BIZ 10 Arrived At My Home

On May 10, 2011, our subscription to Telekom Malaysia Berhad’s (TM) Fiber-To-The-Building with Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) 2, which is branded as UniFi, was first activated. The deployment of Fiber-To-The-X (FTTX) in High Speed Broadband (HSBB) network project was done by TM partnered with Malaysia Government in selected areas. The retail service of UniFi began in March 2010. As time went by, coverage area gradually expandedref1. As of June 30, 2013, HSBB covered 1.43 million premises with close to 577,000 subscribersref9; over 1 million premises within HSBB coverage area are located in Klang Valleyref8.

Contents

  1. Optical Fiber vs. Copper Wire
  2. UniFi VIP Packages vs. BIZ Packages
  3. Dynamic IP vs. Fixed IP
  4. We got a special discount from TM
  5. Where does Malaysia stand in the World of Broadband Internet?

Optical Fiber vs. Copper Wire

Generally, when light travels in transparent medium, it does interact with the atoms/molecules that it passes through. Macroscopically, such interaction may not be directly observable over the short distance; medium appears to be isotropic over the long distance. Irregularity of the medium does exist, which means the density of the medium does not remains the same, especially over the short distance. Eventually, travelling light signals as observed by us get weaker and weaker in their travel in the medium; we do use “signal booster” such as a laser to increase the intensity of the signals. Meanwhile, the transfer of electrical energy relies on the movement of charged particles, which are electrons or ions. What we call as electrical energy is in fact the kinetic energy being transferred to the direction we intend. Charged particles in general move in random direction; temperature is a measure of average kinetic energy of the particles for a given system. The transfer of momentum between charged particles happens when they collide with each other; a portion of energy would be released as they are carried by photons. The release of energy to the surrounding, either by photons or direct collision (thermal contact), would be appear as loss of energy in the form of heat. Macroscopically, we call the ratio of voltage and electrical current as resistance, which results in the loss of signal.

Transfer of signal through optical fiber or copper wire is subject to energy loss. Optical fiber does not carry electricity. The benefit of optical fiber over copper wire is that the signal loss of the same amount happens over a much longer distance. Thus the use of optical fiber can boost the efficiency of transferring signal, allowing higher bandwidth. Within a short distance, the efficiency of optical fiber over copper wire does not necessarily translate into cost saving. The computers or other devices accept the input of data in the form of electrical signal, which means an optical network unit (ONU) or modem is required to decode the light signal into the kind of signal computer can read directly. The loss of signals is the function of distance. Cost saving could be achieved when the existing infrastructure, which is the copper wires that are already in place, can be used instead of laying new optical fiber cables. Taking advantage of existing copper lines can also result in faster deployment of Broadband Internet.

The current standard of VDSL 2 (G.993.2) was approved in November, 2011. VDSL 2 allows bidirectional net data rate (the sum of upstream and downstream rates) up to 200 Mbps on loops up to approximately 300 meters of 26 AWG (0.4 mm) under profile of 30a ref 23, 25. In other words, VDSL 2 service subscribers can potentially get symmetrical speed of 100 Mbps for download and upload ref 24. To overcome the limitation of length requirement for copper wire, one or more VDSL 2 loop extenders can be placed in between the premises and ONU, which act as a signal booster. Assume that at most 45 meters of copper cable is required from the port of the same floor to your VDSL 2 modem, without VDSL 2 loop extender, your residential building can have at most 78 stories or your office building can have at most 59 stories ref 26. Of course, such a configuration requires the ONU to be located at the basement of the building, which connects fiber network to copper-wire network. The limitation of length makes VDSL 2 Profile 30a suitable to be deployed in Fiber-to-the-Building scenario. The reliability of VDSL 2 does depend on the quality of copper wires and the adherence to VDSL 2 standard, including but not limited to requirement of short loop.

The bottom line is, up to 100 Mbps of download/upload speed, if the deployment of VDSL 2 is done right, the use of VDSL 2 in high-rise building can offer comparable quality of service to Fiber-to-the-Home which is used by TM to deliver UniFi service to landed premises.

UniFi VIP Packages vs. BIZ Packages

TM decided to implement “Fair Usage Policy” for residential UniFi packages.ref2 “Fair Usage Policy” is TM’s way to limit the usage of its users. “Fair Usage” is defined as maximum amount of data being downloaded or uploaded in a given month, which varies depending on the package being subscribed to. When the user has exhibited “unfair usage”, which potentially affect good service for the other customers, TM would slow down the transfer speed for those users who exhibit unfair usage. The fair usage being defined by TM is:

Package Download/Upload Speed Fair Usage
VIP5 5 Mbps 60 GB
VIP10 10 Mbps 90 GB
VIP20 20 Mbps 120 GB

Due to the concerns of potential and existing customers, TM claims that it has not implemented monthly volume capping until further notice. Nevertheless, TM has not given up or promised to not implement fair usage policy. What we do know is that the “fair usage” as being defined by TM may not be applicable due to TM’s suspension but TM does not publicize the currently applicable “fair usage” either. For example, VIP5 user can potentially download more than 60 GB without experiencing any slowdown. He may begin experiencing slowdown after downloading certain amount of data (which is determined by TM from time to time).

