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Archive for 2012

Why the SKMM Rm200 smartphone rebate is a bad idea

The Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC) or better known by its bahasa acronym SKMM, has recently announced that the government will be offering a ‘rebate’ of RM200 of a list of ‘selected’ smartphones for youthsaged 21 to 30 years old. The program called the ‘Youth Communication Package’ or Pakej Kommunikasi Belia (PKB) has come under tremendous scrutiny from both the general public, and even members of the ruling government as well.

A press release from the SKMM further elaborates:

Youths who qualify for the RM200 rebate will be able to purchase ‘selected’ 3G smartphones costing up to RM500 from selected dealers and agents appointed by service providers. With the rebate, they are expected to pay no more than RM300 to own a new 3G smartphone. “The idea is to spread the incentive across to those who do not yet use smartphones. We really want to help those who cannot afford to change phones to upgrade from their old 2G phones to a basic 3G smartphone.

The Malaysian cyberspace was immediately set abuzz when the announcement was made. The twitter outburst over the scheme is primarily on the price cap of Rm500 because when the Prime Minister announced this back when the budget was tabled, there was no mention about the RM500 price cap on the phone. Even UMNO youth chief Khairy got in on the action–requesting the government not limit the price of the phones, even after the SKMM ‘clarified’ why it was offering the rebate to only those purchasing phones under Rm500. (apparently we don’t offer rebates to the rich)
More…

No Surprise Malaysia scores low on Science

This is a tech blog, so let’s talk about tech.

Let’s about the technology behind the term geo-engineering. According to wikipedia  “The concept of geoengineering (or climate engineering, climate remediation, and climate intervention) refers to “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming”. The techniques of geo-engineering are based on science, but applied on scale that exceeds even my imagination.

Techniques of geo-engineering include things like injecting metallic substances into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sunlight and thus reduce the earth temperatures, or on the more audacious side of the spectrum we have engineers proposing we install cooling pipes into the ocean to mix the cooler deeper water with the warmer surface water to cut-off (or at least slow down) a hurricane. Slowing down a hurricane might sound ludicrous to you, but if you understand the concept behind the creation of a hurricane, you’ll soon realize the solution is solidly based on science, and all it boils down to is an engineering challenge on a never-before-seen scale. It also helps that the company pioneering the hurricane halting technology is currently applying for a couple patents and is supported by the big thinker himself–one Mr. Bill Gates.

It has its sceptics and critics, but then again there were many sceptics when President Kennedy propose to send a Man to the Moon and bring him safely back in 1969. Till this day, some still are sceptical that the United States actually sent anyone up to space in 1969, and even more are critical of the amount of government funds spent on the Space Program–just nobody tell Neil DeGrasse Tyson. More…

SKMM Study: The Best and Worst Telco in KL

Who doesn’t absolutely hate that feeling you get when a call gets drop, or for some reason you just can’t seem to make a phone call on your network. Recently an elderly couple in America died while trying to phone for help--they had 9 drop calls in succession, which just goes to show just how important communications are in our time.

Malaysian wireless reports on an SKMM study done in the first half of 2012 to compare dropped and block call rates for the 3 major telcos in Malaysia. At the moment it’s still unclear why neither YES or uMobile have been studied but the study is a move in the right direction towards providing concrete data on call quality for Malaysians to make inform decision about the telco. Incidentally, SKMM also offer a form you can fill if you’ve experienced a dropped call–for some unknown reason the form is hosted on Google Docs, one can only think SKMM didn’t want to fork out cash to host the form  on their own servers.

First off, I’d like to point out that while I can see the report and search for direct links to the PDF version of the reports online. I can’t seem to locate any link to the report from the SKMM website, which is strange, it also appears that only Malaysian Wireless has reported on this particular study. With other blogs seemingly unaware of the study.

In essence, the study is rather simple:

According to the MCMC drive test report, the assessment was conducted with following criteria:

  • Tests were carried out in moving vehicles (Drive Test).
  • Call duration lasts for 60 seconds, with 10 seconds interval between calls.
  • Phones were set on roam-free environment between 2G and 3G networks that simulates the experience of user in making voice call using phone supporting both technologies.
  • The results of the study only reflect the behavior of the networks on the locations and time of the measurements.

