Tuesday, 28 May 2019

CAN GEE WHIZ IT SYSTEMS SOLVE HUMAN-RELATED PROBLEMS?

I received this press release down below by e-mail from Sena Traffic Systems's public relations consultant on 23 May 2019 and it made me wonder:-

Slow traffic - courtesy The Malaysian Times

Sena Traffic Systems certainly has an impressive range of hardware and software traffic management equipment, systems and intelligent traffic management solutions on its website, as well as an impressive list of clients, especially the JKR (Public Works Department) and several local authorities, including the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) and several other municipalities in Malaysia.

CLICK FOR: Sena Traffic Systems

However, will Sena Traffic Systems be able to effectively obtain the cooperation of federal and local authorities to bring all traffic lights, at least on major roads in cities and towns across Malaysia under control of their gee-whiz system?

After all, Sena Traffic Systems says that their intelligent traffic management system “has the potential to reduce travel time (on our roads) by 12%”. So it's pretty obvious that their intelligent traffic management system will only have a limited effect on reducing travel time.

Heck! When our state assemblyman and local councillor find it hard enough to get local council staff to act on us residents’ complaints about clogged drains, potholes and other problems on the ground, what locus standi will Sena Traffic Systems have to get local council staff or staff of relevant federal and state authorities to act on problems on the ground?

Can this gee-whiz system solve traffic problems due to chronic physical factors of the road system, such as roads which are too narrow, have too many ramps bringing traffic into and out of a road or highway, creating choke points and bottlenecks in traffic flow?

Can their gee-whiz system magically widen roads, move choke points farther away from the roads to allow for smoother traffic flow on roads?

I know that's a silly question, since such physical renovations to physical road infrastructure require the approval and physical intervention by local authorities' physical contractors who will use physical equipment and actual humans to do the job, and that's provided these authorities act on traffic data and information provided by intelligent systems such as provided by Sena. 

Just yesterday, I was caught in slow traffic on the Federal Highway between the intersection with Jalan Barat and exit ramp leading to ICON City, which is shortly before the exit ramp leading up to the LDP, where there has regularly been traffic congestion on the Federal Highway before it. This was around 2.30pm on 15 July 2019.

Traffic flowed smoothly along the Federal Highway after these two exit ramps.

DBKL launched its ITIS (Integrated Traffic Information System) in 2005. It provides us with information about areas where there is traffic congestion along major roads in the Klang Valley but the Federal Highway remains jammed like hell at peak periods 14 years later, such as where traffic from and to the Pencala Link joins the Federal Highway near Kg. Kerinchi, where traffic from and to the LDP joins the Federal Highway near the former Motorola, where traffic on the Federal Highway exits towards the Seremban Highway and Cheras, traffic jams in Subang Jaya at peak periods.

How soon will the police or highway troubleshooting response teams attend to temporary factors causing traffic congestion, such as stalled cars, vehicles involved in accidents, fallen trees and so forth?

The way I see it, at most this system will be able to intelligently and flexibly synchronise the timing of traffic lights based upon traffic congestion it senses at any given time of the day, so motorists won’t encounter situations where the light is green in their favour at the junction they are stopped at but they cannot move because the traffic light at the next junction is red and the cars are backed up all the way to their junction, such as happens on Jalan 17/21, heading towards Jalan Damansara/Sprint Highway during peak periods.

This also happens on Jalan 14/29, Section 14, Petaling Jaya, where the traffic light at the junction with Jalan 20/7, just before Dataran 3-Two turns green, when the traffic light at the junction with Jalan 19/1 just after Dataran 3-Two turns red, so cars on Jalan 14/29 which get through the green traffic light at the junction with Jalan 20/7 must stop at the red traffic light at the junction with Jalan 19/1, roughly 100 metres away.

Back in the latter part of the 1960s, I read about plans to implement a “green wave” traffic light system along what was called Foch Avenue (now Jalan Tun H.S. Lee) in Kuala Lumpur. This system was supposed to ensure that the lights were sychronised such that they would be green at every junction at more or less the same time to enable continuous flow of traffic through several junctions before they turned red.

