Mobile trends and us

  • Lots of exciting developments at global meet
  • Malaysians will have to be patient, as usual

Mobile trends and usTHE world's largest gathering of all things mobile and wireless dubbed the Mobile World Congress (MWC) concluded some two weeks ago and there were tons of announcements made.

But while these announcements are all nice and dandy, what do some of these major showcases mean to the average Malaysian? Combing through a number of tech websites following the announcements, I've come up with three major trends which I believe could make a showing this year here on our local shores, albeit only in a small baby-step way.

No fewer than four handset makers announced quad-core (a phone with four processors/brains to handle tasks) handsets at MWC. HTC showcased the One X; LG its Optimus 4X HD; Huawei its Ascend D, and ZTE, the Era.

Now before you drool over the prospect of owning a quad-core device, do note that most apps that people use today do not need nor do they actually tap the power of the quad-core engines provided by these devices.

With the exception of certain demanding new apps such as up-and-coming games and other processor-intensive apps, a dual-core handset has the power to run most apps, most of the time.

The obvious drawback to having more processors in your device is the faster depletion of battery life. Many of the devices are so new that no one has truly tested how long they last on a typical working day.

It's also worthy to note that battery technology hasn't been as progressive as chip technology; most handsets run on the same Li-Ion batteries that powered the first generation smartphones of yesteryear.

That said, quad-core phones will become standard in the next two years just like dual-core did. But for the coming year, it's not something that you'll need to get overly excited about.

Not to be confused with a certain cattle-rearing project that has been in the media over the last few months, NFC here actually stands for Near Field Communication.

In a nutshell, NFC allows consumers to use their mobile phone as a mode of payment in place of a credit card simply by tapping a handset across a specially designed payment machine.

Well as cool as that may sound, the take-up rate of NFC isn't going to explode onto the Malaysian retail scene anytime soon as there are many hurdles before it becomes mainstream like the credit card. Not the least are the complex alliances needed between mobile handset makers, financial institutions, payment providers, software developers, mobile operators and merchants and retailers.

Another key fear that will stymie the NFC adoption is concerns about security and privacy of the transactions as sensitive information such as account details, credit balances and authentication codes are exchanged over the handset and payment terminals.

Still, expect NFC technology to become fairly standard in new handsets that will appear in the market. But don't expect much in terms of being able to use or find NFC being used widely here in Malaysia in 2012.

Another bit of jargon that featured heavily at MWC was Long Term Evolution, which to the untrained ear, may mean something to do with the biological sciences, but in reality has no relation to it.

Essentially, LTE is a fancy term to mean the next generation wireless standard that touts the ability to send data faster over the airwaves, something in the region of between 50 and 100 Mbps (mega bits per second). Already, current data 3G specifications have the ability to transmit as fast as 20-30 Mbps. Across the causeway, Singapore's mobile operators M1 and SingTel, began offering LTE last year.

Meanwhile, back home, nine operators have been given licences to operate LTE in the 2.6GHz frequency range, and some of them are beginning trials at designated areas in the Klang Valley. While Malaysia is no longer considered a laggard when it comes to adoption of new wireless technologies, again I wouldn't really get too excited about LTE as yet.

As someone involved in the planning of mobile networks before, I can tell you that LTE will be confined largely to urban areas because mobile operators roll out coverage in areas they believe are likely to pay for themselves.

Invariably, these sites will all be confined to urban centres, as only traffic generated from these base stations can pay for the cost of putting up the base stations in the first place.

However, I feel the more important issue would be for mobile operators to improve their current services before trying to sell us LTE, as many of our local operators are still leaving their subscribers wanting as far as the quality of broadband services is concerned.

They would need to go back to the drawing board and ensure that the fundamentals are right before sounding the LTE trumpet. From the design of the network, implementation of rollout plans, customer provision and activation, customer service enquiries and complaints, right down to billing disputes, and even to the termination of service — everything should be about the customers and their experience.

This implies that they have to provide top-class service to their customers. No more should the customer encounter inept call centre officers who are just parroting a checklist when helping customers troubleshoot their problems; no more advertisements that claim high speeds, high quality but in actuality are not true; no more promises of deadlines that will be met but fail to be achieved.

Put simply, what customers want is reliable service that's affordable, easy to use, and meets their needs — something that is quite lacking today in our landscape.
LTE will arrive on our shores eventually but not before consumers demand better services be delivered to them today. In the final analysis, I believe that if mobile operators get the basics right, perhaps LTE could make a big splash when it arrives.

This article appeared previously in The Malaysian Insider

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