Pusat Media

If truth be known

14 Jan 2003, Mary Anne Tan, The Edge
In three previous consumer satisfaction surveys (CSS) conducted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Maxis led the four other telecommunications companies - TMTouch, Celcom, DiGi and TimeCel - in customer popularity. But is the telco really that good? After all, say industry observers, the CSS captures consumers' perception of quality from an emotional standpoint, not technical. So, how does the consumer gauge which telco offers the best service from the technical point of view? This is where EESAT, or extensive end-point service availability testing, which measures six key performance indexes - service coverage, signal quality, speech quality, dropped call rate, congestion rate and call set-up time - comes in. In it, measurements are conducted with benchmarking tools that can generate calls automatically and uniformly for each cellular network. Sector Solutions Sdn Bhd conducted EESAT on behalf of the MCMC between Aug 30 and Oct 1 last year at selected locations in public, business and commercial areas in the Klang Valley, at a cost of RM400,000. The testing was carried out during weekdays between 8am and 7pm. It involved the drive test, in which a sequence of calls were made in a vehicle along selected routes, and the static test, where sequences of text calls were made in stationary positions at selected locations. An average of 200 calls were made for each cellular network to observe network reliability and availability within the designated locations. This year, EESAT will be conducted nationwide, including Sabah and Sarawak. The results of the testing show Maxis leading in the drive test for service coverage performance, which measures the signal strength received by mobile phones, with a score of 99.95 per cent. However, it did not emerge tops in most of the other categories measured. In some categories, in fact, it scored the lowest among its competitors. An industry player says this proves that market perception of Maxis as the best mobile operator in terms of quality of service and even in terms of coverage may be wrong. "Many believe that Maxis leads in coverage in the Klang Valley but they are mistaken. TMTouch is actually on par with Maxis," says a TMTouch official. "Since EESAT zeroes in on only the Klang Valley, it is fair to say that both [telcos] are on par in terms of coverage in the Klang Valley." They score differently in other categories due in part to the kind of technology used, he says. Another point the EESAT results highlighted is that Maxis does not lead in quality of service. For example, in areas that matter the most, such as signal quality performance, speech quality, dropped call rate and congestion rate, Maxis, with the exception of one category, occupies between second to fourth placing. It is certainly not the runaway winner one would expect it to be, based on current market perception. This indicates that Maxis' popularity is due to its strong brand and effective marketing rather than technical strengths. It also shows that while Maxis has been busy trying to win more subscribers, it has not been doing much, up to the time of the survey at any rate, to ensure that its service can cope with the additional load on its network. When asked about the discrepancy between market perception and Maxis' so-so technical performance in EESAT, Maxis' chief technical officer of network engineering, Richard Zawila, had a ready explanation. He says the poor dropped calls rates were due to a year-long upgrading exercise of the operator's base stations, which could have temporarily affected Maxis' connection. "We spent RM1billion last year upgrading and adding to our total of 2,000 base stations. We make around 40 site visits to all our base stations each week, so the EESAT could have been conducted then," he says. Maxis will spend another RM1billion this year on network expansion, he adds. DiGi's chief operating officer Tore Johnson says upgrading exercises should not be used as an excuse for poor quality of service as these are year-round affairs for most network operators. "If the quality of service is poor, then improvements need to be made. It is as simple as that." He admits that DiGi isn't keen to get into a capital "spending competition" with the other operators. He says the telco prefers to look at inter-operator collaborations, such as shared infrastructure and domestic roaming, which will then determine how much capital expenditure DiGi needs to fork out. MCMC pleased Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid, chairman of the MCMC, is nevertheless pleased with the results of the testing, which showed there is general improvement in network performance. "However, it also identified areas where there's room for improvement, such as the congestion and drop call rates. Detailed results were shared with the operators and they are keen to improve on weak areas while striving to maintain high standards of quality," she says. The purpose of EESAT, she adds, is not to find fault but to give network operators technical feedback and make them aware of the need to improve their services and boost capital expenditure. Nuraizah says mandatory standards for quality of service are effective this month. Network operators will have to use the recent EESAT results as the benchmark for performance reports to the MCMC. "Failure to meet the minimum requirements can result in the operators being fined," she says, without revealing the nature of the fines. With the ongoing consolidation of cellular operators from five to three, mobile phone users can expect better quality of service. With the MCMC driving the operators on, the race to be truly the best instead of being perceived as the best will gather steam. With EESAT, the truth will be known.
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