I don’t know whether it was actually implemented and even if it was for a time at least, I did not see any appreciable different in traffic flow along Foch Avenue/Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

I also rarely drive my car into Singapore but in 1994 I did when I visited by relations there and whilst driving along Upper Thomson Road, I noticed that the lights at several successive junctions along my journey were green before the next one turned red.

That looked to me like they a working “green wave” system in operation there and that was back in 1994 when the vast majority of us did not have access to slow dialup Internet, we still sent letters and postcards to each other by snail mail, client/server computing was the buzzword in IT circles at the time, TV was still free-to-air, mobile phones were mostly first-generation (1G) and analogue and about the size of a DECT cordless handset today, and were only good for making and receiving voice calls, though at the time, Singapore TV news reported the launch of second generation (2G) GSM digital service and phones, which besides voice, also included text messaging.

Well, “green wave” traffic light management and control was already in operation back in those “stone age” days of IT, though yes, their timing perhaps was not intelligently adaptive to traffic conditions at any given time.
 
Anyway, Sena has such a customised system, called a Tidal Flow System operating along Jalan Loke Yew in Kuala Lumpur today.

CLICK FOR: Sena Tidal Flow System

I rarely drive into Kuala Lumpur these days, as I prefer to take the LRT, Monorail or MRT, so I don't know what traffic along Jalan Loke Yew is like, especially at peak hours, so I don't know how effective Sena's Tidal Flow System is.

Anyway, besides what Sena Traffic Systems’ Alibaba Cloud-based intelligent traffic management system can do, unless the relevant federal and local authorities act promptly on the ground to address the chronic causes of traffic problems, I don’t see how this gee whiz system will solve real-world traffic problems on the ground in the long term.

You may want to check out two of my IT.Scheiss blog posts on this issue in 2017 and in February 2018 respectively.

“Can you believe that this gee whiz IT-based traffic management solution will solve our problem of traffic jams?”




Press release follows below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Alibaba Cloud and Sena Traffic Systems to Build a Smart Traffic Solution

The Smart Traffic Solution will develop a cloud-empowered smart solution that improves traffic environments

Kuala Lumpur, May 23, 2019 – Alibaba Cloud, the data intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, announced today a collaboration with Sena Traffic Systems (Sena), Malaysia’s leading smart traffic system controller, to build a smart traffic management system in Malaysia. Utilizing cloud empowered smart technologies, the system will digitally transform the traffic management infrastructure in the city and has the potential to reduce travel time by 12%.

The collaboration was announced during its launch today in the presence of by YBrs. Encik Tan Chuan Ou, Deputy Secretary-General (Operations) of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (KKMM) accompanied by Selina Yuan, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence International; Kenny Tan, General Manager of Alibaba Cloud Malaysia; and Dato’ Tan Boon Hock, Managing Director of Sena Traffic Systems. Surina Shukri, Chief Executive Officer of MDEC and Dato' Ng Wan Peng, Chief Operation Officer of MDEC were also amongst the special guests present at the event.

Alibaba Cloud will provide its City Brain solution, cloud computing resources and talent development programs through the collaboration. Sena will be responsible for the design and development of traffic light systems, and implementation of its patented algorithm for the city traffic light system.

Selina Yuan, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence International said, “The smart traffic solution will constantly learn and adapt to changing traffic environments, making the traffic management system a smart learning platform and no longer just an analytic tool.”

“The smart traffic solution and technology have the potential to improve traffic situation not just in Malaysia, but also in the ASEAN region. We will continue to empower all Malaysian stakeholders, in both the public and private sectors, with cloud-empowered technology to enhance efficiency, advance innovation and succeed in the digital age. Through this collaboration, Alibaba Cloud and Sena will also share the best practice with other regional partners,” Yuan added.

The demonstration at the event also showcased the capabilities that are essential for traffic management, including incident detection, congestion detection, vehicle counting, vehicle classification, traffic light optimization and traffic simulation.

"Sena built the Malaysia’s first smart traffic lights system and operated our smart traffic R&D lab.

With our collaboration with Alibaba Cloud, Sena will have an even better and more complete solution to solve traffic congestion in urban landscapes. We are eager to move rapidly beyond our current development plans for smart traffic and are already looking at exploring developments in several intelligent digital platforms for urban management systems such as street furniture controllers, IoT and smart city enterprise management together with Alibaba Cloud,” said Dato’ Tan Boon Hock, Managing Director of Sena Traffic Systems.

