Malaysia’s mobile data consumption surge overtaking neighbours: OpenSignal

  • Saw 15% & 31% increases in data consumption during start of Covid-19 lockdowns
  • Malaysia’s base data consumption highest in the region

Malaysia’s mobile data consumption surge overtaking neighbours: OpenSignal THAT mobile data consumption has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic is no surprise. We’re all mostly locked in at home, after all. What better way to spend the time than flooding our eyes with K-drama or partaking in good ol’ doomscrolling?

But it seems that Malaysia is doing more of that compared to the rest of its neighbours, according to a recently released OpenSignal analysis.

The mobile analytics company took a look at monthly mobile data consumption in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia over the period of Jan 2020 to March 2021

While all analysed countries showed sudden surges in mobile data consumption in March and April 2020 – around the time when local authorities introduced Covid-19 lockdown measures – Malaysia saw the highest increase in those two month, the company said in a statement.

During that period, the nation recorded 14.6% and 30.7% rise in March and April 2020 respectively, compared to January that year.

Malaysia’s mobile data consumption surge overtaking neighbours: OpenSignal In contrast, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia reported between 14% and 20% growth in data consumption in April 2020, compared to Jan 2020.

And while Singapore showed a decline of approximately 22%, in the following months, Malaysia’s data consumption retained its momentum – it saw and increase of between 15% and 30% per month (compared to Jan 2020).

This was consistently higher than Indonesia, Singapore or Thailand across all months, OpenSignal said.

Looking into data usage in the month of January over 2019, 2020 and 2021, OpenSignal found that Malaysia saw an increase between Jan 2020 and Jan 2021, which represented a 35.2% year-over-year (yoy) growth, compared to 23.3% for Indonesia and 16.9% for Cambodia.

What’s noteworthy is that the 2020/2021 yoy boost for Malaysia was much higher than the 2019/2020 yoy increase of 16.3%. Meanwhile, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia noted a slowdown in terms of mobile data consumption growth in the 2020/2021 period, compared to 2019/2020.

A challenge to telcos

OpenSignal’s analysis also found Malaysia’s base data consumption in January 2020 (19.5GB) was much larger than in Cambodia (13.2GB), Indonesia (11.9GB) and Singapore (11.8GB).

Thailand and Malaysia recorded similar data consumption levels in January 2020 (approximately 19.5GB), but after 12 months passed, Malaysia’s data consumption accelerated faster than Thailand’s; 26.4GB in Jan 2021, compared to Thailand’s 22.3GB.

Malaysia’s mobile data consumption surge overtaking neighbours: OpenSignal It’s worth noting that Malaysia had various initiatives to improve and maintain mobile internet connectivity in the past two years. This included free data packages, extended to the end of 2020, as a short-term solution to improve mobile internet connectivity in Malaysia.

Then there is the Prihatin stimulus package, which committed mobile operators to invest US$97 million (RM400 million) to improve their backhaul infrastructure.

The National Digital Network Plan (Jendela), developed by the National Digital Infrastructure Lab (NDIL), aimed to roll out new base stations and 4G upgrades of the existing ones, on top of phasing out 3G networks by the end of 2021; increasing 4G coverage to 97% and download speeds to 35 Mbps by 2022; as well as rolling out 5G networks.

The rise in data consumption is a massive challenge for Malaysian telcos, OpenSignal noted.

For instance, OpenSignal’s users on both Celcom and Maxis saw significant declines in download speed experience between April 2020 and April 2021 by 39.3% and 41.6%  respectively.

To increase the capacity of their networks (and meet Jendela’s requirements), three Malaysian operators — Celcom Axiata, Digi Telecommunications and Maxis — signed a 20-year agreement in March 2021 to jointly develop and share fibre infrastructure.

The companies said this will help the operators to deploy fibre backhaul to base stations more efficiently and in effect will improve 4G coverage and prepare the country for the future 5G upgrades, OpenSignal noted.

As Malaysia heads into its third nationwide MCO period, and with the announcement of the Jaringan Prihatin initiative, one wonders we’ll the surge continue rising.


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