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News & Highlights

Not the technology, but what you do with it

BY CHARLES F. MOREIRA
Star Online ,29 Apr 2004

CELLULAR operator DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd ( www.digi.com.my ) is confident services, applications and content ?rather than network technology ?will drive adoption of its EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) services. 

“Accessing the Internet, e-mail, playing games and streaming video are possible over second-generation GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and enhanced GSM or 2.5G networks like GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE,?Erik Aas, DiGi director and head of mobile, told In.Tech last week. 

“However, if our customers have special applications requiring 3G data rates, we will provide them as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) over one of the 3G licensees' networks,?he added. 

The two local 3G spectrum licensees are Telekom Malaysia Bhd and UMTS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, a Maxis Communications Bhd subsidiary. 

DiGi currently doesn't have agreements with either but will enter into such agreements as and when required, Aas said. 

Under the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission's rules governing 3G spectrum assignment, licensees are obligated to sell capacity on their networks to service providers. 

3G lite
EDGE is regarded by many in the communications industry as a sort of ?G-lite?technology since it theoretically supports up to 384 kilobits per second (Kbps) data rates. 

This is the same as the current rate for 3G networks, though like 3G or even a 56Kbps dialup modem, actual EDGE data rates are limited by the capacity of the phones and other factors. 

In demonstrations by DiGi, actual data rates of file downloads and streaming video averaged around 100Kbps with peaks of up to 180Kbps. 

Not surprisingly, with those speeds, DiGi is offering similar types of applications, content and services over its EDGE network as 3G operators. 

DiGi plans to commercially launch its EDGE services over its 500 base stations throughout the Klang Valley by the end of June, and complete its nationwide rollout by the end of the year. 

It believes it's got the edge on its 3G rivals. 

“We've got the best data network in town right now and we believe we have an 18-month headstart on our 3G rivals, especially in data services. 

“When we go commercial, our EDGE service will be available to all our prepaid and postpaid subscribers,?said Aas. 

DiGi currently has about 2.2 million subscribers, of whom 95% are prepaid customers. 

Maxis chief executive officer Datuk Jamaluddin Ibrahim said in a statement last month that his company plans to commercially launch its 3G service by the end of the year, by which time Maxis and UMTS would have installed 3G across 300 base stations throughout the Klang Valley. 

So far, Maxis' 3G trial network comprises 20 “nodes?covering 16 sq km of Kuala Lumpur's central business district, Bandar Sunway in Petaling Jaya, and around the “vicinity of?Cyberjaya and Putrajaya. 

Telekom Malaysia's chief of group business restructuring and coordination Datuk Dr Mohamed Khir Harun told In.Tech that his company would be ready for a commercial launch by the end of the year, though he expected an actual launch sometime next year when the market is ready (see In.Tech , April 27). 

Partners please
DiGi is currently looking for more partners to develop content, applications and services which take advantage of its EDGE network's higher data rates. 

So far it has over 100 partners who provide content like ringtones, logos and games over its existing network. 

Seven of its technology partners such as bemobile, Channel 9, iNavigate, Ericsson, Nokia, ntv7 and Siemens showcased their offerings at the recent DiGi Now! EDGE technology showcase at KL Plaza. 

Among the solutions on show was Siemens' Mobile Office (M-Office) personal information management system that would enable executives to access their e-mail, contacts, diary and schedule stored on their company's M-Office server, through their PCs, PDAs (personal digital assistants) or WAP phones while in the field, over DiGi's EDGE network. 

“M-Office works anywhere within our network's coverage and doesn't tie users down to the very limited coverage of WiFi hotspots,?said Aas. 

Users would also be able to surf the Internet much faster than with a 56Kbps modem, without being tethered to a fixed line. 

Middleware provided by iNavigate ( www.inavigate.com.my ) aggregates various types of multimedia content and delivers it electronically to mobile networks, terminals and endusers. 

In a current trial, the middleware has been linked to remote cameras monitoring selected streets in Kuala Lumpur. 

The user can request a picture of any street with his mobile phone, and the remote camera will take a snapshot and send it to the user's phone with the name of the street, date and time it was taken. This way, the user can see for himself the current traffic condition. 

Four DiGi partners stream commercial TV programmes to phones, while seven provide movie trailers as video-on-demand clips. 

These partners include ntv7 which provides live TV-formatted clips with the correct data rate and frames per second for video-enabled EDGE phones; Channel 9 and AsiaStream provide video-on-demand, while bemobile, Channel 9, Asia Stream and iNavigate can encode the video stream. Gamers will also be able to indulge in the Ragnarok Online massively multiplayer online role-playing game over DiGi's EDGE network through a partnership with its licensee Nokia. 

Attractive pricing
All this makes one wonder how much all this data traffic is going to cost users. 

“At 5sen per 10KB for postpaid and 10sen per 10KB for prepaid subscribers, we've got the lowest GPRS packet data rates in Malaysia,?claimed Aas. 

“However, we've not decided on a charging model for EDGE just yet but it will be ‘attractive' while enabling us to recoup our investment,?he added. 

DiGi will have several charging structures, such as US$1 (RM3.80) per song downloaded, coupled with GPRS-style charging by data volume and perhaps some time-based charging, although Aas believes that timed charging is no longer suitable for data services. 

“However, the general trend worldwide is for telcos to offer more services for the same price,?he said. 

With DiGi's overwhelmingly large proportion of prepaid subscribers, many of whom are reputedly students and young adults with little disposable income, how many would adopt higher value data services? 

“Our dealers have told us that some companies are buying our prepaid cards in bulk to give to their staff, and we've got partners who've developed stockbroking and other mobile applications which currently work over our GPRS network, so our customers aren't all students and young adults with limited income,?said Aas. 

Last year, DiGi provided a special package deal and GPRS data rates for subscribers to SJ Securities' Sjenie Mobile stockbroking information. 

“Currently, all our subscribers use their phones for voice calls, 90% for SMS (short message service) and over 20% for more advanced data communication services,?said Aas. 

“But we expect 50% of EDGE subscribers to use these advanced data communication services,?he added.