The collaboration represents the latest initiative by Alibaba Cloud to continue to empower the local technology partners in Malaysia. Alibaba Cloud setup its first local data centre in Malaysia in 2017 to provide enterprises and SMEs a local choice to build their businesses and run their applications on powerful, reliable and secure cloud platform. To further support Malaysian enterprises, Alibaba Cloud setup its second local data centre and its first cloud based Anti-DDoS Scrubbing Center in Malaysia last year to offer customers the highest level of protection against DDoS attacks and further enhances the infrastructure needed to support Malaysia’s digital economy.

# END

At the end of the day, IT is just and enabler, so before IT-based systems can solve particular problems, the relevant human-related problems must be solved first.

Otherwise, however many IT-based solutions are thrown at a problem, there will be no significant resolution long term.

Yours trully

IT.Scheiss
http://itsheiss.blogspot.com/

Monday, 20 May 2019

CONSUMER GROUPS TAKE ON THE IT SCHEISS

A fascination with this or that app (application) or IT-based system has been a typical trait in Malaysia for many years now.

We already have a tried, tested and working means of payment using Touch n Go cards which people are used to and which almost any idiot can use, with easy top up of prepaid credit at LRT and MRT stations, over the counter at petrol stations or convenience stores which all work fine for us but they now introduce some gee whiz app for us to use, which makes matters more complicated for users, especially those who are not so tech-savvy.

It was Leonardo Da Vincci who said - "Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication" and the Touch n Go card is simplicity itself but still, there are organisations, government departments or agencies which insist on making things more complicated for us.

However, Touch ‘N Go has introduced an electronic wallet service which subscribers can use to make payments, transfer funds, reload their Touch n Go cards, and pay highway tolls directly through the PayDirect system on open-toll highways like the Duke-Ulu Kelang, Damansara-Puchong and Shah Alam expressways.

However, PayDirect still cannot be used on the PLUS Highway, Elite Highway, New Klang Valley Expressway and Lekas Highway, according to the app, and a consumer group objects to this, since motorists must know which highways still do not accept PayDirect.

e-statements

Also, in the name of "saving the trees", banks, financial institutions, insurance companies and so forth are doing away with paper statements and are forcing their customers to accept e-mailed softcopy digital bills which require one to be tech-savvy enough to enter a password before they can read their statements, and I know people who are not tech-saffy enough to do that. Moreover, this requires we remember all kinds of passwords, which is a problem even for tech-savvy people like me.

This "e-this", "e-that" or "e-the other" is not about "saving trees" or "saving the environment".

It's all about saving money for the banks, financial institutions, insurance companies and so forth.

Our Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng should put a stop to this e-nonsense, which is a legacy carried over from the former Barisan Nasional government.

We don't have to be like cattle and go along with this nonsense just to appear "sophisticated", just because other countries are doing it or just because some IT company's sales and marketing tout tells us that we must do so.

This is our much touted "New Malaysia", isn't it but why are we still continuing with the legacies of the "Old Malaysia".

Free Malaysia Today article follows below:-
Suspend PayDirect system at toll gates, say consumer groups

Vinodh Pillai -
May 19, 2019 8:30 AM

PETALING JAYA: A consumer group has called for the suspension of the PayDirect system of cashless toll payments at highways, while another group called for a guarantee of safety of customers’ accounts, and a payback policy.

The warnings came from the Malaysia Consumer Movement and the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor. They said there were bugs in the service and it was premature to introduce it.

Touch ‘N Go has introduced an electronic wallet service which subscribers can use to make payments, transfer funds, reload their TNG cards, and pay highway tolls directly through the PayDirect system on open-toll highways like the Duke-Ulu Kelang, Damansara-Puchong and Shah Alam expressways.

(It cannot be used on the PLUS Highway, Elite Highway, New Klang Valley Expressway and Lekas Highway, according to the app.)

MCM president Darshan Singh Dhillon said it was pointless to launch the PayDirect service when there were still highways yet to be included, adding that the move appeared to be a gimmick to get people on board.