Although, the methodology isn’t clear, and there are missing details, the study is a great starting point to confirm if the telco you’re currently on is providing you top notch quality. The 2 key measurements from the study were the drop call rates and blocked call rates, defined as follows:

a. Dropped Call Rate (DCR)
Dropped call means a call where a connection succeed, that is, the network is accessed, call set up is successful and traffic channel has been assigned, but is disconnected due to abnormal call release. Dropped Call Rate is calculated based on the percentage of number of dropped call over total number of call attempt.

b. Blocked Call Rate (BCR) 
Blocked call means a call is not connected after call attempt due to unavailability of free traffic channel. Blocked Call Rate is calculated based on the percentage of number of blocked call over total number of call attempt.

So the best telco based on these definitions is the one with the lowest DCR and BCR.  A high BCR means calls don’t get connected in the first place, and a high DCR means calls get disconnected once they’re connected. A good telco should strive for the lowest possible numbers on these 2 parameters. While the study was conducted nationally in each and every state, I thought KL would be a good place to dissect the data and provide a benchmark for the nation, if you’d like to know how your telco fared in your home state, head on over to Malaysian wireless who have all the details broken down by state. More…

Science in Malaysia : Myth #1 Homework

As I read more about the sad state of affairs of Science Education in Malaysia, I can see glaring areas for improvement, and some areas that surprise me. All of this data is readily available in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that is actually a benchmark our very own Malaysian Government uses to gauge the success of the National Education blueprint. It’s a wonder that while me make it priority to score in the top third of this benchmark, no one for either side of the political divide seems to bother to read the report–merely taking the final score and politicizing it.

If they actually took time off to read even the one report for science–albeit the 520+ page long report. They’d find some rather interesting data.

Take for instance the controversial topic of Homework. There’s a huge Malaysian inclination to load our children with homework, with the noble aim to familiarize themselves with the subject matter and hence improve their test scores.In fact, in all countries surveyed by the TIMSS study, Malaysian students are given the most homework. The MOST!!

Yet we score in the bottom third of the study. Too much homework is bad, but just how much is too much?

The actual data from the TIMSS study, suggest that the optimal amount of science homework to give a child should be no more than 45 minutes per week per subject. You heard that right–in fact, across all the countries in the study, anything more than this and the test scores start to DECREASE.

More…

Malaysia signs ITU

About 2,000 delegates representing major telecommunication industry players, experts and representatives from nearly 200 member countries of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) assemble here to discuss the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) at theWorld Conference of International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT).

Shouldering the responsibility as a member of the ITU Council for Asia- Pacific, Malaysia is expected to highlight the important issue of telecommunication network security and the right to protect the sovereignty of a country.

Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim is scheduled to arrive in Dubai at 9pm (2am Malaysian time) and voice out Malaysia’s concern over the issue at one of the conference sessions at the Dubai World Trade Centre, here. - Bernama

Sadly–Malaysia is a signatory of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), and once again our government proves it doesn’t understand the internet.

Just in case you’re wondering, the ITR (of which a draft can be found here) is a UN led initiative to bring in government regulation to the internet. It’s unfortunate, that the governments want to include more bureaucracy into the lean-mean machine we call the internet, giving untold powers to governments to begin censoring and controlling access to the internet.  Our very own Rais Yatim–went all the way to Dubai to sign the agreement, pledging support for government interference into the greatest tool the world has ever known.

The reality is this, we don’t need governments controlling the internet, we don’t need a UN body to regulate telecommunications, the same way we don’t need a UN body to regulate water supply or energy supply. We’ve already seen what happens when a government controls the internet of it’s citizens. I think the best quote I have on the subject is from the ever impressive TechDirt

The simple fact is that the world does not need an ITU to “enable” the internet. The internet was built and expanded rapidly through other means, driven by demand and what it enabled people to do. The current system is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it has been working, and shifting to a model driven by international bureaucrats was never in the cards.