TM said that its “Fair Usage Policy” is to ensure good quality of service to all customers ref3. The suspension of currently defined “fair usage” would mean that downloading of more than 60 GB by VIP 5 customers may not impact other customers. However, the available of bandwidth is certainly limited by TM’s infrastructure. TM would slow down “unfair users” to allow other “fair users” to avoid network congestion. We do not actually know how much burden TM’s infrastructure can carry and how TM implements “Fair Usage Policy” if the currently defined data cap is suspended.

I’ve argued in the very beginning that the data cap being defined by TM is too little. But suspension of currently defined data cap is not exactly a positive message to customers either. To be fair to TM, the implementation of data cap is not exactly new or exclusive to TM. There may be many reasons for such policy. One of them may be cost; one of them may be to extract more revenues from its customers. Since TM has not given up on implementing fair usage policy, TM should publish the appropriate data cap, ones that make sense currently; TM should also continually revise the data cap upwards as new infrastructure being built and the cost driven down. All I really demand is transparency. Only with transparency the customers can rest their mind. For the common interests of all Internet users, I demand all ISPs around the world to reveal their bandwidth management policy; consumers deserve to know what they get from the subscription fees they pay.

My neighborhood was not in UniFi Coverage Area initially. Back then, TM published a scheduled roll-out plan. I was excited that my neighborhood would soon have UniFi services. As I mentioned earlier, after more than a year, we officially became UniFi users. My initial choice was VIP10. I realized the “Fair Usage Policy” of TM, which also applies to TM’s residential ADSL Internet service, branded as “Streamyx”. Despite knowing of the suspension of 90 GB data cap, I can’t help but worry about how fair usage policy would affect me as a heavy user. Eventually, I learned of the existence of business packages of UniFi service, which are not subject to Fair Usage Policy. TM or its resellers did not try to promote business plans to potential home users due to higher price. The suspension of currently-defined “monthly volume capping” is being re-interpreted to be suspension of “Fair Usage Policy” by many salespeople; TM even declares “currently unlimited until further notice” ref 10. However, as a matter of fact, TM never officially declare the suspension or cancellation of Fair Usage Policy. What is not being imposed is the currently-defined monthly volume data capping; which could mean TM would begin to slow down the transfer speed when more data are being transferred than it currently defines. If the total bandwidth of TM’s infrastructure is more than enough, TM may not need to slow down the speed at all. Undoubtedly, my concern over data usage led me to subscribe to BIZ 5 eventually.

Initially, TM had three business (BIZ) packages under UniFi. As of October 26, 2013, TM has 9 BIZ packages ref 4, 5, 6.

Package Download Speed Upload Speed Monthly Subscription Fee
BIZ 5 (Dynamic IP) 5 Mbps 5 Mbps RM 199
BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP) 10 Mbps 10 Mbps RM 289
BIZ 10 (Fixed IP) 10 Mbps 10 Mbps RM 599
BIZ 20 (Dynamic IP) 20 Mbps 20 Mbps RM 359
BIZ 20 (Fixed IP) 20 Mbps 20 Mbps RM 899
BIZ 30 (Dynamic IP) 30 Mbps 30 Mbps RM 599
BIZ 50 (Dynamic IP) 50 Mbps 50 Mbps RM 899
BIZ 100 (Dynamic IP) 100 Mbps 50 Mbps RM 1599

For those customers who subscribe to UniFi Service at shops, offices, factories, etc., they are only eligible for UniFi BIZ packages. UniFi home users have the option to choose between BIZ or VIP packages. Other than having the options for fixed IP, BIZ packages are not subject to any volume data cappingref2. In terms of network resources, BIZ users are given higher priority compared with VIP users. At the end of the year of 2012, there are more than 406,009 VIP subscribers and 75,089 BIZ subscribersref7.

Psychologically, the suspension of currently-defined monthly volume data capping would encourage home users to subscribe to VIP packages as many salespeople as well VIP subscribers would be glad to ignore the fine print. A careful review shows that TM expects heavy users to pay more under BIZ packages. Personally, I do think that the VIP packages are expensive for what the subscribers get. Considering the number of subscribers, it’s no doubt that the cost could not be lower without sufficient number of subscribers.

On February 28, 2013, UniFi service (BIZ 5) was activated at my father’s office.