“Touch ‘n Go must do proper research before introducing such a service,” he told FMT. “Who has the time to check which highways are participating? Most of the time, I don’t even know which highway I’m on.”

TNG should suspend the service until all highways were included. “I’ve witnessed many getting stuck at toll gates of late and I can only assume it’s due to this,” he added.

Darshan said he had been using the e-wallet service for the past three weeks and found that users could not check the balance on their cards and that toll gate barriers on non-participating highways would not lift if the users’ Touch ‘N Go cards ran out of money.

This had caused traffic jams, he added.

He noted, moreover, that the service would not automatically reload a TNG card owned by someone who hadn’t linked it to his credit card. Even with a linked credit card, the user must reload his e-wallet as well and there was no information how much he would be charged for this.

However, a Touch ‘N Go spokesman said TNG cards could not be reloaded automatically because the card is a smartcard containing a chip, and transactions could only take place if the card is in contact with a card reader.

Darshan also said users could not undo a link between the wallet and a credit card. Touch ‘N Go said: “Users can remove their bank cards through the eWallet. Just swipe left and click delete to remove the card.”

Jacob George, president of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor, warned of a risk of such an electronic payment service being hacked, as had happened to the Google Wallet in 2012 and the Starbucks app in 2015.

“Are Malaysian consumers ready and aware of such risks and have those peddling the technology had enough consultations with stakeholders to initiate the roll out in Malaysia?” he asked.

He said Cassa was asking for a guarantee of safety, security and a payback policy from the promoters of the PayDirect service if consumers’ accounts were compromised. “We are also asking for more information and discussions on consumers concerns before any national plan like this rolls out,” he added.

Touch ‘N Go said the company was always working towards continuously improving their products and systems together with their partners. “Security is a priority for us,” he added. “Rest assured that we have taken additional care to safeguard our users,” he said.



Yours truly

IT.Scheiss

PENANG SHOULD NOT WORRY ABOUT ITS LOSS OF 'SUNSET' INDUSTRIES

I have oftentimes said that the sun rises where 'sunset' industries go to, whilst the sun sets where 'sunset' industries leave.

Well right now, Datuk Tan Teik Cheng, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Penang State Liaison Committee Chairman and MCA Vice President, describes the closure of four major electrical and electronic (E&E) factories in Penang since 2010 and contends that Penang has lost is shine as a 'Pearl of the Orient' and I will add is steadily losing its shine as a 'Silicon Island' or shall I say 'Silly Con Island'.

OK. Granted that the MCA is a member party of the Barisan Nasional coalition which is now in opposition, so we can assume that Datuk Tan Teik Cheng is being a tad overdramatic, especially since these seven E&E factory clousures and retrenchement of 5,245 employees began during the time of their rival Pakatan Harapan state government of Penang, under Penang Chief Minister Y.B. Lim Guan Eng, who now is Malaysia' Finance Minister in the Pakatan Harapan federal government's cabinet.

Anyway, the sun has been setting on Penang's famed E&E industry as these multinationals had been relocating to lower wage countries such as China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and so forth.

However, there still can be hope for Penang following U.S. President Donald Trump jacking up import tariffs on China's goods imported into the U.S., supposedly to protect American jobs and 'Make America Great Again', as this could result in China companies deciding to set up subsidiary factories in countries such as Malaysia, including in Penang, in order to circumvent the U.S. tariffs on imports from China, since legally, they would be Malaysian companies for trade purposes.

So current Penang Chief Minister Y.N. Chow Kon Yeow should more aggressively bid for investments from China, whilst Malaysia will also need to have in place a bi-lateral free trade agreement with the United States for this strategy to work, so our Economic Affairs Minister and Minister of International Trade and Industry need to work on this.

However, whether these China-owned factories will make E&E products or something else is left to be seen, though the Penang state government should institute re-training programmes for E&E workers to enable them to master the new skills required.

For instance, if a China company sets up a factory making toilet bowls and other bathroom accessories such as urinals and bidets in Penang, then the former E&E workers will need to be re-trained in the techniques, production processes, quality control and so forth involved in manufacturing these products, such shown below:-


Toilets bowls on display, including a high-tech one in the middle.

