Ali Tabassi, chief operating officer for YTL Communications, Malaysia

Ali Tabassi, chief operating officer for YTL Communications, which operates a mobile broadband in Malaysia under the brand name of Yes, believes his company’s service offerings stand up to the brand promise. While in many developed markets mobile broadband coverage often suffers from poor coverage and lacklustre speeds, in Malaysia, Yes will let you stream YouTube videos or conduct video calls whether you’re in downtown Kuala Lumpar or in the mountains near the border of Thailand.

It’s something that Tabassi is looking forward to explaining more about at the Broadband ip&TV Asia conference, taking place on the 15th-16th May 2012, KL Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Our initial plan when we launched our service in November of 2010 was to cover 65 per cent of the population and to have coverage throughout the peninsula of Malaysia, from day one. We were able to achieve that. We’re the only wireless operator that has the entire highway connected to mobile broadband, so users can connect to the internet, download movies watch YouTube and make calls.”

Tabassi claims that in optimal areas customers can enjoy speeds of up to 15Mbps peak, but says that most will see a consistent 4-6Mbps on the downlink and 1-2Mbps on the uplink. While the speeds on offer from don’t hit the peak speeds of the LTE networks in the US Yes prides itself on offering a consistent fast experience that is significantly faster than the current 3G network in the region.

Yes offer a combined package that offers voice, SMS and data together. “We built our philosophy based on innovation, based on being honest, innovative and bold, and delivering a true mobile broadband to our customers, with a voice application on that. So our vision is to be Malaysia’s fastest mobile internet with voice.

For users with a Yes Buzz Cloud phone, voice calls can be made over the WiMAX network on the same data plan. Tabassi says the voice feature is what differentiates Yes from all other WiMAX operators in the world and that for the operator voice is just another application on the network. Yes also contrasts with conventional carriers that have strict rules regarding tethering. It not only permits but encourages users to connect multiple devices to their account, with each device identified by a user ID and password rather than through a SIM card.

“We are the first operator in the world that has offered a converged service of voice and data. Voice is still very important – it’s something that everyone is used to. And they want to have the capability to have whatever devices they have available to them. We focus on delivering the ability for our customers to have multiple devices on same account. Each customer is given a user ID and password but also their own unique PIN number that is fully accessible throughout the world.  You can make or receive a call from anyone throughout the world and SMS, all at very affordable prices.”

Yes currently offers four devices, a USB dongle, a ‘Huddle’ mifi hotspot device that lets five devices connect, a home gateway device for fixed wireless that permits 20 devices to connect, and a ‘cloud’ phone with a integrated WiMAX connection.

“Our whole service offering is based on innovative ways of not utilising a SIM card for devices,” explains Tabassi. “We use a username and password for the authentication of our customers and their devices on our network. The customers can use one account with multiple devices on there, unlike other existing wireless operators that every device has its own SIM card, and a different package for that SIM card to be used. So we went with one affordable package that a customer can choose to use it for data, for voice, for SMS or any combination of those.”

Could it compete with fixed line services in the country? Tabassi doesn’t think so for now. “I don’t believe it will completely replace wireline. Wireline has an existing capital and there is a lot invested already in the ground. There will be more use of wireless to bridge the digital divide, and reach faster and at a lower cost than trying to dig the ground and lay our fibre. Most fibre connections will come down the road when there is a business need for it.”  Tabassi thinks that Yes’s coverage, will enable it to bring 4G speeds to areas outside of the reach of the main urban areas.

In a worldwide scale it is LTE, rather than Yes’s WiMAX, seems to have the momentum behind it. Will LTE play a role in the future of YTL’s network? “We have heard a lot of announcement and hype around other technologies”, say Tabassi, “but realistically when you look to see the amount of commercial roll-out we are not seeing it that broadly.” The focus though is on the customers, and there’s certainly no ideological issues preventing YTL from introducing LTE. “We are a wireless mobile broadband operator and not aligned to any one technology. We are in the business of offering the best service to our customers, at the most affordable rates. If other technologies become available that provide us with the same eco-system, economics and affordability [as WiMAX] that we can pass onto our customers we will definitely look into that and offer that service.”

An indicator of a future path to LTE for YTL Communications could be the fact that the Malaysian government is granting it 2.6GHz spectrum in 2013. Tabassi is praiseworthy of the Malaysian government approach to making spectrum available and not charging huge sums up front, which in turns benefits consumers through lower prices. “Today we operate on 2.3GHz spectrum and thanks to the government of Malaysia and their vision of expanding mobile broadband they have agreed to offering more spectrum, so we will get more at the 2.6GHz range, starting next year. The government knows that it is better to pass the savings onto the consumer by not necessarily putting a huge prices (on spectrum). So we applaud the government of Malaysia for not charging up front for the license of the spectrum but enabling the operator to expand the footprint so the customers can benefit.”

The challenge ahead for YTL Communications then will be how to continue to expand and reach new customers. “There are always challenges in building base stations in different areas,” Tabssi says. “We need to make sure we have the right mix, and continue to deliver the service that the customers demand. Ultimately, it will be what value added services we can offer to our customers. Not just about hype.”

The Broadband ip&TV Asia conference is taking place on the 15th-16th May 2012, KL Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Go to the website now to register your interest.

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