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MobileWorld is all about the mobile lifestyle. We cover stuff like mobile phones, smartphones, mobile marketing, mobile gadgets and everything else to do with the mobile industry.

The Future May Not Be Wireless

For the last 10 years or so, wireless technologies have been the darlings of the communications industry – and rightfully so. Wired technologies have struggled to bring services to the whole world. Wireless technologies on the other hand seem unstoppable; there are more than 4 billion mobile phone users in the world today and their reach is truly global.

But in a twist of poetic justice, it looks to be time for wired technologies to lord it over their wireless counterparts. The reason for this is the explosion of data consumption by internet users. There is an unbelievable amount of data being consumed these days by users accessing media rich sites like YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. One statistic will put this all into perspective: every minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube.

Data consumption rates have naturally been crashing through the roof. Cisco estimates in a study that the average data consumed per household is 11.4 GB per month. That’s global figures, mind you, which includes countries with slow first generation Internet infrastructure. Now mobile Internet usage is booming and that is sure to add even more strain to the networks.

Wireless service providers are beginning to realize that they will not be able to provide the bandwidth that will be required going forward in the short to medium term. The wireless spectrum has limits and there are limits to how much one can cram frequencies with data.

This is why mobile users have connectivity problems. When mobile users access the Internet from the same base station, they are sharing the bandwidth available and as more and more users connect to the Internet, the speed slows and at times, there are outages.

So wired technologies like Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) have to come to the fore. They will be able to cope with the demand for today’s data hungry applications and tomorrow’s cloud computing. Now you understand why the High Speed Broadband (HSBB) is crucial to this country (and also why it is long overdue).

I am not saying that mobile operators will go away – far from that. Mobile lifestyle is a megatrend and that will continue. It’s just that the realization has come that mobile won’t be able to meet all the demand and the better strategy may be for it to provide truly mobile Internet access; leaving the job of providing main Internet usage to its wired counterpart.

There’s going to be another consequence to this boom in data consumption that consumers won’t like. The days of unlimited access – in wireless for sure and probably in wired – will come to an end. The world has been lucky because a lot of infrastructure was laid during the dotcom boom days and the glut kept prices very low. Those days are coming to an end and be prepared to pay for data usage like you pay for electricity.

Maxis has already put in place its wireless/wired strategy. The idea is that in the future, one company will provide Internet access per se to a consumer. At home or the office, that access will be over wire and when on the move it will be wireless. It will be a single account–multi technologies package. The other mobile operators will have to have similar strategies. TM of course is nicely placed in this area. It can combine with Celcom to provide a complete package.

So don’t just cut your wires just yet. They will be vital to your Internet experience very soon.

Motorola launches Android smartphone DEFY

Motorola has launched the Motorola DEFY, an Android smartphone that is water and scratch resistant, as well as dust proof. That is especially true for the 3.7-inch touchscreen made from Corning Gorilla Glass which can resist impact and scratch damage. The phone also has CrystalTalk PLUS that cuts down noise with two microphones which filter out background noise and amplify the voice. The installed browser supports Flash video, and the 5-megapixel camera shoots with flash, digital zoom and auto focus.

The phone uses DEFY or Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) to stream, store and share content with devices like HDTVs, game consoles and PCs. DEFY can also be a 3G mobile hotspot to connect up to five WiFi enabled devices. As for music, the phone can display a song’s lyrics using Connected Music Player, which can also discover, stream and identify music from the phone.

The Motorola DEFY will be selling for RM1,599 before this Christmas but you can get it for RM999 with Maxis Value Plus plans and a data bundle.

Samsung to launch four more phones in by year end

Samsung Electronics will launch four more phones in Malaysia, Colin Hew, its assistant manager for Services & Solutions, Mobile Phones, told an informal media gathering at Starbucks, Bangsar Village II in Kuala Lumpur on 15 December.

They are the Wave 533 2G phone, the Wave 723 3G phone, the  [email protected] 322 dual-SIM 2G phone and the single-SIM [email protected] 335 with WiFi. Both [email protected] devices have a QWERTY keyboard below its screen in BlackBerry-style, while the Wave 533’s QWERTY keyboard slides out sideways.