A bidet

A 'vomitorium' said to be in a Vietnamese restaurant.

That facility in the photo above is mistakenly called a 'vomitorium', when in fact a vomitorium is a passageway which allows rapid audience exit especially from the lower terraces of a stadium, arena or theatre as shown in the the illustration below.

An actual vomitorium, or as some theatres now call it - a 'vormitory'.


Who knows, a Malaysian could design a toilet which can flush without using water and patent the design as his or her intellectual property. 

However, Malaysian restaurants, especially those which hold all-you-can-eat buffets may want to consider installing such 'vomitoria' for their paying guests to vomit out what they had eaten so they can continue to eat some more, like the elites did in ancient Rome during the dying days of the Roman Empire., when bread and circuses were a great distraction for the populace, similar to league football, well choreographed wrestling matches where professionals wrestlers take turns to bash each other to a pulp without leaving a bruise, soap operas and so forth.

Since as manufacturing industries decline, they leave behind services industries, so the Penang state government may want to develop Penang's services industries, including restaurants with 'vomitoria' to attract tourists for the 'ancient Roman' experience, earn foreign exchange and provide services jobs for Penang's workers.

As part of its services industry drive, Penang state may want to install a network of public pay toilets around Penang where the state can earn additional revenue, including from tourists, whilst enterprising applications developers can develop mobile device apps which show where these toilets are located, plus prepaid fintech-based payment applications to pay the fees for their use.

Also, these public pay toilets can provide minimum wage (must be RM1,500 per month, not RM1,050 or RM1,100) paying jobs for unemployed graduates to clean them regularly and keep them smelling fragrant, which will Malaysia achieve the goal of becoming a 'high, income, knowledge-based, information-rich economy by 2020' (oops! postponed to 2024). 
  
Following below is Datuk Tan's article in the Malay Mail of 10 May 2019.

Fall in foreign investments and factory closures, sunset for Penang’s E&E industry — Tan Teik Cheng
Published 22 hours ago on 10 May 2019

MAY 10 — In just four years, seven multinational electrical and electronics (E&E) factories have shut whereby 5,245 employees have lost their jobs while foreign direct investment fell sharply from RM10.81 billion in 2017 to RM5.78 billion last year. This plunge should give Penang a wake-up call. However, not only does Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow not face up to the problem or actively invite other investments, he also ignores this investment freefall. With foreign investments departing with the closure of factories, the once renowned Penang electronics now turns into a sunset industry, Penang is left no longer attractive.

Since 2015 to March this year, seven multinational electronic plants have ceased their production lines in Penang or moved their production lines to other countries, resulting in 5,245 employees being laid off or accepted voluntary retrenchment. Apparently Penang has lost its appeal and its status as the “Pearl of the Orient” has been eclipsed.

Policies under the new Pakatan Harapan government are not pro-business, thereby undermining Malaysia’s wage growth and investments. These unfriendly policies, increase in foreign worker levy, insurance policies for foreign workers have increased the cost of doing business for local employers. Such conditions also resulted in the private sector being particularly caution in reviewing employee salaries or making new investment decisions. Additionally, the business community also faces many challenges. Uncertainties over policy trends also led to people being more cautious in their spending.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Penang was once ranked highest in the country. The then Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and the DAP government showed some eagerness to attract investments. However, according to FDI figures released by the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA), Penang’s FDI from 2010 to 2013 fell by 82%. Presently, for the fourth consecutive year, seven multinational E&E factories have closed, resulting in 5,245 workers being unemployed. Penang’s ranking for FDI in the country also fell from the first spot to the fifth position.

Moreover, MIDA’s statistics also revealed that investments into Penang’s manufacturing sector in 2018 was RM5.781 billion, down 46.54% from RM10.814 billion in 2017, a dive by nearly 50%. 

In Penang’s Industrial Free Trade Zone, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow sadly shirked responsibility. On the issue of FDI withdrawal, he responded that this was a “normal situation.” The Penang state government sadly refuses to own up to the fact that FDI has been continuously withdrawing from Penang, causing this northern state to lose its shine. 

