LIRNEasia Research Fellow Grace Mirandilla Santos has had the opportunity to identify the top consumer issues at the first Telecommunications Summit organized by the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology recently. She writes about it in TelecomAsia: Although I’m very passionate about consumer woes—and it’s very easy to get carried away—I showed the results of studies and analyses by third (mostly disinterested) parties, as researchers are wont to do. I gathered statistics from Akamai Technologies, OpenSignal, The Economist Intelligence Unit, ITU’s Broadband Commission, and Measuring the Information Society reports. For validation, I threw in some of my own research done for LIRNEasia and a latest collaboration using Big Data analytics. What was common in these studies was that the country’s internet service is improving, but continues to be one of the slowest and most expensive in the region.
LIRNEasia’s preliminary round of mobile broadband quality testing in selected locations in Western Province unveils both hopes and issues. The good news is that the quality of both key pre-paid mobile broadband services is satisfactory, in majority of locations. However, unusual quality drops in several places indicates that this performance is not always a certainty. In general, a mobile broadband user in Western Province can expect a reasonable quality unless a rare issue like the distance from a tower or a higher number of simultaneous users hinders it. LIRNEasia tested the broadband quality of the popular pre-paid High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) broadband connections of the two key providers.
Findings from LIRNEasia’s latest round of broadband quality of service experience (QoSE) testing has been published in Chennai’s Financial Chronicle and The Indian Express, two leading print newspapers in India. Read the two of the articles here and here. There is disparity in the advertised broadband speed and the actual speed, according to the findings of a research project jointly carried out by Learning Initiative on Reforms for Network Economies Asia (LIRNEasia), TeNeT Group of the IIT Madras. Excerpt below: “There is disparity in the advertised broadband speed and the actual speed, according to the findings of a research project jointly carried out by Learning Initiative on Reforms for Network Economies Asia (LIRNEasia), TeNeT Group of the IIT Madras.There is disparity in the advertised broadband speed and the actual speed, according to the findings of a research project jointly carried out by Learning Initiative on Reforms for Network Economies Asia (LIRNEasia), TeNeT Group of the IIT Madras.
If you believe something, no evidence is necessary, they say, while if you don’t know evidence is adequate. So we are not surprised if users do not agree, but that is what evidence shows. Test results from Feb 2008 and Feb 2009 round shows a clear improvement, when accessing international servers. The broken lines are for 2008, the unbroken for 2009. SLT ADSL and Dialog WiMax were tested both times.
Just liked everything else in telecom, the signs were visible in Asia first, Indonesia and Sri Lanka in particular. The debate in the blogsphere is all about HSPA and HSDPA, no one cares about tired old ADSL. We do, of course, and will continue to work on fixed, nomadic and mobile broadband price and QOSe. But nice to know the Economist is not too behind the curve. AS HANDSETS turn into computers, laptops are becoming more like mobile phones.
In conventional thinking, complex industries with oligopoly characteristsics such as telecom require regulation by specialized agencies. Interconnection must be ensured; spectrum must be managed, etc. In addition, information asymmetries between operators and customers necessitate a degree of regulation of matters such as quality of service, billing accuracy and truth in advertising. For example, the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka has had a consumer relation unit since 1999. However, many regulators do not perform their functions satisfactorily.
The Economist, which has been quite skeptical about mobile advertising, has a story which reports takeoff has occurred. What I find interesting is the analysis of which roadblocks have been removed. Here, the relevance of the broadband quality of service experience work we have been doing is noteworthy. Assuming that mobile operators want ad revenues (not a hard assumption), this shows that it is in their interest to improve the quality of service experience from the dismal levels that exist today. Faster networks and lower rates also help.
The download speeds that customers get in Chennai, Colombo and Dhaka are not very different, if you carefully examine the results of the October 2009 results of broadband QOSe using the Ashokatissa methodology jointly developed by IIT Madras and LIRNEasia. What differs is the level of truth in advertising. In Sri Lanka, everybody is lying. In India, they are closer to the truth. The difference is regulation.
One of the key debates on broadband is between those who believe in “all you can eat” service packages and pricing and those who do not. Our research so far indicates that broadband can only be provided to the Bottom of the Pyramid using the same kind of business plans that were effective in providing mobile service to the BOP, that is, not all-you-can eat. Comcast, a leading US ISP, has just announced caps on downloads. If this is the future for rich country users, can there be any doubt about what the future for BOP users in poor countries?
Ten years ago, pretty much all the traffic went through the US Internet backbone. Today, claims are being made that only 25 per cent of traffic is routed through the US system. This may require changes in LIRNEasia’s (and Singapore’s) efforts to improve broadband quality of service experience through benchmark regulation or otherwise, using as one of the measures, Round Trip Time to the Internet cloud, defined as first point of landing in the US. An alternative will not be easy to come by, but we have faith in the wisdom of the many. Please contribute.