the ground.
Maxis knows this well as it had tried in the past to rollout a hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) service, a combination of fiber and copper technology, some 15 years ago and had to withdraw from that business because it just wasn't a viable one at the time.
But technology has progressed exponentially and fiber, in particular, has become much cheaper to produce, thus, cheaper to lay in the ground. On the demand side, high-definition video is putting pressure on service providers to deliver rich media and applications on FTTH.
Wireless networks will still have their place given that they have their own migration paths towards faster speeds through technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE). And there will be demand for these services as there will be still pockets where wireless networks are more cost effective to roll out than fiber.
But the truth is that while wireless networks are relatively fast today and quite important to help transition Malaysia into a fully broadband connected world, fiber will come to the fore in the next few years as the only technology that is able to take us beyond the megabit world and into the gigabit realm, especially in urban residential and commercial areas.
With fiber, surfing speeds in access of 50Mbps are easily achievable, and what's more, the stability and consistency of FTTH is better than that of wireless broadband alternatives.
For now though, Malaysia is in transition. And during this transition, what I would like to see is more competition in the retail end of service, driving them to be more competitive.
Complementing the more cost effective proposition is the need to give consumers easy-to-use applications and services such as online storage, software-as-a-service alternatives, music and video portals, a wide variety of IPTV options, gaming services, and value added services, in addition to high speed basic Internet and voice connectivity.
Malaysia's journey into high speed broadband via fiber has started off well. My hope is that the industry players will continue to stay the course, prices of services will become more competitive and they will continue to bring value to the lives of Malaysians.