* Datuk Tan Teik Cheng is the MCA Penang State Liaison Committee Chairman and MCA Vice President.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

Yours trully


IT.Scheiss


SO WILL IT BE CDEILGCIOM, CEDLCIOMGI OR WHAT?

Hmmm! This is interesting and kind of right up my alley.

Malaysia-based, international telecommunications giant Axiata Group Berhad (formerly known as Telekom Malaysia International) is in talks with Norway's telecommunications giant Telenor ASA  about a possible merger of the two giants' ASEAN and South Asia operations. Both giants have telecommunications operations in several countries in ASEAN and South Asia, including Malaysia, thus creating an even bigger Malaysian-Norwegian combined telecommunications entity across the region.


You can read the full article on The Malay Mail over here:-

In Malaysia, Axiata owns the Celcom-Axiata cellular communications operator more commonly referred to as just "Celcom", whilst Telenor ASA owns 49% in DiGi.com Berhad through its 100% ownership in Telenor Mobile Holdings AS which in turn owns 100% in Telenor Mobile Communications AS which in turn owns 100% in Telenor Asia Pte Ltd which directly owns the 49% in DiGi.com Berhad. Other substantial shareholders are Malaysian entities Employees Provident Fund (13.45%) and Amanah Saham Bumiputra (7.61%) and others.

You can view their shareholdings on Page 24 of DiGi.com Berhad's 2018 annual report.

The Axiata Group is majority Malaysian owned, with government-linked investment companies (GLICs) Khazanah Nasional Berhad owning 37.15%, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (18.42%), Employees Provident Fund (16.16%), others and the public (17.71%) and foreign shareholdings (10.55%)

You can view its shareholdings on Page 3 of the Axiata Group's 2018 annual report.


Now those of you who know me may think that I am a Maxis subscriber by the "012" prefix of my mobile number. Yes, I was a Maxis subscriber from 1996 till around 2009 or 2010 when I took advantage of mobile number portability (MNP) which had recently been approved by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and ported my number to Celcom, so I'm a Celcom subscriber now. Unlike replacing the SIM card in your phone with one of a different service provider or even of the same service provider where your number changes, mobile number portability allows you to switch service provider whilst keeping the same number.

Well, now that Celcom and DiGi could possibly be merged into Malaysia's largest cellular telecommunications company, the thought crossed my mind as to what it will be called and the following possibilities came to mind - namely, "CDEILGCIOM", "CEDLCIOMGI" OR perhaps something else.

Industry consolidation

This is not the first time Malaysia's cellular telecommunications landscape has gone through a process of consolidation.

Telekom Malaysia launched Malaysia's first cellular communications service called ATUR 450 in 1985 with the iconic "011" prefix and briefcase sized phones like the Ericsson HotLine model below which I saw in Amcorp Mall.

Fancy carrying one of these around today.

No you can't do WhatsApp, access Facebook, surf the net, send or receive SMS with one of these, since ATUR 450 was a first generation, analogue cellular communications service which operated at 450MHz, so youcould only use it for calls. Competing first generation, analogue services soon followed in 1989 with Celcom which launched its ART 900 analogue service which operated at 900MHz with the prefix "010, and Mobikom followed in 1993/1994 with its Mobifon analogue service which operated at 800MHz with the prefix "018". Mobikom also provided a digital version of the service.

They all operated using different technologies. ATUR 450 used the Nordic NMT450 technology, Mobikom used the American AMPS analogue technology and the American IS-136 TDMA digital technology, whilst Celcom used the ETACS technology. None of them used a SIM card and since they all used incompatible technologies, you would have to buy a new phone if you switched operator.

The digital era

Analogue cellular communication technologies were very much fragmented, even  across European Union countries which used different technologies.

It was not until the second generation (2G) of cellular communication technologies, which were digital, that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), defined as common European 2G technology and standards called Global System for Mobile communications (GSM), that 2G subscribers could switch between cellular service provider by swapping the SIM (subscriber identity module) in their 2G phone, with that of their new chosen operator.

The GSM standard introduced text messaging, which became very popular at the time, until free-of-charge, over-the-top messaging services such as Twitter, WhatsApp and social media became available later, especially on smartphones.

