Consumer broadband service in Malaysia has been around for almost 10 years now, but it wasn't until 2005/2006 that the stakes of the broadband service in Malaysia were increased.
Until then, the only broadband service that consumers could count on was provided by state-owned incumbent, Telekom Malaysia (TM). But in 2005, wireless players Celcom and Maxis Communications upped the ante by throwing in options, with the introduction of the so-called Third-Generation (3G) wireless service.
3G services touted faster access speeds than prevailing wireless technology at that time, namely EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) and GPRS. But while it made credible inroads into the broadband scene, 3G technology didn't make much of a dent on TM's stranglehold on broadband.
There were a host of issues that stopped 3G in its tracks including somewhat unstable quality of service, lack of coverage and perhaps the biggest of them all--far too expensive handsets for the average Joe to afford.
It was not until the introduction of faster access technology called High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or a fancy way of saying that the service can breach the 1 megabits per second (Mbps) range, that 3G took off in a big way. Coupled with the better, more affordable selection of handsets available, only then did wireless players make a breakthrough in taking on TM's streamyx market share.
More recently, alternative wireless service providers were given licences to operate Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access or better known as WiMax. Some of these operators have yet to launch commercially in a big way, and in fact have been fined by the regulator for not launching according to the stated deadline--with the exception of one operator, Packet One Networks (P1).
Interestingly, P1 has come to the fore by embarking on an advertising blitz designed specifically to go after the incumbent player. Its "Sudah Potong" (Cut to WiMax) campaign depicts customers who testify how liberated they feel after cutting the wires that they claimed ensnared them, whilst they were using fixed broadband service--though a little corny--has been the talk of the town.
P1 has also gone on an assault in terms of pricing and, all of which are targeted at trying to produce churn from the other broadband players but none more than TM.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, not contented to just stand on the sidelines and take all the flak from P1, launched a counter campaign in an ad that depicts a man resembling P1's chief who is so exasperated with his wireless service that he turns to a window and threatens to throw out his wireless modem and laptop.
Coming on the back of these campaigns is DiGi Telecommunications, which last week launched its 3G wireless service with the promise of giving better value and Internet experience to customers who sign up with them. It also threw massively discounted promotions on 3G modems, smartphones, netbooks and the like.
The increased competition in the broadband scene in Malaysia--now with at least four major operators providing some kind of broadband service, and at least two more to come--is surely welcomed, and is indeed a good sign for consumers as a whole.
With increased competition, consumers get to benefit from lower prices, better service quality and choice--which is always a good thing. After all, it's been well documented that broadband service and the enhancement of a nation's connectivity to the Internet can result in tangible benefits to the country's GDP.
But despite these recent developments, it is with trepidation that I note this.
All theatrics, advertising and promotions aside, what service providers--no matter which camp they're in--need to do is to concentrate on just one issue in order to ensure broadband service becomes a way of life for both consumers and businesses.
That issue is to ensure that service providers go back to the raison d'etre for which they exist--to serve their customers. What this means in practice is to ensure that in everything they do, they must have the customers at the centre of their minds.
From the design of the network, implementation of rollout plans, customer provision and activation, customer service enquiries and complaints, billing disputes, and even to the termination of service--everything should be about the customers and their experience.
This implies that they have to provide top-class service to their customers. No more must the customer experience inept call center officers who are just parroting a checklist when helping customers troubleshoot their problems; no more advertisements that claim high speeds, high quality but in actuality are not true; no more promises of deadlines that will be met but fail to be achieved.
In their haste to compete with one another, service providers have put so much into outdoing each other that sometimes, the most important element--the customer--gets sidelined in the process.
Granted, the general standards of serving the customers have improved over the years but today, all service providers still suffer from the lack of customer centricity in one form or another.
Because of the increased competition in the market, service providers must realise that customer loyalty is no longer a matter of locking them to their service and only giving them Hobson's choice, but rather it's about earning their loyalty by focusing on what customers really want.
Perhaps the service provider that can be the first to truly understand this will have the first-mover advantage and this may determine which player wins the broadband war at the end of the day.