Wave is Samsung’s name for its bada OS  phones and with these two new models, Samsung would have launched a total of four Wave phones this year. The other two are the first Samsung Wave (S8500) announced in February and the Wave 575 announced in October. Both are already available in Malaysia. Galaxy are its Android phones, while Omnia are its Windows phones.

“So far  we have sold over one million bada OS phones as of July,” said Hew.

Samsung intends its open sourced bada OS to provide smartphone features on feature phones at affordable prices. The two [email protected] devices run Samsung’s proprietary firmware.

A premium device, the Wave 723 has a unique leather flap which protects its screen. It’s a 900/2,100 MHz 3G/HSDPA and a quadband GSM/ GPRS/EDGE phone, with a 3.2in WQVGA TFT-LCD touchscreen, TouchWiz 3.0 UI, A-GPS, WiFi b, g & n, 5MP auto-focus camera with LED flash with smile-shot, panorama shot, geo-tagging and image editor, Dolfin 2.0 browser with multi-touch zoom and accepts a microSD card of up to 32GB and has a 1,200 mAh battery. Measuring 109.5 x 53.9 x 11.8mm, the 723 retails at RM939.

Besides its slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the Wave 533 is slightly less well appointed with a 3.2MP camera without flash and accepts up to 16GB microSD card but otherwise shares the same features as the 723. The Wave 533 is slightly bigger at 109.5 x 55 x 15.15mm and retails for RM699.

Meanwhile, the [email protected] 322 has a `1.3MP camera, 2.2in TFT display, measures 109.5 x 60 x 12.3mm, weighs 95g and is priced at RM449, while the [email protected] 335 has a 2.4in QVGA display, a 2MP camera, measures 111.2 x 61.2 x 11.9mm, weighs 100g and retails for RM359. Both have an optical Trackpad.

These basic models still are Samsung’s biggest earners and these [email protected] phones are aimed at teenagers and those in their early 20s.

As to whether prices of Android phones having drooped below the RM1,000 mark competing with its bada OS handsets, Hew said that just as with netbooks which all cost more or less the same now, Samsung is banking on its physical and software features to sell.

Apps the way forward

While Samsung phones already come integrated with Twitter and Facebook apps, it actively works with apps developers, including big boys such as Gameloft, Electronic Arts (EA) and location-based navigation app provider Route 66 to provide apps on its phones and it splits the revenue 70:30 in the developers’ favour, which is straight revenue, since buyers pay the Samsung Apps store by credit card, with no revenue to operators.

“Apps is the way forward,” said Hew. “The popular ones are games, social networking apps or even trivial apps such as Hit my Boss, where users take a picture of their boss, put it in an avatar and punch it, or one where the screen apparently cracks when you touch it.”

The Samsung Apps store began carrying paid apps since September, with prices ranging from around RM4 to RM40. Currently 80% of apps on the App store are free apps.

However, Malaysia isn’t the best market for developers to make money, since while Malaysians download around 100,000 per month from the Samsung App store, which is the second highest; they mostly are free apps, while more Singaporeans are willing to pay for apps, so Malaysian developers should look overseas if they want to make money from apps.

High Priced High Speed Broadband

The topic of the moment has got to be HSBB. It is certainly telling of the state of our broadband today that the arrival of what we are going to call high speed broadband for the next few years has generatedso much buzz.

I, of course, welcome Unifi, the brand name of Telekom Malaysia’s fibre optic offering. If everything goes well, our office area will have this service before the end of the year and we do plan to sign up for it.

But it is important that we – as with all Malaysians – do not get too caught up in the hype and in the process, overlook several key points.

First, the pricing is high. We’re already paying very high prices for Streamyx and now, we’re being asked to pay RM149 for 5 Mbps, RM199 for 10 Mbps and RM249 for 20 Mbps for home packages.

Business packages are even crazier. Only the 5 Mbps package priced at RM199 is barely affordable to average sized businesses.The RM599 package for 10 Mbps and RM899 for 20 Mbps, I believe, could only be afforded by public listed companies. The smallest businesses will have to stick to Streamyx, the way I see it.

