THIRD generation (3G) telecommunications services are set to take off next year. But Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Maxis Communications Bhd, as the pioneering implementers, need to overcome enormous challenges to see the Malaysian 3G dream become reality.
An industry expert cited seamless roaming as the major challenge. Timely availability of handsets is also crucial. But most importantly, to drive 3G based services, the operators need to find out what applications and content the market wants.
In theory, a 3G handset should operate in the current second generation (2G) and 2.5G (also known as GPRS, general packet radio service) environment, but if the calls are not handled properly, the result could be dropped calls.
Sources say Telekom Malaysia Bhd has been facing problems over inter-operability issues in its 3G trials.
“The trials are okay but a bit slow. It is a new technology and many things are not going as planned. There are a lot of inter-operability problems with handsets and the network; and between one vendor's network and another's,” a source said.
Telekom had appointed several vendors to conduct 3G trials and would decide which to opt for.
The source said Telekom was seeking to offer the 3G-based services in the second half of next year instead of the first-half; it would need approval from the Malaysian Communications & Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to defer 3G service implementation.
Perhaps that is why Maxis is sticking to only one vendor, Ericsson, for the time being to avoid this problem.
June Liang, programme leader (telecoms group) of Frost & Sullivan confirms that inter-operability is a challenge for operators. But she calls them glitches, and expects the operators to resolve such issues over a six- to twelve-month time frame.
To her, the more pressing need is to educate, and teach users on 3G – what it is all about and what it can offer.
It was all about “creating a behaviour of higher data usage” that would eventually drive 3G growth, she says. This can only be achieved over 12 to 18 months.
IDC associate director Linus Lai added that it was akin to planting the seed of data usage. “Many people are now used to SMS and MMS – short message service and multimedia message service – and this certainly provides a platform for additional data services via 3G infrastructure.”
Maxis chief executive officer Datuk Jamaludin Ibrahim has been driving home the need for a migration to mobile data for over a year now, and Maxis' recent advertisement of some youths teaching two senior citizens to use SMS may just be the start to educating the marketplace on data services.
But more needs be done, says an industry expert. He reckons a concerted effort by all parties is needed to ensure 3G's success.
“You need a champion to move 3G, then others will join the bandwagon,” he said.
Lai said data was here to stay, the demand coming from the young and travelling businessmen. All this goes to show that people are demanding higher levels of application such as email, news updates and enhanced communications links to their offices.
Liang of Frost & Sullivan added that currently there were close to 200,000 GPRS uses in the country, of which close to 100,000 were Maxis customers.
“The early adopters of 3G are likely to be those GPRS users,” she said.
3G is all about higher speed in data transmission, up to 2 megabits per second, from the current 9.6kpbs-115kpbs; bigger capacities for both the up and down links; more colour and ability to handle video conference.
The lack of 3G handsets is a global issue, yet handset manufacturers are promising to flood Malaysia with hundreds of thousands of handsets next year.
High prices of handset will dampen 3G services take-up and that is why we may see a replay of the mid-1990s handsets giveaway to get 3G momentum going.
And while we talk about 3G deployment, Japan is already talking about 4G, perhaps in 2010.
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