Living Wirelessly in Malaysia
by Chelsi Sparti
Senior Permit Technician, Land Use Department
In 2014,Chelsi Sparti had the opportunity to teach English and American Culture in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia under a generous Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Grant through the U.S. Department of State and the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MOE). She spent her time teaching secondary school, traveling throughout South East Asia and exploring Asian cultural relationships with nature. The opinions expressed within this piece are strictly her own.
Maintaining internet and cell phone connectivity was a U.S. Department of State requirement during my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Malaysia. Prior to my placement, I was accustomed to daily life with a smartphone. Upon my arrival in the state of Sarawak, on the bio-diverse island of Borneo, I learned firsthand just how spotty wireless coverage could be, and quickly discovered that the quality and reliability of connectivity abroad varied dramatically, particularly in rural areas.
Telecommunications in Malaysia is centered in Kuala Lumpur (population 1.6 million), with its skyscrapers, business economy, ex-patriot havens, and nightlife. However, mobile coverage ripples outward from the capital city with decent coverage in suburban locations, spotty coverage in semi-rural communities, and virtually no coverage in the villages and jungle rumah panjang (long house dwelling). To put it plainly, in my small, remote farming town of Sri Aman, Sarawak, I was a world away, with a vastly quieter lifestyle that did not center around my mobile phone.
Choosing a mobile service provider seemed a daunting task. The Malaysian mobile industry is not driven by cell phone contracts, and each operator offers a service localized to a particular region of the country. This set-up makes it necessary for piecemeal mobile solutions that often involve people owning one phone for calls in the village, one phone for calls in the city, and another phone for data and apps. I knew I couldn’t keep track of three phones, so my objective was to find an uncomplicated mobile solution that yielded the highest reliability.
On the first day in Sri Aman I went into a branch of the most established telecommunications company in Malaysia, Celcom, bringing my American telecom knowledge with me. After customary introductions about my teaching contract, I asked the single, most important question on my mind, “May I see your wireless coverage map for this area?” I received blank stares. After describing the colorful blots on a map showing mobile signal strength in various parts of the county that are a well-known staple to American television viewers, the employee looked up at me, smiled and said, “don’t have.” So I blindly chose the oldest Malaysian company for my hand phone (Malaysian term for cell phone). In the months that followed, I learned that the lack of sophisticated telecom information such as coverage maps would foreshadow the limitations of the hit-or-miss wireless communication that is standard in Malaysia. Although I was at first frustrated by the limited connectivity, I soon learned to adopt the gratitude of locals in receiving any wireless signal at all.
On an island that has only implemented a network of formal roads for land transportation within the last 60 years, it is not surprising that the wireless network infrastructure is in a similar state of infancy. “The line,” as Malaysians so fondly refer to the Internet signal, is incredibly weak on public Wi-Fi networks. Much like users around the world, Malaysians enjoy “selfie” uploads and video streaming but they do it on networks that are substantially slower than what I was used to having. To compensate for slow speeds and limited connectivity, I opted for the internet upgrade to the plug-and-play “wingle” internet stick that I could use anywhere in the country. A wingle is Huawei’s term for portable 3G USB modems with built-in Wi-Fi and just like its counterpart, the dongle, in the USA and Europe, it is only helpful when it is connected to a quality cellular and/or Wi-Fi network. To my initial irritation, my wingle never worked in the teacher’s staff room, so I chose the student library as my permanent office. This turned out to be a fortunate decision as the student library had a strong signal line, reasonable air-conditioning, and I was able to get to know my students in an area where they were more relaxed.
In keeping with Malaysian trends, my mobile service was pre-paid and my wireless Internet service was post-paid. Learning to budget and ration my 1 GB allotment of monthly mobile data and 5 GB of Wi-Fi data was defined by a steep learning curve of tough love. When you run out of data in Malaysia, you are out of luck until the next month, unless of course you buy another wingle.