For comparison, Singaporeans pay about S$50 per month for 10 Mbps and a bit more that S$60 for 15 Mbps. Don’t even try to explain this off by pointing to exchange rates. The fact is that Singaporeans earn dollar for dollar the same as us, meaning that an executive who earns RM1800 in Malaysia would earn SG$1800 if he worked in Singapore.

That makes our high speed broadband three times more expensive than Singapore! Malaysian blogger Ariff Shah lamented on his blog that broadband in Russia is cheap too, at RM50 for 5 Mbps and RM73 for 10 Mbps

Malaysians badly need low-cost high-speed broadband. Already faced with mounting costs of almost all items, average Malaysian consumers will be crippled with these package prices. If no action is taken to reduce prices, HSBB will, I fear, be taken up only by the wellheeled.That will just widen the digital divide and go counter against the government’s aspirations of equal access for all Malaysians.

Beyond pricing, another area to keep in mind is the speeds being offered. While 10 Megs up and 10 Megs down will be incredibly fast to consumers long surviving on 500 Kbps down and 100 Kbps up, how are we going to compete when Singapore introduces their Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN) which will offer speeds up to 1GB and beyond. 1GB, if I can stress, is another way of writing 1000 Mbps, a hundred times faster than our 10 Mbps. Singapore’s communications services regulator IDA says on its website that “As early as 2010, users will be able to enjoy a myriad of services delivered over Singapore’s ultra-high speed Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN)”.

Frightening? I hope so because we need to redouble our efforts to bring ultra high-speed networks to Malaysia and at the same time, I do apologise for not talking about wireless this month but this topic is too important to be ignored. Broadband affects everyone these days.

Time For Free Voice Calls?

It’s a cliché often repeated by mobile industry followers; that voice would one day become a commodity and even possibly free.

I’ve been hearing such statements for years now and it hasn’t happened yet. Phone bill has remained relatively stable all this while and I don’t expect to wake up any day soon to learn that my service provider has made all calls free.

It would be a dream come true but there’s no way that Maxis, Celcom, DiGi or UMobile will do this anytime soon. Not unless they want to commit suicide. Right to this day, most of their revenues (and profits) come from voice calls.

But that long awaited moment, widely predicted by many industry followers worldwide, may not be too far way. Tectonic shifts taking place in the mobile industry are heralding the days when voice will become a commodity. It may be completely free or almost free.

Consider the evidence. Last year, UK’s mobile operator, 3 UK announced that its subscribers would be able to make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls and messages ‘forever’. All they needed was a compatible handset and a SIM card. The calls are truly free and users do not even need to pay data charges for making these calls.

Then, earlier this year, US operator, Verizon Wireless partnered with Skype to bring free Skype-to-Skype calls to its subscribers. Their only condition: these subscribers need to have a data plan.

I had been expecting something like this. Competition (and price pressures) has become very fierce, especially in areas where mobile penetration have reached 100%. Mobile operators need to do something drastic if they want to shake up the incumbents.

Of course, I just told you that most of their profits come from voice. So won’t they be killing themselves? I think not. For proof, let’s examine some financial data.

ARPU stands for Average Revenue Per User. Financial analysts look at three ARPU figures when evaluating the performance of these companies. These are Postpaid ARPU, which is what an operator would be collecting monthly from an average postpaid subscriber, prepaid ARPU, which is the monthly revenue from a prepaid user and blended ARPU, which is the amount that an average subscriber pays monthly to the operator, when all subscribers are lumped together.

The idea, of course, is to maintain or grow ARPU figures.

In Malaysia, postpaid ARPU is around RM107 for Maxis, RM101 for Celcom and RM84 for DiGi. Prepaid ARPU is RM40 for Maxis, RM41 for Celcom and RM50 for DiGi.

Blended ARPU, to me, is the most revealing because it shows how much an average subscriber – when both prepaid and postpaid customers are added together – pays per month. The big three Malaysian mobile operators receive on average, give or take one Ringgit, RM55 for every subscriber on their records.

