Maxis CEO ratchets up 4G rhetoric
By Karamjit Singh November 24, 2015
- Aims to have one of the highest LTE penetration rates globally
- Indoor coverage becoming key quality metric for consumers
IT came as no surprise when Maxis Communications Bhd chief executive officer Morten Lundal declared “Malaysians love the Internet” at a recent media briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
No wonder – according to Lundal, data traffic on Maxis’ network has gone up 60% over the past 12 months, with average 4G LTE (Fourth Generation/ Long-Term Evolution) data consumed being 2.3GB per customer, rivalling that of developed markets.
And now Lundal is boldly and loudly proclaiming Maxis to be the best telco that can meet Malaysia’s hunger for data, delivered through 4G LTE, which he describes as akin to walking around with a fibre line connected to your mobile phone.
His chief technology officer (CTO) Morten Bangsgaard reinforced this fibre imagery, sharing that he gets the same Internet experience at home, whether on his 20Mbps fixed fibre or on his 4G service, be it indoors or outdoors.
That quality experience comes from Maxis having rebuilt its network over the past two years, spending RM2 billion (US$466 million at current rates), said Lundal, who went on to boast: “At the moment, technology does not allow you to do much more than what we have at Maxis.”
With Lundal emphasising that Maxis is investing more than any other telco, he targets for his company to have one of highest LTE penetration rates in the world.
“Which is kinda cool,” he declared.
‘Lots of 4G claims flying around’
The aggressive rhetoric around staking its claim to have not just the widest coverage, but also the best quality coverage, comes at a time when Maxis sees 4G hitting critical mass in Malaysia.
This is the trigger for Maxis to both shout about its 4G quality and profess a wish to see the media itself become more knowledgeable about the subject, even though it launched the service two years ago.
“A year ago, 4G was a niche – today, with the majority of new customers choosing 4G, it has become mainstream,” Lundal said.
And without naming Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, which last month ruffled Maxis with its claims of having the widest network coverage, Lundal explained the decision to get aggressive to stamp its mark on 4G LTE:
“I just feel there are a lot of claims flying around and you [the media] should be knowledgeable.
“It is easy to make claims but they need to be substantiated. What does quality 4G mean?” he said.
And taking the lead here, Maxis has announced that it feels signal strength is a crucial metric that has a direct impact on users’ quality of experience.
It declared that its 4G network is designed to deliver a signal strength of -98dBm.
dBm is an abbreviation for the power ratio in decibels (dB) used in radio, microwave and fibre optic networks, as a measure of absolute power.
It was indoor coverage that tipped the decision to settle on -98dBm, more so when Maxis user group tests revealed that most of its customers consume the mobile Internet when they are indoors and static.
“We use -98dBm as a hard criterion because it gives you a fantastic experience outdoors and a good consistent experience when indoors,” said Bangsgaard.
Specifically, Maxis is promising 4G LTE users a minimum experience of 10Mbps if they are indoors in a 4G area, with this rising to 20Mbps outdoors. [Edited for accuracy.]
This focus on quality user experience is why, despite claiming 71% coverage of populated areas, Maxis is only shouting about the 62% coverage where it has -98dBm, because it believes this signal strength offers customers a high quality 4G experience, both indoors and outdoors. [Click chart below to enlarge]
Incidentally, this 62% is slightly higher than Digi’s latest claimed coverage of 60%.
And moving forward, Maxis is determined to offer customers “the best 4G user experience” in the country, said Lundal.
“We think we have a great network and are investing to make it even better. We are obsessed with quality, and quality coverage,” he declared.
Recently, Maxis even invited the engineering heads of both Digi and Celcom Axiata to have a public discussion around how they can all agree on a common set of metrics to measure their network quality.
It is unclear how that ‘invitation’ was extended, with Digi saying it was not aware of such an invitation.
And when a question was posed on whether such an invitation to Celcom and Digi was fair as the amount of spectrum allocated to each was different, Lundal said, “I think it is very fair.
“What you are today [as a telco] is a product of what you have invested in, and what choices you made earlier.
“So you are what you are, and claim what you claim, and that I feel, should be open to scrutiny – and we are open to a dialogue on that,” he added.
Meanwhile Bangsgaard pointed out that all the three telcos were using the same spectrum – 1800MHz and 2600MHz – for their 4G rollout.
Network, devices, content getting better
Not waiting for that discussion to happen, Maxis went a step further and on Nov 19 organised a 24-hour Maxis 4G challenge, where 2,400 employees travelled nationwide to perform 24,000 engagements in total to test its network. [Edited for accuracy.]
Independent contractors were also used, it said. Digital News Asia’s (DNA) attempt to get the names of these independent contractors from Maxis was not successful.
As for the outcome of its 24-hour stress test, Maxis will share the tabulated results with employees only.
Company officials told DNA that the main purpose of the test was to serve as a benchmark, a reality check to help it identify areas it can improve on.
However, Maxis is sharing the average weekly speeds of its 4G network across various locations.
The stakes are getting higher, with revenue from voice and SMS falling steadily, and with Maxis claiming everybody is getting on the 4G network to consume data, so the time is right to educate the public on what a high quality network is about, the company said.
“It is a great time to bring this discussion up as the networks and devices are getting better and with content quality too, especially with HD (high-definition) and soon 4K [video],” said Dushyan Vaithiyanathan, head of the Consumer Business at Maxis.
4K is a video format that delivers much higher quality video than HD.
But Maxis is not just focusing on its network. “We will continue to innovate on our services to allow customers to have best experience across the ecosystem, for instance in the packages we offer and the devices,” said Dushyan.
“Everything we do in 2016 will be around giving our customers the best high-speed 4G experience,” he added.
With indoor experience becoming a key differentiator for most customers, this will be the area Maxis will be focusing on over the next two years to increase its coverage quality.
Maxis told DNA it has deployed over a thousand 3G ‘femtocells’ in its network, and has also started deploying LTE small cells this year. It is also leveraging on 900MHz spectrum on 3G for wider coverage and better indoor signal penetration.
Femtocells are small cellular base stations typically used to improve indoor cellular reception, while small cells are full-featured, short-range mobile phone base stations used to complement mobile phone service from larger macro-cell towers.
Moving forward, Maxis said its focus will be on rooftops, with small cells being used for specific solutions.
The transition from voice to data also means users would expect ubiquitous coverage, which is why the company is banking on its design principles to cater for future expectations.
Meanwhile, Bangsgaard also said that its 3G traffic in some areas is flattening and is expected to go down.
“So naturally, predominantly our investments will be on 4G, and every year, we will invest less and less on 3G as 4G is going to take over,” he said.
Digi throws down the 4G LTE gauntlet: What it really means
Digi trains its 4G LTE guns on Maxis
Leading Maxis’ mind-set change, and the ‘Magic 30’
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