- Launches amid much fanfare, but in reality has its work cut out for it
- Needs to move beyond rhetoric and give value to subscribers
IN my many years of covering the telco scene, some words come to mind to describe my usual feelings: Déjà vu, hype and … inconsistency.
Hype, because so many times when an operator launches a new product or service, it talks it up as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Déjà vu, because catchphrases, jargon and quotes are repeated, over and over again, like a broken record.
Inconsistency, because some things said in the past and touted as big benefits then are contradicted by later statements.
This is certainly how I feel as news filters in of YTL Communication Sdn Bhd’s rebranded service, called YES 4G LTE, launched yesterday (June 30), making YTL Comms the latest Long-Term Evolution (LTE) operator in Malaysia.
I have already given a primer on the main differences between YTL Comms’ LTE network and those of its competitors, but reading about the actual launch has set me wondering anew.
About six years ago, I attended and covered the launch of its much-anticipated WiMax network called YES. All the top executives of the high profile YTL Group, of which YTL Comms is part, were in attendance to talk up the beauty and wonders of Malaysia’s fastest and newest 4G (Fourth Generation) network.
Going by what company officials – the likes of YTL Corp managing director Francis Yeoh, YTL Power International Bhd executive director Yeoh Seok Hong, and YTL Comms chief executive officer Wing K. Lee – said in 2010, the YES network would be the most advanced network Malaysians were to ever experience.
There, Round One of déjà vu and hype.
Six years later, there is YTL Comms’ press release which says, “We believe that our new 4G LTE network will dramatically change the landscape of mobile services throughout the country. Our all-IP, high capacity 4G LTE Internet service supports multi-activities such as downloading or streaming movies, and making calls – all the same time.”
It goes on to say, “We are also proud to launch the country’s first double data bucket plan that allows all users to access 4G LTE and 4G broadband networks (via WiMAX) with a single service plan.
“With our amazing plan at RM70 (US$17), customers will get 24GB of data (16GB of 4G LTE and 8GB of 4G broadband) complete with a free YES Altitude phone. There is simply no comparable offer from any other telco in Malaysia,” the release said, quoting Wing (pic below).
More déjà vu and hype, and one new inconsistency highlighted in italics above.
Inconsistent because when YTL Comms launched six years ago, it did not want to be known as a telco, but rather an Internet-enabled company. So why is it calling itself a telco today?
If you think that that’s splitting hairs over terminology, try this for another inconsistency:
When YTL Comms first launched YES 4G using WiMAX, an all but dead technology today, it had boasted that it doesn’t use SIM cards but that its subscription is based on the issuance of a YES ID [one ID per person].
Its argument then was that its YES ID was superior to SIM-based connections. This was confirmed in a subsequent interview Wing had with Digital News Asia (DNA) in 2013.
Today, it is introducing a free phone – the YES Altitude – mated to not only one SIM card, but with dual SIM slots.
Talk about inconsistency!
YES and its services today
Now you may say that I am stretching it a bit with these examples, and sure, one can argue that YTL Comms isn’t alone in blowing its own trumpet. All operators do that in their marketing campaigns, and YTL Comms shouldn’t be singled out.
But my argument is that when a new service – in this case YES 4G LTE – is launched, it’s more prudent to just get straight down to the crux of the matter, instead of giving in to rhetoric and theatrics.
Although it is my belief that there are far too many wireless operators providing their services in a nation of only 30 million, the Malaysian Government, via industry regulator the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), has already doled out LTE spectrum licences, and Malaysia is stuck with that many operators offering LTE.
Back when it brought its WiMAX-based 4G to the country, one of the main selling points YTL Comms made was that its all-IP (Internet Protocol) data network could support voice by packetising it and sending it over the data channel.
In today’s parlance, this is known as an over-the-top (OTT) service, and is akin to one making calls using WhatsApp, Viber or Skype.
This form of OTT voice isn’t the same as the VoLTE (Voice-over-LTE) service it rolled out yesterday, but a rather crude way of carrying voice over its network.
