TrueMove H: from ugly duckling to swan

04 Nov 2011

Thailand’s TrueMove was once the ugly duckling. A distant third in a market of four players (nobody really counts state-owned TOT’s ThaiMobile network or its 3G successor). But with the shift to 3G, the once written-off ugly duckling is shedding its plumage and is becoming a swan.

But is it a black swan or a white swan? Leaving aside the whys and wherefores of how TrueMove got to 3G for one moment, the bottom line is clear. Of all the carriers, it has by far the most developed, fastest and furthest reaching 3G network of them all with a cost structure that is much, much cheaper than what AIS and DTAC have to pay to their concession holders.

At my own home, in Rangsit, north of Bangkok, neither AIS nor DTAC have 3G coverage. On TOT 3G I can just about get a signal with a big 13 db external panel antenna and can get about 1 to 2 MBPS with a horrendous 100+ millisecond ping time.

TrueMove H allows me to actually (gasp) use a phone indoors and get around 55 ms domestic ping times and, at best, a stunning 9.8 MBPS on my 14.4 MBPS capable Huawei dongle. 2 to 3 MBPS is more typical even at peak times, which is much better than anything else that is on offer. No, it has been 12 years and I still do not have a proper copper line from anyone and rely on a proprietary microwave dish to get online (at great cost).

I sat down with Piroon Paireepairith, Director for Non-Voice and 3G at TrueMove H, and asked him how the move to 3G has been.

For the first time, the company has been able to target the premium customer rather than the budget segment. High end smart phone users are actively moving to the network because of the speed and coverage it offers, he claims.

True has tried to move upmarket before, partnering with Apple to be the first to launch the original iPhone in Thailand, but without the network to back it up and with a liberal no-locking, no long-term contract policy mandated by the regulator, all it meant was that people bought the phone from them and soon moved to AIS or DTAC. Now, with 3G, it has a true chance.

He was cagey on the numbers of subscribers but there was one number he did share. In the ten weeks from August to October, traffic grew from 100 terabytes per week to 150 terabytes per week (an odd metric, it must be said) and the level of growth shows no sign of abating.

The problem - as is usually the case - is that with unlimited data plans, 5% of the users use 50% of the network capacity.

During the test phase, before traffic shaping, the number one user (or abuser, as Paireepairith called him) was downloading 600 gigabytes per month via Bittorrent. Since then, TrueMove H has moved on to two unlimited plans with a speed cap of 384 KBPS after 2 or 5 GB. Even with the cap, that user still manages to download 80 GB a month. But 95% of the users would be fine at 2 GB, he stressed.

Leaving the “abusers” and their downloads to one side, the number one traffic destination is Facebook, with everyone uploading pictures to the social networking site. Second is Youtube and third, interestingly enough, is Whatsapp, the over the top messaging app that also allows users to send not just text chats, but pictures, sound and video, which he added was just a bit behind second place.

TrueMove H now faces a dilemma. Take away unlimited data and risk alienating users who are still scared of bill shock, which it does not want to do at this stage of the network’s growth, or introduce metered data.

The problem with metered data is that the concept is still alien to most users away from the savvy metropolitan smart phone elite. Users and dealers alike still think in minutes rather than megabytes and inertia to the concept has been much stronger than anyone expected.

Moving on, True hopes to leverage its TV channel to offer multimedia at a premium price for its users, offering HD streaming of its own shows on-demand. Of course, having its own TV station as well as its own broadband and 3G network helps, but whether it would be anti-competitive or not is another matter.

That is, if the reasons that it got the network in the first place do not rear its ugly head first. White swan? Black swan? Only time will tell.

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