GSM also introduced international roaming, which allowed subscribers of a GSM network in one country to use their phone on the GSM network of another country in which they were travelling, provided that service provider had a roaming agreement with their service provider in their country.

Unfortunately, service providers tended to charge very much higher charges for international roaming calls, than they charged their home subscribers, so subscribers from other countries tended to get around this by purchasing a prepaid SIM card in the country to use, whilst there, or today, users of smartphones make Internet telephony calls using over-the-top services such Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and others.

Back in Malaysia, five cellular operators launched their respective GSM services in Malaysia in 1995, including three which launched service based upon the PCN (Personal Cellular Network) standard, which is based upon GSM, which was subsequently renamed "GSM 1800".

So there were Celcom with its Celcom GSM service with the "019"prefix,  Binariang with its Maxis service and "012" prefix. Mutiara Telecommunications' subsidiary Mutiara Swisscom with its DiGi service and the "016" prefix,  Sapura with its ADAM service with the "017" prefix and MRCB Telecommunications with its Emartel service and the "013" prefix.

Maxis and Celcom GSM operated at 900MHz, whilst DiGi, Adam and Emartel operated at 1,800MHz. Back then, DiGi, Adam and Emartel employed the PCN standard.

Subsequently, Binariang renamed itself as Maxis and Mutiara Swisscom became DiGi Swisscom and finally DiGi.com in 2000.

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Adam's "017" prefix ended up with Maxis, whilst Emartel's "013" prefix ended up with Celcom and together with DiGi, there were three GSM cellular operators left standing.

However, there was no mobile number portability at the time, so if a subscriber switched service provider, they would get a new number relevant to that new service provider, so this deterred especially business people from switching service provider, since they would have to inform all their customers and friends of their new number.

This changed after the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission launched mobile number portability in September 2008, which allowed subscribers to switch service provider whilst retaining their original number. 

GSM handsets in the 1990s, such as my first cellular phone, a Nokia 2110i, were about the size of a DECT cordless phone, though they still wouldn't fit in your shirt or back pocket.

Horror of horrors, I dropped my Nokia 2110i on the road, whilst crossing Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur and a taxi ran over it smashing its screen but tough as a tank, it still worked to make and receive calls even though I could not see anything on the screen. I took it to the distributor O'Connor's and had it fixed for about RM300, which was quite a bomb back then but it was worth it.

Until today, I'm still a Nokia fan and use an 2012 vintage, used Nokia Asha 302, which a friend gave me, for my voice calls and SMS, whilst I have a newer Samsung Android phone which I mostly use for WhatsApp and for photography as and when needed.

The Nokia Asha 302


I'm not one of those who goes around everywhere with my face buried in my smartphone screen and I keep my Android phone offline most of the time (greatly saves battery life), so as not to be disturbed by incessant WhatsApp messages. I'll do my social networking on my terms, not others'. 


Call me a reverse snob if you may, but neither do I believe in running like a hamster on a treadmill after the "latest" and "greatest" gadget which had just hit the market and make others richer whilst I get poorer.
Maxis and Celcom launched their respective third generation ((3G) cellular services around 2004 and in 2006, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission awarded additional 3G licenses to MiTV and TTdotcom, a subsidiary of Time dotCom and DiGi was stuck with providing 2G service, though at the time it considered providing 3G service as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) by leasing capacity over leased capacity on existing 3G operators' networks.

Siemens' second 3G phone - the Siemens U 15 launched in Vienna, Austria in October 2003

MiTV launched its 3G service in 2007 and later renamed itself U-Mobile and it continues to provde 3G service until today, whilst TTdocom decided to not launch 3G service and instead leased its 3G licence to DiGi to use to provide 3G service. so there were four.

"Rebel" technology?

Then in March 2007, the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission awarded licenses to four companies - namely Bizsurf (M) Sdn Bhd (a YTL eSolutions and in turn a YTL Corp subsidiary), MIB Comm Sdn Bhd (later renamed Packet One Networks or "P1" (a Greenpacket subsidiary), Asiaspace Dotcom Sdn Bhd and Redtone-CNX Broadband Sdn Bhd , to operate WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) networks.