In my day-to-day life, the geographic limits on my wireless connectivity were demonstrated by the two LED indicator lights of the wingle that supplied my life with data. A green instead of blue light made me cringe; it meant that network speeds were less than 1 Mbit/s. As the weeks passed, I drew on experience to predict a poor connectivity day. Storms with high winds and heavy rains could disable the power resulting in weekends without functioning wireless systems. Freezing screens, videos lacking animation, dropped calls, and delayed speech were factors that marked all attempts. It made for entertaining Skype video calls, but created obstacles for maintaining relationships overseas. In the face of adversity I developed the following coping strategies to find low traffic times: became nocturnal, stopped uploading photos to social media, started sending postcards, accepted that text message correspondences would take on the standard email response time of two days minimum and I joyfully kept my T-Mobile phone service active for the first few months of my job abroad. I had to let go of my expectations and concept of what a normal phone call was like, and instead take on the Malaysian virtue of patience consistently exhibited by my friends on slow Wi-Fi days.
The only landlines I spotted were in government buildings and hotels. Business practices in Malaysia have markedly less phone calls than I expected and often occurred in “Manglish” (Malaysian-English Creole) which is subtle enough to confuse an English speaker without completely revealing that the person on the phone swapped in some Chinese, Malay or Iban words mid-sentence. These mixtures of language are what mark Malaysia’s cultural exchange between diverse citizens.
One very interesting note is that regardless of race, religion, or position on the social or business hierarchy, the default mode of communication is “WhatsApp,” which unfortunately proved that I was functionally illiterate in the language of abbreviations and British slang. But I managed my way up that learning curve too as I used the messenger app for lesson planning with fellow teachers, extracurricular outings with students, and logistics with high-ranking public servants.
My experience with connectivity in Sri Aman was often “all or nothing.” Before my placement abroad, I never thought small, colored LED lights could cause negative emotions in me. On the failed technology days I usually resorted to journaling. Now when I revisit those pages I find notes about the, “painfully slow internet,” and how I was, “patient enough to let the photos upload.” This cultural exchange experience deeply familiarized me with the ways communication varies with local conditions. After months of frustration, I learned to let go of the tension and began to appreciate the lack of wireless consistency as an opportunity to set my phone down and focus on cultural immersion and intentional engagement in the community. And on my first clear phone call upon returning home, I felt like a giddy teenager who had her phone privileges back (and functioning!) after being grounded for a year.
How the Smartphone has Impacted Our Lives (I No Longer Memorize Important Phone Numbers)
by Tom Leddo
Do you still memorize important phone numbers?
Personally I know my cell phone number, my wife’s, and maybe one or two others. Oh yeah, I still know the number to the rotary phone mounted on the kitchen wall of my childhood home because I was taught to sing it in kindergarten in case I ever got lost. Speaking of which, my mom had a really, really, long cord on that phone so it could stretch out of the kitchen to the couch in the adjoining room where we had a TV with only three channels.
I would venture to guess that today most people don’t memorize many more phone numbers than I have. Why should we? We have various forms of one-touch dialing and even voice dialing to eliminate the need.
But, at the risk of sounding like Lemony Snicket, what would happen if there were an emergency or you lost your phone? Well, according to Connie Rim, a Lease Consultant at Md7 in San Diego, you might have a problem. As she tells it…
Years ago I moved to Las Vegas to live with some friends. Upon immediate arrival, I decided to venture solo to the Las Vegas strip. As I returned to my car, I realized I lost my iPhone. I panicked as I suddenly found myself without knowing my friends’ phone numbers, directions, or my new address. All the information I needed was in my Smartphone. After several hours of backtracking (and very sore feet), I was very lucky that someone had turned in my iPhone to one of the casino’s security offices. Needless to say, I avoid being in such a vulnerable position by simply memorizing a few important phone numbers – and, of course, my address.
iCloud wasn’t around then, but if it happens to Connie today, she can simply log into her account from any computer in the world and pull up her key info. Tip: Make sure you know how to access your backup data before you need it.