Here’s where it gets interesting. By getting RM55 per month from a mobile subscriber, our three telcos have been wildly profitable. Maxis, for instance, made more than RM2 billion in profits in 2009.

We all know, of course, that the current battle is about mobile internet. Telcos want their subscribers to take up data plans on top of their voice plans. Early adopters and power users might do that but the average subscriber is going to balk at paying higher mobile phone bills. An average postpaid user is already paying RM100 per month on phone calls. Now telcos want him to take up a data plan that will add RM50 to RM100 per month to his bill. That’s going to raise his bill by at least 50%.

Well, I think that many users are not going to let their bills go up by that much. The only way to get them to take up data plans would be to sweeten the deal by bringing down their voice bills. Imagine a scenario where a telco announces a RM150 plan that consists of unlimited data, local calls and text messages. Such an offer would immediately attract a lot of consumers as they would save money on calls and SMSes.

Telcos will benefit because they will now be getting RM150 a month from that consumer, which is higher than the RM100 they are making from an average postpaid user today.

Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it? I’ll even go out on a limb and predict that we will see something like this in Malaysia by 2012 latest. Don’t bet against me; I predicted an iPad-like device years before Steve Job came up with it. Dig up old copies of MW and you’ll see that prediction.

Little Birds Beat News Sites

This Sunday, We joined what must have been the majority of Malaysians in following the results of the Hulu Selangor by-election.  The whole day long, I sought out reports of how the polling was going on. After 5 pm, I eagerly consumed every report that I found which shared updates of unofficial vote counts as they trickled into the counting station.

As I did that I was reminded of that magical night of March 8, 2008 when I did the same thing albeit on a much larger scale. I was struck then by how much things have changed since then. No, I’m not referring to the voter swing that took place in Hulu Selangor; this is a technology magazine, remember?  I’m referring to the way I obtained my information this time around compared to last time around.

To get the General Elections results two years ago, I set up a scratch command centre that consisted of two PCs and a mobile phone. Since internet traffic was at a peak then, most of the sites that had the latest information were pretty much inaccessible. I opened up multiple tabs of sites like Malaysiakini each one pointing to different mirror sites. I also pointed my browser towards many other sites. That way, I ensured that I got updates from one page even if the others crashed.

It was chaotic and the internet connection barely held steady that day. Those websites coupled with lots of text messages received from friends all over Malaysia ensured that I knew relatively early that a political tsunami had struck the nation.

This time around, it was completely different. We did not go online on my PC. Thanks to TM, my Streamyx was down for most of the day. But even if it was working, I wasn’t really planning on using it except as a backup.

My updates this time around came solely through my mobile phone and not even one of the updates came as a text message. Neither did I access Malaysiakini or the Malaysian Insider on my mobile the way I did back in 2008. I occasionally went to those sites mainly to keep up with other breaking news. But my election updates were exclusively delivered over Twitter. Not only did I get vote updates in almost real time, Twitter did not crash because it is designed to bear heavy traffic.

This, I realized, was a perfect example of a trend I have spoken a lot about over the last few years. As mobile wireless broadband becomes increasingly prevalent, people will move away from PCs and do more and more stuff on mobile devices – even things that may seem at this point in time as better done on a personal computer. Getting election results on my phone was a perfect example of this. Without a mobile device, it would have been easy to conclude that a PC was the better alternative but in actual use, the Twitter-Mobile combination proved better.

The other interesting point you may have noticed is that the apps changed as I moved this task onto my mobile. I moved from blogs and news sites to Twitter simply because it was the best tool. The lesson here is that innovation will always ensure that new technologies will rise and eclipse current dominant technologies.

As a user, I was simply delighted that Twitter made it very easy and enjoyable. From a developer perspective, the implications are enormous. We’re still doing a lot of stuff on PCs. People who figure out how to move those tasks onto mobile devices stand to win big in the next few years. Or developers could just focus on improving existing solutions. For instance, there’s no way I will place any bets on how I will be accessing the results of the next General Elections. By next year, something completely different may emerge which could eclipse Twitter. Isn’t mobile technology wonderful?

