Internet speeds: It’s not just about the infra, silly

  • Malaysia’s perceived Net speed same as Philippines, Vietnam
  • The question then is, what can Google do to help?

Internet speeds: It’s not just about the infra, sillyMALAYSIANS have good reason to complain about the state of Internet access in the country: On average, the broadband speed here has all the viscosity of molasses on a cold wintry morning, while the per-megabit-cost makes one wonder if we use diamond-flecked fiber.
 
However, the Internet infrastructure is only one factor. It’s all about “perceived speed” and the end-user experience, says Nelson Mattos (pic), Google Inc vice president for emerging markets.
 
“Most people think, ‘Get the telco [telecommunications service provider] to fix it,’ and that’s that,” he says. “But it doesn’t help if you have to go through miles and miles of submarine cable to get to your data.”
 
Speaking to select media in Kuala Lumpur recently, Mattos notes that many factors contribute to the perceived speed of Internet access: The amount of data stored locally is another, for example.
 
According to the Mountain View, California-based company’s findings, using how long a webpage takes to load as a yardstick, Malaysia has about the same perceived speed as the Philippines and Vietnam, is two to three times slower than Germany and France, and is twice as slow as Australia.
 
Yes, the perceived speed is twice as fast down south in Singapore.
 
Other metrics do not paint a pretty picture either. In Akamai Technologies’ 2011 State of the Internet report, the average broadband connection speed in Malaysia in 2011 was recorded at 1.8 megabits per second (mbps), just edging Vietnam’s 1.6mbps and woefully short of Thailand’s 3.1mbps. Singapore was close to breaching the 5mbps mark.

In 2009, Business Times Singapore reported that Malaysians pay among the highest rates for the Internet connections. Quoting an Intel Corp executive, it said that for the fastest bandwidth of 100 megabit per second, Singapore users pay nearly US$85 (RM286.56) or US$10.20 mbps.
 
“For 4mbps in Malaysia, consumers pay US$76 or US$35 mbps. Vietnam’s 3mbps bandwidth — although a tad slower — costs users US$50.55, or US$16.85 mbps,” the paper was said to have reported by The Malaysian Insider.
 
Google’s Mattos was in Kuala Lumpur on a one-month “study tour” of the South-East Asian region, which comes under his portfolio, “to understand what is happening with the Internet [in these countries], what challenges and issues exist.”
 
This includes meeting government officials, operators, startups and the Internet community in each country, he says. “I always ask the question, ‘What can Google do to help?’ “
 
So what can Google do?
 
Three-pronged thrust
 
Short of using its deep pockets to buy over Telekom Malaysia, Google believes it can help by working on three fronts.
 
According to Mattos, all aspiring economies [developing economies on the cusp of becoming developed] have similar challenges. The first is barriers to individuals and businesses coming online, which usually include the infrastructure and cost of connectivity.
 
“This morning I heard a lot from the Internet Society [of Malaysia] on the high cost of bandwidth in the country,” he says. “Barriers are not just about that but also whether the population have the right type of access devices, such as web-enabled mobile phones.”
 
 “We also look at support for Internet access in schools and universities, so that you can educate people early in their careers on how to take advantage of the Internet,” he says, adding that Google has “several programs in that space.”
 
The second type of barrier is whether there are enough products appealing enough for individuals and businesses; and just as important, whether the amount of local content is significant and relevant enough.
 
“We tend to see this almost everywhere in the world, even in developed countries – the more locally relevant content there is available, the more engaged the user is,” he says.
 
The third area is the community that further develops the Internet – the developer community, the IT professional and the business user. “We look at how big the community is and where the level of their skills are.”
 
Google tends to have programs that focus on all three: To get more people online; to ensure there is enough locally relevant information; and finally, help grow and deepen the knowledge of the community, he says.
 
When asked what the most pressing problem in Malaysia was, Mattos does not hesitate: “Local content.”
 
Internet speeds: It’s not just about the infra, sillyGo local, bro
 
Local content here is not just restricted to local-language content, but just about any data and information on the Internet, including YouTube videos.

“We believe it is important to get the communities together and get them to drive the development of local content,” says Mattos. “And if you look at some of the programs Google has had in Malaysia in the past several months, all have been very much in alignment with that.”
 
One major thrust is the Get Malaysian Businesses Online (GMBO) initiative, launched last November with Google investing RM10 million (US$3.2 million) and working together with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, .MY Domain Registry and training specialist iTrain.
 
The target is to get 50,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to start their business online. More than 15,000 are already on board.
 
“There are two major benefits to GMBO. There is the financial benefits for the businesses, with new channels for them to generate revenue, plus there is the added local content that comes online,” says Mattos.
 
The company has also launched YouTube Malaysia, and Google Maps has been turned up a couple of notches in the country.
 
“Google Maps creates a beautiful platform for local content because you can get traffic and transit data, and you can position the businesses in their specific location in the country,” he adds. “With YouTube here, we actively encourage and promote people to create, upload and even monetize local content.”
 
Google has also launched technical communities and the Malaysian Google Business Group (GBG), which through iTrain for example, is training small businesses on how to take advantage of their Internet presence – and what tools they can use to manage their business online.
 
“And it’s not just Google technologies and tools,” says Mattos. The g|Day in October will have more such activities.
 
Cache, not carry
 
According to Google calculations, in terms of per 100,000 of the general population, Malaysia has 12 times less local content than the United States [no surprise there!], half that of Thailand, three times less than Brazil, and 50% that of Argentina, Mexico and South Africa.
 
“To give you some perspective however, Malaysia has 10 times more local content than the Philippines, 20 times more than Indonesia and five times more than India,” says Mattos. “There are many countries in much worse shape, but there is still lot of room for growth.”
 
Finally, to address the access element in perceived speeds, the company is speeding up the deployment of Google Caches in the country.
 
A Google Cache is a piece of equipment which is installed in the networks of local Internet service providers (ISPs) and operators, where content from, say, YouTube and Maps, are stored locally.
 
“This is so that when someone accesses this content, he doesn’t have to go through international lines somewhere else in the world,” says Mattos. “This obviously means huge operational savings for the service providers since they don’t have to pay access charges to international gateways, so they obviously love that.”
 
“For the end-user it’s fantastic because their experience is much faster – they don’t have to grab a cup of coffee while waiting to download a YouTube video,” he adds.
 
Mattos could not quantify how much data is being stored locally on Google Caches in the country. “In general however, when we cover the top networks in a country, we see about 70% to 80% of static content being served out of the Caches,” he says.
 
“This means costs savings of 70% to 80% for service providers,” he adds.
 
So what can Google do? Just that: If there is no local content, users will have to go for global content. This means slow speeds. To get that local content, you need to develop the community, and Mattos believes Google is doing just that with its initiatives here.
 
 
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