The internet does not need the ITU. The ITU needed the internet to remain relevant. The internet, however, does not work that way, and any attempt to move it into such a system of bureaucratic oversight was doomed from the start.

Since I started this blog back in april 2011, I’ve seen the government of Malaysia screw up in terms of technology time and time again, this includes

1) The Evidence Act

2) The Computing Professionals Bill Act

3) The Transpacific Partnership agreement

and now with the ITR, we are signing yet another agreement between nations that would further stifle the innovative freedom of the internet. Something needs to be done.

Science Education in Malaysia — it just sucks!

Putrajaya we have a problem. While the economy maybe growing and the KLCI trending upwards, Malaysia’s number 1 resource is most definitely trending down. In fact there may be a time when it disappears completely and we’ll have to either import it, or live without it.

I’m not talking about oil, I’m talking about our scientist and engineers. The way science is thought in schools today, soon the quality of Malaysian school leavers will be so poor–they will no longer qualify for University Science degrees. There will come a time, when science will be relegated to the same annals as Shakespearian literature, something only a few of us take seriously, while the general population lives in complete ignorance of it.

Think I’m joking? Consider the following question.

Twins are born. One is a boy and one is a girl.
Which statement is correct about their genetic makeup?
a . boy and girl inherit genetic material from the father only.
b . boy and girl inherit genetic material from the mother only.
c . boy and girl inherit genetic material from both parents.
d . boy inherits genetic material from the father only and the girl inherits it from the mother only.

Only 69% of Malaysian Form 2 students got the correct answer. Let that sink in….just 69% of Malaysians 14-year olds know the answer to this ridiculously basic question.

Which means 30% of Malaysian students have no idea where your genetic Material comes from. To put this in perspective the percentage of students who got the very same question right were 79% for KAZAKHSTAN, 84% for Palestine and 95% for Japan. To top it off, Thailand score 77% (on top of beating us in Football yesterday). Even BORATs home country is kicking our ass in Science.

If this isn’t sending alarm bells throughout the country, I don’t know what will.

Only 67% of Malaysian students knew that the chemical symbol for Carbon Dioxide is CO2, losing out to countries like Ghana!! I have to be fair and ask–What the fuck is going on in Malaysian schools? Carbon Dioxide is a well known gas, we’re not talking an exotic isotope of Bismuth or some heavy element, we’re talking about just plain ol’ regular carbon dioxide–and a full 33% of Malaysians don’t know it’s chemical symbol.

These were also the ‘simpler’ question. On the more difficult questions relating to things like gravity, Malaysian students plummet out of sight. Only 18% understood gravity completely, and just 10% understood things like chemical reactions.

This is no laughing matter, this is no time to joke, but it is embarrassingly poor and definitely something to be utterly ashamed off.

As a Tech Blogger and science geek, I cannot even begin to articulate my frustrations at the situation, this was what I read from the full 532 page report from TIMSS on the sad and pathetic situation of Science Education in Malaysia. More…

LTE in Malaysia has No iPhone5 support

iPhone 5 no LTE support from Maxis Malaysia
Breaking news. That new iPhone that you lined up overnight for outside KLCC–won’t have LTE support, and quite possibly–never will!!

So before you plonk down your dough on the next big thing, you might want to consider how you’d feel if within 6 months everybody else on your block had next generation 4G speeds–except you!

LiewCF reports that :

Maxis has announced that it is all set to launch 4G LTE service in Malaysia following the allocation of the 2600 MHz spectrum band for 4G LTE by MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission).

Please note that 2600 MHz spectrum band is not supported by Apple iPhone 5, which will be launched in Malaysia on Dec 14, 2012

For those who are as confused as I am, here’s the breakdown.

Long Term Evolution and 4G networks

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution , which is really a crappy acronym, because neither the acronym nor the long form convey any useful information on what it actually means. Think of LTE as the next generation of mobile data networks, or more easily described as 4G networks. This is the next step to get faster data from your phone.

However, things aren’t that simple. Just like the power sockets you have in hotel rooms, different countries have different solutions and most of the time the laptop charger you’ve brought from home won’t fit into another countries power point. LTE is exactly the same, there’s a wide frequency spectrum to choose from and while there is a chance that two different countries utilize the same frequency band–it’s best not to bet on it.