Dynamic IP vs. Fixed IP

For those users who are interested in BIZ packages, they may be curious about “Fixed IP vs. Dynamic IP”. Some people have claimed that Fixed-IP Internet connection would provide more reliable and stable Internet connection because there is no sharing of resources with other users. Is that true? The short answer is NO. The truth is that, in the case of UniFi BIZ packages, we would still need to share the same underlying backbone infrastructure even with VIP users though we are given higher priority. An Internet Protocol address (IP Address) is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g. computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing. Its role has been characterized as follows: “A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there.” ref 15 A fixed IP address could be used to identify and locate the device or its possible user. The use of fixed IP address allows a server to act as an Internet host, so that it can be assessed by other users from other locations over the Internet.

In practice, when a user browses the web page in a web browser, instead of typing the IP address, they would type URL such as google.com, which easier to be remembered. When a user input the URL, it would be translated into IP address according to a Domain Name System so that the user can get access to the server.

Dynamic IP address would mean that the Internet user would be given a different IP address each time he connects to Internet or after certain amount of time during the connection. It is assumed that a typical consumer would need to download more than to upload; or he does not require his computer to be remotely accessed; or he does not need to log on the Internet 24/7. The advent of fixed-line Broadband Internet access, whether it is ADSL, FTTH, VDSL2, cable, etc., would actually make constant connection to Internet more common. The use of dynamic IP address would achieve saving in total number of available IP addresses as IP address is only assigned when a user is connected to Internet. However, if the users connect to Internet 24/7 and IP addresses are configured to be re-assigned only when re-connections happen, no savings in total number of available IP addresses could be achieved.

Is it possible to host a server in a dynamic-IP Internet connection? A client would be able to locate the host as long as the IP address remains unchanged. It is also possible to install an application on the server so that the application would periodically update the current IP address being assigned. Generally, uninterrupted access to the host would require static IP address. Remote access can be done as long as the IP address remains current. Even when you are hosting a server, the necessity for a static IP address depends on the applications. In many cases, it’s perfectly viable to host a server even your connection is of dynamic IP address.

The underlying network resources are to be shared among all UniFi users, no matter you are Dynamic-IP or Fixed-IP user. There are no separate fixed-IP packages for BIZ 30, BIZ 50, and BIZ 100. A fixed IP address is available as an add-on for additional monthly fee of RM 200; 5 fixed IP addresses are available as an add-on for additional monthly fee of RM 300.

When I first subscribed to BIZ 5 back in the year of 2011, the only dynamic-IP BIZ package available is BIZ 5. BIZ 10 (Fixed IP) costs more than twice compared with BIZ 5. As much as I want higher Internet speed, eventually I settled for BIZ 5 in place of VIP 10 as I do cherish data usage as much as I cherish speed; we are indeed price-sensitive. The availability of BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP) at lower cost certainly gets my attention; but I still think and hope the broadband price should be lowered in the future to increase broadband Internet use and adoption in our society; or the increase in demand would make TM eventually being able to lower the price per Mbps. From time to time, TM did give special discounts to specific groups of people, such as disabled people, college students, existing long-time users, etc. TM actually lowers price for its Streamyx customers in bundled packages ref 11, 12; it also lowered the price of 4Mbps and launched 8 Mbps package ref 13. When I first subscribed to Streamyx, there were no bundled packages and only standard packages were available. Compared with UniFi, Streamyx features much lower upload speed, currently up to 512 Kbps ref 14. As a matter of fact, the greatest upload speed can be achieved theoretically by ADSL is 2.5 Mbps ref 16; the improvement over ADSL technology could potentially achieve higher upload speed. From our previous experiences, TM’s ADSL Internet service is much more unreliable compared with UniFi. Due to limited coverage area of UniFi compared with Streamyx, TM actually regards Streamyx/Business Broadband as fixed-line broadband of choice for the masses ref 7.

We got a special discount from TM

Back then, the price was simply not low enough to lure me into BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP). TM’s saleswoman called my father several times to ask if he was interested to upgrade UniFi package to BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP). When the price was offered as stated on TM’s web site, I simply said that there was no discount for us, contrary to what the saleswoman said. Soon after, the saleswoman called again. This time, she told us that BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP) would be available for us at the price of RM 219 per month, which is RM 20 more than what we paid for BIZ 5, assuming that we agreed for such upgrade within a few days; it was a limited-time offer for selected customers. As she offered us such a deal, I asked her if such a deal was also available for another UniFi account registered under my father’s company’s name. As she said yes to us, we opted to upgrade from BIZ 5 to BIZ 10 (Dynamic IP) for both accounts. We are genuinely happy to get such a discount. Just to be clear, TM gives us a special RM 70 monthly discount so we are required to pay RM 219 monthly. Well, this is interesting as it costs RM 20 more than VIP 10 but without fair usage policy.

Where does Malaysia stand in the World of Broadband Internet?

