Mobile operators invest in MRT coverage for long-term gains
By Edwin Yapp August 29, 2017
- MRT gets wireless coverage underground; all operators investing
- Service differentiation is key to how battle is won in the coming year
IT’S been over a month now since Malaysia launched its Sungai Buloh Kajang (SBK) Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, a 51km line spanning 31 stations – seven of which are underground – that begins in Sungai Buloh on the north-west of Klang Valley and ends at the south-end in the bustling town of Kajang.
Since its launch, some media reports have noted that eateries in Kajang town have enjoyed a boost in business, much to the delight of these hawkers. Food retailers aren’t the only ones to benefit, as other reports suggest that ride-hailing companies such as Grab and Uber Technologies Inc are likely to also benefit.
But while the MRT may spawn some benefits to these businesses, telcos on the other hand, have to bear the brunt of extra capital expenditure as all four major mobile operators need to ensure that their respective wireless coverages are available all throughout the SBK line, especially in and around the seven underground stations.
To showcase its readiness and coverage plans, Digi.com Bhd invited a group of media to experience its underground coverage on the MRT in July. Flagging off at the Phileo Damansara Station, a group of about 30 journalists traversed six stations (four underground) and ended up at the Bukit Bintang station, culminating at Digi’s latest flagship store in heart of the city.
The aim of the exercise was to demonstrate how comprehensive Digi’s underground coverage – particularly its LTE/ 4G coverage – was, as well as how high the quality of its network was. Mind you, Digi isn’t the only one that has LTE/ 4G coverage underground; all three other competitors – Maxis Bhd, Celcom Axiata Bhd and U Mobile Sdn Bhd – are comprehensively covered too.
The equipping of wireless underground coverage brings back memories for me. Almost two decades ago whilst working as an engineer, I too was involved in designing and equipping the then newly-minted Light Rail Transit (LRT) with underground coverage of five stations from Masjid Jamek to Ampang Park.
Twenty years is a long time and technologies have advanced so much. Back then, we were only equipping the tunnels with 2G but today, operators are doing so with 2G/ 3G/ 4G. Back then, we only had to worry about basic coverage for voice and SMS; today, engineers have to worry about voice, voice over LTE (VoLTE), SMS, and data transmission.
Antennae and transmission technologies have also evolved. Those days, the greatest challenge was to ensure that wireless radio frequencies (RF) could propagate within the tunnels under acceptable losses – if not, coverage will be compromised.
This was done by means of using RF wireless amplifiers, designed to repeat the signals at steady intervals to ensure contiguous coverage. These days, digital signals are amplified via fibre repeaters before being converted back to RF. This means that signal degradation isn’t as challenging as it was before.
Then there were the myriads of problems with project management, timelines to meet, multiple contractors and parties to deal with – all to ensure that the project is completed well and good.
According to industry insiders, the antennae system for the MRT was designed and built to specifications by MRT Corp. This ensured the system was equipped with the right gear and all operators needed to do was to connect their equipment to the system and test that everything was OK. This is a much better style of working and ensured that things went smoothly without having to deal with multiple parties.
All four operators – Digi, Maxis, Celcom Axiata and U Mobile – took approximately one month to connect and test their systems and were operational in time before the launch on July 17.
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