BlogsRSS

Don Sambandaraksa

Living in the middle of nowhere part 2

It would be unfair to criticise state-dinosaur TOT without sharing my love of CAT Telecom. Living in the middle of nowhere has led to developing an intense love-hate relationship with TOT as my only link into civilisation. On the other hand, CAT has only been the source of a few anecdotes which has resulted in my car’s roof and undertray, separately, being damaged.

Fed up with the atrocious broadband speeds that TOT’s co-called 30 Mbps FTTH gives me at peak times and faced with racial abuse from their drunken area manager, two months ago I tried to get hold of CAT Telecom’s new FTTH service.

Initial contact was to be via their call center. No online sign-up, only some rudimentary information was available on CAT’s website.

The chap at the call center was cheerful enough, taking down my address, assuring me that fiber to the home was available in my area and explaining to me how unlike copper, fiber did not have any limitations on range. That was indeed promising.

CAT also has a very odd set of packages. a 30 Mbps package, for instance, ranges from 2,500 baht ($74) a month silver to 5,460 baht for gold with no details on how exactly one 30 Mbps differs from the other 30 Mbps. Actually, it goes up to 10,900 baht for 30 Mbps platinum plus, but that clearly comes with it’s own /29 subnet of 8 IP addresses.

The cheerful chap at the call center explained in rather convoluted terms that it was all about contention. So how different was the contention ratio between the Silver 30 Mbps package and the seven times more expensive Platinum Plus 30 Mbps package? He had no idea.

Anyway, he gave me the address of the CAT office I had to contact which was even further out of Bangkok, further into middle of nowhere, and I immediately drove there in my normal car. Normal, as in not a pick-up truck which will soon be relevant.

The CAT office was situated next to a main post office. Until 2004 CAT was the Communications Authority of Thailand which did both telecommunications and postal services before it was spun off into CAT Telecom and Thailand Post. After parking and walking to the rather decrepit CAT Telecom office side of the complex, the sleepy security guard seemed to look surprised and pointed to the opposite building telling me that the post office was that way.

No, I was here for CAT Telecom, I told him which made him look rather surprised and happily opened the door for me.

Inside, there were three people and what could only be described as a friendly aunty type bureaucrat who was obviously in charge.

“I am here to apply for CAT OnNet”, I told her.

They were actually quite happy to have a customer walk through the door and gladly took my address.

“Oh, you’re not in our area,” she said. “We only do up to the other side of the road. You’re on the wrong side. You have to go the Laksi office (CAT Telecom’s headquarters),” she explained.

That was bad. But then she continued.

“But there is no point. You’re not in the CAT fiber service area anyway. Doing a survey would be a waste of everyone’s time. We only serve down to your canal on the other side of the road, and on your side, we only serve up to two canals up,” she explained. Well, I did simplify it a bit as I do not want paparazzi to paddle up my canal to my house

But obviously if I am on the wrong side of the road, 2km from the right side of the road, you have right of way and can just lay down a bit more fiber, I argued. She laughed and said it would be a waste of time and went back to their bureaucratic aunty-type chit-chatting leaving me to draw a big sigh.

It was clear that CAT’s professionalism was not that different from TOT’s.

Anyway, back to my cars. CAT had built some strange ramps to its car park and on going down the ramp, my normal non-pickup car beached, scraping the bottom of it quite badly. Most people in the middle of nowhere drive pickup trucks, not a low-lying executive saloon, and thus did not have that problem.

Back in 2002 when I became a civil servant at the ICT Ministry, I spent the first year working at CAT Telecom’s HQ in the center of Bangkok. I had a VW T25 Transporter (the last boxer-engined version) and once took it to work, parking in CAT’s car park tower. This is a new, modern skyscraper building with a helicopter pad at the top where CAT’s data center also is located.

The car at 1.92m fit nicely and the car park had a clearance marked of 2.1m. Or so I thought. I managed to get up the car park without incident, spent a day churning out propaganda, but when the slave factory called time and we went home, on the very, very last floor, someone had decided to do some modifications to the building and had put a series of pipes across the car park exit. My VW van did not fit. It wedged in the exit, causing substantial damage to my car, the pipe and resulting in traffic chaos as the only way others could get out was to reverse up a spiral ramp and go down the entrance.

It is somehow fitting that 13 years after CAT wrecked my car’s roof, they wrecked my other car’s undertray.

That is my view of Cattlecom, sorry, I mean CAT telecom. That is the level of professionalism their retail and building management teams show to end users. It’s a joke, as funny as the joke that is TOT corporation.

But while many are happy to see the two state enterprises flounder and make a fool of themselves and enjoy squandering taxpayer money, the scary thought is that CAT and TOT are poised to take on more and more of the country’s infrastructure and backhaul in the name of national security. When that happens, it will be Thailand’s neighbours and and competitors who have the last laugh.