When asked about this during the launch, Wing conceded that OTT voice using the YES WiMAX network was poor and that VoLTE is far superior to its predecessor.
Granted, but now that YTL Comms has boasted that it’s the first VoLTE operator in the country, how good is that service going to be?
Six years ago, one of the main questions I asked when YES WiMAX launched was that given its 65% coverage area, how would it support voice when it ran out of coverage? It may be forgivable when a data connection drops, but with voice, that’s a no-no.
Fast forward six years, and its coverage has purportedly increased to 85%, according to Wing. But is this 85% coverage a combination of both WiMAX and TD-LTE sites? If so, how much is the coverage for TD-LTE alone? This has bearing on how wide its voice coverage will be.
When quizzed during the launch, Wing claimed that YTL Comms has 85% population coverage each on its WiMAX and TD-LTE networks, adding that in time to come, its TD-LTE coverage would surpass its WiMAX coverage.
But he was coy when it came to the question of what happens to a call when coverage is not available.
Then there is the issue of in-building coverage. The higher the frequency of the spectrum, the lower the penetration of signals. Given that YES 4G LTE operates at 2600MHz, how good would that signal be indoors? What happens to voice calls when there is no coverage? Do they just drop away?
When asked, Wing again did not directly address the issue, saying only that YTL Comms would ensure buildings would be covered through in-building antennas and that eventually, coverage would not be a problem.
This incidentally also evokes some déjà vu, because this is the same argument he made six years ago. For the record, there have been complaints of YES WiMAX not doing well indoors.
Can it be a success?
Notwithstanding some of the questions raised, the one thing that YTL Comms does have plenty of is pizzazz and showmanship, and perhaps a bit of chutzpah too.
You can bet your last ringgit that YTL Comms will continue to make a lot of noise about its services in the months to come.
It helps that it is a subsidiary of YTL Power, which is part of YTL Corp’s mighty empire, and that it has huge monetary resources to pour into such a venture – something which can’t be said of its chief WiMAX rival Packet One Networks Sdn Bhd, which eventually had to sell out to Telekom Malaysia in 2014.
Still, with so much money invested – something to the tune of US$728 million – in its LTE network, and billions more ringgit in its WiMAX network, there will come a time when YTL Comms would need to start moving to the black to ease cash flow and profit pressures on its parent YTL Power.
For his part, Wing believes that with this launch, YTL Comms can be a viable challenger to the incumbents.
To be fair to the company, it did some things correctly at its launch. It did not launch a service at a premium price point, something it did when it first brought YES WiMAX to the country six years ago. RM70 for 16GB of data is comparable with what the other players are offering.
Secondly, it has a reasonable lineup of smartphones that can support its service. Besides its own Altitude, these are the Lenovo A6010, Xiaomi Mi5 and Redmi Note 3, and the Samsung J Series, Note 5 and Galaxy S7.
The drawback for now is that it can’t offer Apple’s iPhone. When asked, Wing was again coy, noting that YES 4G LTE already supports top-tier smartphones.
Besides this, there are other questions which I already raised about offering other value-added services on top of its competitive pricing. Make no mistake, YTL Comms is still playing catch-up.
To be honest, I think the launch of YES 4G LTE could be good for competition. It could be good for consumers, as it gives more choice. Prices could come down and/ or data quotas may go up.
But for YTL Comms to be a credible competitor, it cannot stumble the way it did when it first came into the picture: The wireless operator landscape today is very different from what it was six years ago.
Then, it could be argued, it was the new kid on the block and could afford to make mistakes. Make too many mistakes today, and you’ll find that the market will punish you swiftly, and perhaps irrevocably.
For YTL Comms, the operating strategy going forward must surely be to go beyond the noise of its launch and give true value to subscribers – and to continue shaking up the market.
YES is back in the race, first to launch VoLTE
YES goes to town again, this time with LTE
5 years after launch, YES finally ready to compete on even footing
Will TD-LTE make a difference for YTL Comms?
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