In emergency situations, finding a place to access your iCloud account is not always easy or timely. Like the time my wife locked her keys, phone and our newborn son in the car at the park. She borrowed the phone of a jogger who was passing by and began dialing me the old fashion way. The only problem was that I didn’t recognize the jogger’s number in my caller-ID so I ignored it until she dialed it four or five times over and over.
Well… even if we fail to memorize a few key numbers, our modern problems are still better than only having a single phone for a family with five kids that was affixed to a wall.
Heterogeneous Deployment Models for Small Cells (HetDep)
by Tom Leddo
In September of 2013, I wrote a blog called “Small Cells, Small Cells, Small Cells” about all the buzz and conversations around small cells. In short, I was saying that there was still a lot of uncertainty about small cells and that it may be a few years before we know how it would all play out.
Eighteen months later, we know a whole lot more, but we still do not have a single, simplified model for small cell deployment. We do know that deployment costs are forcing our industry to temper our high hopes for 2015 and 2016 deployment volumes and also forcing us to really think outside of the box.
Simply put, the biggest factor is of course cost. While it is generally agreed that the various versions of small cells are much cheaper than a Distributive Antenna System (DAS) to deploy, the ROI on individual deployments has prevented the deployment levels we anticipated a couple of years ago.
Demand for coverage and capacity is high enough that some venue and large building owners are willing to help share the costs of DAS installations, particularly in the case of neutral hosts systems. But the economics on a model of this nature only work in stadiums, venues and buildings generally over one million square feet. While the demand for data is also beginning to get the attention of the owners of medium and small buildings, a viable single financial model has not yet evolved far enough to allow scale deployment to the levels we hoped.
Additionally, Wi-Fi calling and the combination of small cells with Wi-Fi are changing the landscape. Wi-Fi systems that can be self-deployed by the customer could be packaged with traditional LTE service to increase bandwidth, particularly in small buildings like restaurants that thrive on the buzz of social media.
So, stadiums, arenas and large buildings are covered by DAS and Wi-Fi systems. Residences, and small buildings are being covered through a combination of the traditional, macro network, personal “Femto” cells and Wi-Fi. The biggest challenge/opportunity seems to remain the medium sized buildings (bigger than a restaurant but less than 1 million square feet), the area we assumed would cause the small cell revolution. This is where creativity is needed to develop new economic models to fund deployment.
- Will operators begin to increase funding for large volumes of small cell deployments?
- Will independent third parties fund small cell deployments much like they currently do many traditional DAS networks?
- Will building owners fund deployments (or at least offset the cost)?
- Will tenants that rent office space in these middle ground buildings begin to self-deploy Wi-Fi and LTE small cells?
- Will OEMs seek new ways to finance design and installation costs to move their cool new systems from R&D to ceiling tiles??
- Will more creative approaches to deployment evolve?
The short answer is yes to all of the above!
To quote the English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The exponential increase in the demand for data is driving the necessity for new creative deployment models. New models will be invented. I speculate that one or two of the best are yet to come and that no single one will be the silver bullet we all hoped for.
Or said another way, the HetNet will require a Heterogeneous Deployment model – HetDep!
Spotlight on Core Values – Integrity
by Tom Leddo
“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” ~ Warren Buffet
Dictionary.com defines integrity three ways:
- adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty,
- the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished, and
- sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.
When most people talk about integrity, they are referring to the first definition – honesty. Obviously honesty is at the crux of the Md7 core values. But the second and third definitions above are equally important because, much like the structural integrity of a cell tower, each of the Md7 core values must have its own integrity in order to successfully carry its assigned equipment plus a bird or two.
To achieve “structural integrity” at Md7, we promote six core values:
Just as with the cell tower, each of the Md7 core values must have its own integrity to be true. If a member of the Md7 Team exemplifies all of the first five values, but lacks integrity – the values as a whole are worthless.