Youtube Music is a Boomer

When I was doing my degree in IT, I sort of developed a sense of how would you call it, affection for all things Unix. Partially because the university that I was in did pretty much everything in Unix.

From the first thing you saw in the computer labs, right down to the assignments that you were given, there was no way to escape from it, unless you were one of those die-hards who believed that Windows was the be-all, end-all.

As a home user, it seemed to fulfill quite a bit of my daily needs, with the exception of perhaps, games. Nevertheless, it was the overall style of Unix that kind of drew me to using it as often as I could.

Minimalist programs, one separate application for every function, and the fact that since it’s so different from the rest of the world, protection from your non-nerdish friends snooping around on your PC because they don’t know how to use the damn command-line.

Unless you’re into Ubuntu, which I don’t really have a liking for.

But it is because of these factors that have caused me to turn cynical, especially towards programs that seem to suck your computer’s resources, rather than utilizing them properly.

Programs such as Youtube Music and Ovi, which in my opinion, do a lot more harm than good. At least, if you tend to use your memory and/or CPU from frugally.

Sure, they’re full of functions and features, enough to keep you interested for as long as possible. But there were times when I wondered if I really needed all these extra bells and whistles.

I just installed Youtube Music, and by the powers of Greyskull, it ticks off at 93MB. Ovi is hardly any better, which is quite bemusing really, especially when all you intend for is the syncing of your mobile phone.

I start to sneer whenever an installation file starts off at more than 75MB in size. Chances are that they’re probably going to expand in excesses of 200MB or so.

And let’s not forget that each time some of these applications are started up, they end up using every resource possible. So much so that if you try to multi-task, you’re going to end up being more than a little frustrated.

That’s as big as some OSes go, seriously. Now, I can understand if it was a graphics rendering thingy, or a proper sound editing tool, because most everyone knows that they need all the power and memory that they can get.

But a program that lists the music in your iPod, plays them, uploads them from your computer? Sure, it has the additional stuff like podcasts, radio and yada yada, but you can’t help but feel overwhelmed at times by some of these things. Especially if you don’t use them, now or in the future.

Of course, Linux distributions aren’t without their own forms of bloatware. I’ve seen my fair share of bumbling programs; stuff that should have been revamped totally, or just coded by someone else altogether.

Firefox falls into this category especially. Once a fast and light piece of work, it’s now so big and unwieldly, that it should probably audition as a stunt double for a Boomer. And I don’t mean the Grace Park kind too.

Some of you are going to argue that with the way things are going for computers, worrying about application sizes shouldn’t be a problem. With Moore’s Law in place, today’s computer powerhouses should be as fast as tomorrow’s calculators.

But does that mean that tomorrow’s music players should take the same amount of resources as a graphics renderer today would? If so, I’m a little worried.

Note: Sure, I don’t use Unix as much as I used to. In fact, I actually use Windows 7 a lot these days. Largely because my primary computer happens to be a netbook, to which supporting drivers tend to be at times, insufficient.

And I’m also too lazy to install a Linux system on my netbook. Talk about whinging, eh? But then again, I want to play games without worrying about how to get it working on Wine.

Spam, spam, glorious spam

It was said in Sun Tzu’s Art of War that knowing is half the battle won. Although it has to be said that there may be times when you can happen to know a bit too much.

“Sun-Tzu. Bad-ass.” source: realestateradiousa.com

As much as we’d like to believe that we’re more advanced or intelligent than our Middle-Age/Iron-Age counterparts, it has to be said that we’re no more human than they were. And that means we’re finite, limited to a certain amount of physical (or in this case, mental) capacity.

Some have even coined up a term for it, calling it information overload.

“Paper Mountain. Lady not included.” source: acit.lbcc.edu

I couldn’t agree more, although it’s not surprising, given the world that we live in. Never in human history has the power of the media been at the fingertips of the receiver, where a viewer can expect to tune into Al-Jazeera over satellite television, open up his Twitter or Facebook and have a little banter with his friends. And that’s not taking into account other sources, such as newspapers, SMSes, and if you’re old enough to remember them, pagers.

