After almost 18 months of delays and a regulatory ultimatum, Malaysia joined the Wimax club with the launch of PacketOne’s Wimax service Tuesday.
The new P1 W1MAX broadband service is the first Wimax service to go live in Malaysia after the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) issued four 2.3 GHz Wimax licenses in March 2007.
Although P1 has deployed 802.16e technology for its network, the carrier is positioning it as a fixed wireless service initially.
PacketOne CEO Michael Lai says that’s the sweet spot for Wimax as Malaysia’s fixed broadband market remains sluggish, with broadband penetration at just over 15% in Q1 this year, and dial-up users outnumbering broadband users four to one, according to the MCMC.
“We will start with fixed wireless, because there is lots of pent-up demand for broadband, then in Q4 this year we will offer a USB dongle to provide some portable Wimax,” Lai said.
“When we have substantial network coverage, we’ll go to a full mobile Wimax, which will coincide at the timing when more devices are available, which we believe will be around the end of next year if not 2010,” he added.
P1 is offering two Wimax packages to start, a 1.2-Mbps service and a 2.4-Mbps service, priced at RM99 and RM229, respectively, for a one-year contract.
Coverage will initially be available in KLCC, Golden Triangle, Pekeliling, Setapak, Gombak, Seri Rampai, Sentul, Pudu, selected areas in Subang Jaya, USJ 1, USJ 7 and Subang Hi-Tech area. Lai says P1 will meet its target of 25% coverage by the end of the year as it expands to Petaling Jaya, Damansara, Klang and Port Klang and others within the Klang Valley, as well as Johor Bahru, Kedah, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and all major towns and cities in the West Coast of Peninsula Malaysia.
Lai says P1 will have the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia covered next year, and East Malaysia will have service by 2010 at the latest, with a target of 45% population coverage.
Chip-maker Intel, which invested $15 million in P1’s parent company, Green Packet, in May this year, will assist P1 in marketing the service.
The rollout has been a long time coming. P1 – along with fellow Wimax licensees Bizsurf (owned by YTL e-Solutions), Asiaspace Dotcom and Redtone-CNX Broadband – were originally expected by the MCMC to launch services to 25% of the population by the end of 2007.
However, by November 2007, trials were still ongoing and, according to media reports, plagued by technical performance issues, particularly in regards to indoor coverage.
The lack of interoperability certification for 2.3 GHz Wimax equipment is also believed to be a factor. The Wimax Forum only certified the first eight 2.3 GHz Wimax products in April this year, although Lai said in May that this was a minor issue that can be resolved with software upgrades.
Either way, when it became clear that no one was going to make the deadline, the MCMC granted extensions, but after P1 postponed an intended June launch for further network tweaking, and with none of its competitors announcing a concrete launch timetable, the MCMC last month issued an ultimatum: launch services by the end of August or get slapped with fines.
Since then, Redtone has said it will soft-launch Wimax in Kota Kinabalu on August 20. Neither Asiaspace nor YTLe’s Bizsurf have given specific launch dates for Wimax.
In June, Asiaspace contracted Huawei Technologies in June to supply Wimax gear with a targeted Q3 launch. The same month, YTLe forged a partnership with Sprint Nextel’s XOHM business unit which it said would speed up deployment, but the company offered no timetable, saying only it would comply with MCMC requirements.
P1’s Lai says the network is ready to go, and that issues like indoor coverage can be mitigated with 802.16e’s MIMO and beamforming capabilities. But his assurances also came with the caveat that “all new technologies have teething issues”.
“We still remember the time when the mobile phones first hit the market and we had to look for best spots just to answer the phone,” he said. “Then it becomes ubiquitous and challenges get ironed out. We believe this will certainly be the case for Wimax.”