For the sake of entire nation, I do believe that ISPs and governments need to do more to lower the price, increase the quality, and promote the adoption and utilization of our people. At a time when other nations are heading to affordable 100 Mbps Internet service for most people, we should not be stop at only 10 Mbps. What makes the situation worse is that we only have such service in selected areas. Even for Streamyx, the available packages that people can choose from do depend on locations ref 17; some users may only choose the maximum download speed of 1 Mbps; it is not available nationwide either despite having wider coverage area compared with UniFi. As of second quarter of the year of 2013, Akamai reported that the average download speed of Malaysia is 3.1 Mbps. It defines broadband Internet as the download speed that exceeds 4 Mbps ref 19. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) of the United States defines minimum actual speed for broadband Internet is 4 Mbps for download and 1 Mbps for upload ref 20, which means Streamyx does not qualify as “Broadband Internet” for having only the maximum upload speed of 512 Kbps. Of course, the slowest Streamyx package is Streamyx 384 Kbps, with only 384 Kbps for download and 128 Kbps for upload ref 12, which is still regarded as high-speed broadband Internet access by TM ref 18.

Top 10 Countries/Regions with Fastest Average Internet Connection as of Q2, 2013 (Data from Akamai)

Country/Region Mbps
1 South Korea 13.3
2 Japan 12.0
3 Switzerland 11.0
4 Hong Kong 10.8
5 Latvia 10.6
6 Netherlands 10.1
7 Czech Republic 9.8
8 United States 8.7
9 Sweden 8.4
10 United Kingdom 8.4

Note that FCC specifically points out that actual speed and advertised speed do not necessarily coincide ref 20. The location of hosts, for example, would affect the connection speed between host and clients. The capability of hosts do play roles in affecting the Internet experience. Interestingly, more than half of the Internet hosts are in the United States or within the jurisdiction of U.S. laws ref 21.

Selected Internet Hosts Number in the year of 2012

Country Internet Hosts
World 903,909,915
United States 505,000,000

Under National Broadband Plan, United States wants 100 million U.S. homes to have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and actual upload speed of at least 50 Mbps by 2020 ref 22. Of course, it remains less than a decade for United States to realize its goal.

The utilization and adoption of Broadband Internet access by our society can fundamentally change the ways of our lives. Making Broadband Internet access widely available is merely the first, but admittedly very important step. At a time when knowledge plays an increasing role in our global economy, learning should be a lifelong experience and certainly beyond the traditional classrooms. Broadband Internet can be used in a wide range of scenarios; the full power of Broadband Internet can only be realized when our society has the skills and knowledge to take advantage of it, assuming that it’s already affordably available.

I thank TM for giving me such an offer. But TM, other ISPs, or governments should continue to stop kidding ourselves to use international standard to accurately reflect our strength and weakness. In 2012 TM’s Annual Report, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) reported that household penetration rate is 66% ref 7. By Akamai/FCC’s standard, the adoption rate of broadband Internet in Malaysia is merely 27% in Q2, 2013 ref 19. Low broadband Internet adoption rate, coupled with widespread digital illiteracy, would seriously undermine our nation’s competitiveness and quality of life of our people. Increased broadband Internet adoption and utilization in our society would improve the quality of services, expand our people’s knowledge, and foster innovation. Eventually, my quality of life does depend on the availability of good services in our society. We do rise and fall together, not only as a nation, but also as human beings in this increasingly connected world.

References:

  1. 2010 Annual Report of Telekom Malaysia Berhad.
  2. General UniFi FAQ
  3. UniFi Residential Service Guide
  4. UniFi BIZ Packages
  5. Two New TM UniFi for Business Packages- BIZ30 & BIZ50
  6. UniFi now offers BIZ 100Mbps fiber broadband package
  7. 2012 TM’s Annual Report
  8. MCMC’s 2011 Annual Report
  9. TM’s Financial Results of the First Half of the Year of 2013
  10. Packages of UniFi VIP
  11. Streamyx and Phone Packages
  12. Streamyx Standard Packages
  13. TM to reduce Streamyx 4Mbps subscription to RM140/month
  14. TM’s Fixed-IP Business Broadband (ADSL) Package
  15. IP address on English Wikipedia
  16. Annex M (ADSL) Technology
  17. Streamyx Standard Packages Terms & Conditions
  18. Streamyx FAQs
  19. State of Internet on Q2, 2013 by Akamai
  20. International Broadband Data Report, issued on August 21, 2012
  21. List of Countries By Internet Hosts on English Wikipedia
  22. National Broadband Plan of United States
  23. G.993.2 : Very high speed digital subscriber line transceivers 2 (VDSL2) on ITU
  24. White Paper: VDSL2: A feasible Solution for “Last Mile”
  25. Zhone VDSL 2 Technology
  26. Calculating the height of a tall building where only the number of stories is known
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