“The future!” source: inetengineers.com

Not a problem for me, considering that I don’t follow that many people, and that I tend to choose my information sources, rather than have them come to me on a plate. Nevertheless, there may be some of you who happen to have taken in more than you expected.

Of course, the other way to go about it is to just remain aloof and practice a form of selective reading/information-gathering. It’s actually a lot easier than it seems, unless you have a sentimental attachment to those that you follow.

  • 1) Have a ‘no info’ periods where you’ll ignore or close your mail client/Twitter/Facebook/whatever.
  • 2) Categorize your information into groups. Make lists, mail folders.
  • 3) Unfollow people who don’t really matter. Yes, it may seem like you’re shutting them out of your lives, but you could do without all the clutter.
  • 4) Cut back on your podcasts or news stories. Decide on a few high-quality blogs or websites instead of the whole lot, and then let the rest go.
  • 5) Don’t feel pressured to reply to every single tweet/FB-note that you receive. Read, and then move on. Reply only if you have to.

“Unless you’re of course, some sort of troller.” source: redwing.hutman.net (Flame Warriors by Mike Reed)

For those of you who find hard to deal with your information overload, there are some tools, such as TwitCleaner. Which kind of helps, if you’ve got more than a few people on your Twitter lists.

Mobile Operating System Woes

I have difficulty comprehending this. I get developers complaining all the time about why there are so many mobile operating systems. They say it’s difficult to code for so many operating systems. It makes their job harder and they cannot reach all mobile users easily as they have to create different versions of their apps for each operating system.

Some users too, aren’t exactly ecstatic about the bewildering options that face them when they hunt for a new phone. One told me that he dreads having to learn how to use an unfamiliar phone, which is why he has happily stuck to his trusty old three year old device. I can understand where both of these sentiments are coming from but I have to say that I don’t agree with them. In fact, I strongly believe that consumers and yes, developers too, should celebrate the many operating systems that are flourishing now.Any economist will tell you that we are witnessing competition in action. And as we all learnt in our Commerce classes in secondary schools or MBA sessions ,competition is good for the consumers.

Apple IOS and Samsung Android are the future

Think about it, if Apple did not decide to come up with the iPhone, we would all still be carrying Nokia Nseries phones or BlackBerry devices. Believe it or not, Nokia launched the Nseries in 2005. A full five years later, that series is still around. Only when it felt the heat did Nokia awake from its slumber and work at coming up with better devices. Google’s roll out of the Android operating system is keeping Apple on its feet. The reason why we are seeing rapid launches of new iPhone models is because Apple can see Android looming in its rearview mirror (some say it’s even overtaken Apple but that’s a topic for another day).

With the smartphone side of the business exploding like no one’s business, even behemoths like Microsoft is reentering the market. Whether Windows Mobile 7 will cut it or not is immaterial. The point is that all this competition is benefiting us users like crazy. We get amazing mobile devices at very competitive prices. Developers too should be prostrating themselves before every single mobile operating system. The way I look at it, the more shops I have available to sell my products, the better it is. Apple’s App Store is notoriously difficult to gain access to.

Developers have to wait months to get apps approved and if their app is rejected, Apple does not tell them why. Plus it is terribly crowded, which means that apps will find it hard to get noticed. Along comes Android Marketplace and now developers have a brand new, less crowded (at least for now) store to sell their apps. There’s also the fact that each operating system reaches unique segments of users.

A developer who only develops iPhone apps will never be able to reach users who don’t like Apple products. Or take Samsung’s operating system, bada. By the end of this year, I fully expect to see bada powered smartphones selling for around RM500. At that price range, millions of people all across the world who would never be able to afford an iPhone will be able to enter the smartphone owners club.

So I say, let us all rejoice that we have so many operating systems to choose from. Consumers get to choose from so many car brands, soft drink makers and television manufacturers, so why should the mobile phone industry be any different?

Got anything to share about the mobile industry in general and the Malaysian mobile scene in particular? We’d love to hear from you.