technology and eye

Malaysia’s communications resiliency during pandemic times

First of all, a big thank you to the local telcos, for generously contributing free telco services to help Malaysians get through these tough times.

From a joint press release, it seems our mobile telcos are offering a variety of freebies, ranging from free use of Whatsapp, productivity apps, double the data quota for mobile tethering, and so on. These services seem to address the population at residential locations, not business locations.

Unfortunately, the population at home may not be able to enjoy all these without interruptions.

Why? Let me outline the reasons this may be so:

  • The past week already, mobile telco users in this country have experienced service interruptions – video calls are disrupted or at least there is a dip in video call quality. This is indicative of an Internet traffic bottleneck, somewhere along the pipe.  Will it get worse as the rest of the country eventually clues on to the available free telco services, and/or get onto the streaming media bandwagon? Time will tell.
  • Ever since the restricted movement order (MCO) came into effect, large swaths of communities are staying at home. A significant percentage of them are also working from home, and a popular app that all of us use whether to work or socialise/keep in touch, is video conferencing.
  • A joint press release by our local mobile telcos, TIME and incumbent TM, from 27 March, states:

“Additional investment has also been put to enhance the network coverage and capacity for critical sites such as hospitals, government and enforcement agencies, and media centers around the country, to name a few.

Looking at all of these points holistically, we can deduce that service interruptions will be ongoing for a while, till “network coverage and capacity enhancements for critical sites” are completed.

But, will this be any time soon? I think this increase in coverage and capacity requires adding more base stations and software-based capacity upgrades. A former telco vendor professional I referred to, concurs.

But how long will this take?

There are a few elements (hardware-based and software-based) that need to be put in place, and a few things need to happen before a telco consumer like you and I, can receive our mobile telco service on our devices and machines. ie. Chats, video calls, messaging etc.

Think of the Internet as a pipe from the originating source to the devices we use. If there is a bottleneck anywhere along that pipe, there will be anything from an unnoticeable lag, to a noticeable lag to a full-blown service disruption.

Critical sites?

What is of more concern to me right now, is the fact that the whole globe is experiencing a crisis, Our country, if reports are reliable, is moving into another 2 weeks of nationwide restricted movement, to contain the infection spread.

I support this move, but at same time, more infected patients are being discovered every day, and yet many more may be confined at home, or quietly on the move, with no access to testing kits, medical advice, medical aid.

I hear there is an intricate process put into motion by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to identify, test and contain the virus infection. The containment effort is enforced with the aid of the police and armed forces. In fact, the whole objective of the MCO and extended MCO, is to contain this infection.

And this intensive, extensive nationwide infection containment effort which requires efficient coordination of these parties and enforcement agencies, has only the consumer-grade Internet to rely on?

If the joint press release is anything to go by, this capability is also not ready yet.

Due to this non-readiness, 12,000 frontliners have to needlessly risk their health and lives to ensure this communications lifeline is working well, because it is not prepared for this surge in usage, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Does our current situation, not remind you of a national crisis? Aren’t our communications network, hospitals and law enforcement agencies, critical national infrastructure?

Not to mention, as more people log on from their home networks (be it mobile broadband or fixed broadband) to work, how equipped and resilient are these networks (and devices), against cyber threats?

A new normal

Our restricted movement order is entering it’s Enhanced phase, which will last another 2 weeks. I hope that is all it takes.

On the plus side, if the MCO requires a longer period to contain the infection, the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) is slated to still continue in any case.

It may not be Mr. Gobind’s NFCP, it may have changed in shape and execution, but at least there is cognisance that fibre connectivity is foundational to better network coverage and enhanced network capacity.

 The Internet service we experience, is like a pipe which requires a number of elements to fall into place and work at optimum.

Fibre pipes, is one of it. Spectrum of radio waves, is another. Then, there is base station sites, and a whole lot more.

Expecting users to line up to wait their turn to use the Internet, like how it currently is with social-distancing grocery shopping, will not do.

 Only the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre, or CPRC Telegram updates are working efficiently at updating the masses with official and valid situation reports. This, and the National Security Council or MKN’s daily SMS updates are working well, and sending regular info every day.

Kudos to all involved who have helped to make this happen.

But, I’d like to reiterate once again: Does our current situation, not remind you of a national crisis? Aren’t our communications network, hospitals and law enforcement agencies, critical national infrastructure?

As more people log on from their home networks to work, how resistant and resilient are these networks (and devices), against cyber threats?


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