Based upon the IEEE 802.16 standard for metropolitan area networks defined by working groups within the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), WiMAX is a wireless broadband technology, defined by the industry group, the WiMAX Forum, which at the time, competed with 3G and the upcoming 4G and BizSurf's, MIB Comm's and Asiaspace's licences allowed them to operate WiMAX networks in Peninsular Malaysia, whilst Redtone's allowed it to operate a WiMAX network in Sabah and Sarawak.

GSM, 3G, 4G, 4G LTE, LTE Advanced and the upcoming 5G standards are international standards defined by the Europe-based 3G partnership project (3Gpp) and proponents of WiMAX regarded it as challenging the 3Gpp's standards, hence WiMAX was regarded as a "rebel" standard in a technology war with the 3Gpp at the time.

Such technology wars are common in the information and communications technology landscape, either due to scientists' and engineers' passion for their pet technology for personal, professional or even ideological reasons, whilst for communications industry players, a new technology provides them with business opportunities to challenge the incumbents using established technologies.

For instance, a telecommunications engineer argued that the various patents of technologies used by WiMAX are more evenly  distributed amongst patent owners who contributed them to the standard, whilst patents of technologies used in 3Gpp technologies are mostly owned by a relative handful of big players, whilst the patents in WiMAX are more democratically distributed, thus limiting the adverse affect upon WiMAX if technology partner decides to pull the rights they granted to  WiMAX to use their patented technology.

In the consumer ICT space, such technology wars include the the ongoing battle between users of Apple iOS and Android,  between Apple iPhones and iPads versus Android smartphones and tablets, between Mac OS and Windows, earlier between Symbian and Windows Phone and even earlier between PalmOS and Windows CE.

Such user passions on either side of these technology wars have got pretty heated at times, such as at a medical technology conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2004, where at a session which discussed the merits in the use of PalmOS and Windows CE based PDAs for bedside medical applications, doctors ended up arguing over the superiority of PalmOS versus Windows CE and the session turned out to be unproductive.

WiMAX launches in Malaysia

Packet One was first to launch commercial WiMAX service in August 2008, followed by the other two, with YTL being the last to launch its WiMAX service in 2010.

However two WiMAX operators had since dropped out, leaving YTL with its Yes 4G WiMAX service and in March 2014, Telekom Malaysia acquired a 57% stake in Packet One Networks.

Telekom Malaysia relaunched Packet One as WeBe Digital in April 2016 and began full commercial service in September that year and has since rebranded WeBe service as as Unifi Mobile, both services offer voice calls and broadband data.

Meanwhile, a sort of "rebel" wireless technology, often described as "WiFi on steroids", WiMAX did not succeed in ousting 3G and 4G from their perch, and the two remaining WiMAX networks were progressively migrated to 4G LTE, so there are six cellular network operators in Malaysia today plus several MVNOs, including TuneTalk, Merchantrade, XoX, RedOne and others which provide service over one or more of these six operators' networks.

In fact, some of the six licensed cellular network operators also lease capacity on their rivals' networks to deliver their service, especially in areas beyond their network's coverage or where it would not be cost-effective to deploy their network in those areas.

For instance, when U-Mobile launched its 3G network, it only covered Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, and it required time and much investment to extend the coverage of its wide enough and fast enough to be an attractive enough choice for most users who want nationwide coverage. This is a problem which faces new entrants into the cellular communications business, whereby they have to compete with established incumbents who have had years of headstart and made the investments over the years to deploy their network sufficiently widely nationwide, and trying to catch up with them fast enough is prohibitively expensive.

So, U-Mobile found a solution by leasing capacity over Celcom's existing 2G network, so U-Mobile subscribers would still have voice and SMS connectivity when beyond coverage of U-Mobile's 3G network, whch gave it time to extend the coverage of its own network nationwide more gradually. After all, our cellular phones can automatically fall back to older cellular technologies such as 3.5G, 3G or 2G where 4G is not available.   

And, if this proposed deal for a merger between Axiata and Telenor ASA goes through, we'll be left with five cellular network operators to choose from in Malaysia, and who knows whether the weaker players amongst the other four may merge or be acquired and we'll have fewer - like three perhaps. 

Well, let's see what happens next.

Yours trully

IT.Scheiss