In fact, from my understanding there are as many as 43 different frequency bands in LTE, while Apple only supports 6 (Band 1,3,5,13,17,25). In case you’re wondering, Malaysia recently announced the awarding of the LTE spectrum to 8 telco players (or rather 7 telcos and 1 crony) for Band 7 of the LTE spectrum. Meaning the current LTE network that Malaysian telcos have been licensed to provide by the MCMC is not supported by the iPhone 5.

TheNextWeb reports that:

several countries, such as Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Switzerland, operate on band 7, …Still others have LTE networks on band 38, which like band 7, is at the 2600MHz frequency.

TNW has contacted Apple to find out whether it plans to release an iPhone with support for band 7 or band 38, but the company didn’t immediately respond.

Looking ahead, Apple will also need to eventually add an iPhone 5 model capable of bands 7 and/or 38 if it wants to reach LTE speeds in emerging markets like Brazil and Russia.

Why you shouldn’t buy the iPhone 5 in Malaysia

At this juncture, two things could happen.

The MCMC could look at licensing out the more ‘common’ LTE bands, and hence provide LTE support to all iPhone5 users in Malaysia.

OR

MCMC do nothing, and Apple instead launch a new  iPhone model with support for Band7. Which would make your brand new iPhone 5 near obsolete, because the LTE spectrum as I understand is controlled by the hardware and not the software. So unfortunately, unlike the power sockets, you can’t buy a cheap Rm35 adapter from AirAsia and connect your phone to a LTE network from the different frequency band–you’ll need a new phone!!

Remember we’re talking about a thousands of ringgit you’re spending on the iPhone and it won’t be able to support the next generation speeds, plus we’re also talking about a company that made it’s ‘new’ iPad obsolete in the space of months.

Side note on WiFi

Given that power sockets, mobile networks and power frequencies differ from country to country, it really is amazing that WiFi standard are consistent throughout the globe. This year, I’ve traveled to 4 different countries and never once have I experienced issues connecting to WiFi.

Whose fault is it

LiewCF has suggested it could be the MCMC, but the data suggest that we’re not the only country using Band7. The truth is that no single phone can support all LTE bands currently utilized and no single LTE network can support all phones currently manufactured.

The landscape is completely fragmented and for something as new as LTE, this is completely unacceptable. Technically it’s nobody’s fault in particular, but the entire telco industry in general should be held responsible for not putting Interoperability at the forefront of their designs.

For now, I guess we’ll just have to live this.

Does the government have a right to shut down telecommunications services?

Press.Tv reports that Pakistan has suspended mobile phone services in several major cities to prevent terror attacks on minority Shia groups as they celebrate the holy month of Muharram. The rationale behind the suspension is that the terrorist use mobile phone services to detonate bombs and as a result the suspension of mobile phone services would help prevent such attacks. Meanwhile, Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for the militants’ umbrella group, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has claimed that suspending mobile phone services will not hold them back from carrying out their deadly attacks against the Shia Muslims.

This is ultimately a case of the government having too much power, the real threat of terrorist using bombs somehow resulted in a government issued communications blackout throughout the country–which does little to prevent the terrorist who are hell bent on killing.

I’m guessing that cellphones are picked as detonators for their ubiquity and range, however if you remove the cellphone from the equation you still have hundreds of possible detonation mechanisms, including timers (like the ones from early Mission Impossible shows), walkie talkies and even just a person standing by the bomb and detonating himself with it.

While many of us are of the opinion that a government should do everything to protect it’s citizens, we often fail to to realize that the mechanisms the governments utilize to protect us has a cost–a cost usually paid for by the very people they are supposed to protect.

A full blown mobile service block, doesn’t just block the terrorist–they block everyone. From a father frantically trying to locate his daughter, a hospital trying to locate next of kin in an emergency, or even a blood bank trying to contact its donors. This sort of carpet block is not an effective solution and the cost of it usually far outweigh the benefit, with the benefit being ZERO if the terrorist find some other way to detonate the bomb in spite of the block. More…