Study: Most Malaysians on 3G networks actually have 4G-capable phones

A file photo of a motorcyclist stopping to answer a phone call with KLCC in the background. A report states that many Malaysians who continue to use 3G networks have upgraded their phones but not their mobile plan. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

The majority of Malaysians still on 3G networks are using 4G capable phones, a study by mobile analytics firm OpenSignal discovered.

Its data analyst Hardik Khatri said these users who have never connected to a 4G network – dubbed “3G-only users” – fell into three categories.

The majority (81.9%) had both 4G-capable smartphone and spent time in 4G-covered areas but still only connected to 3G networks.

“These 3G-only users either lacked a 4G-capable SIM, have not upgraded to a 4G subscription in their price plan or they may have disabled 4G on their phone,” he said, in a press release.

Meanwhile, 12% were using a smartphone that only had 3G capability, even if they were in 4G-covered areas.

Hardik said that though 4G-enabled smartphones were becoming increasingly affordable, some users may be holding on to older 3G-only models due to cost, with that still being a barrier of entry for low-income users.

In the third group were those outside of 4G-covered areas, made up of those with 4G-capable smartphones (5.6%) and those still using 3G phones (0.5%).

“This small percentage shows that a lack of 4G network coverage is not the main reason for the large numbers of 3G-only users in Malaysia,” he said.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had stated that 4G coverage in populated areas had reached 93.77% as of end-March, while the target under the National Digital Network Plan (Jendela) was 96.9% by end of year.

Jendela also aimed to sunset 3G networks by the year’s end, to reuse the spectrum for 4G networks instead.

OpenSignal data found a disparity in the mobile network experience of 3G-only and 4G users: with 3G having lower download speeds averaging 3.7 Mbps, or 72.1% slower than that experienced by 4G users (13.4 Mbps).

The 3G-only users also lost connectivity more often, being connected 90.9% of the time, or 7.5 percentage points lower than those using a 4G connection.

“This suggests that 3G-only users in 4G-covered areas would observe a substantial uplift in their mobile experience if they were to upgrade to 4G.

“There is therefore a clear opportunity for mobile operators and MCMC to evangelise the benefits of the improved 4G mobile experience to encourage 3G-only smartphone users to switch to a 4G SIM and tariff,” said Hardik.

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