Not your father’s TM


Last Friday, we were invited to a blogger and Twiteratti briefing and feedback session by TM where a select few what TM considers “influencers” in the social media space were invited to share their feedback and get updates on some of the hot topic issues surrounding the company like security and Fair Usage Policies.

To be frank we didn’t expected much. We’ve been to one too many of these things and always we are met with the host organisation’s middle management who, for the most part, really couldn’t give us any real answers or provide the assurance that our feedback and comments will be put to action. Put simply, these blogger meets are usually free eats and lip-service with not much else.

The tone at the TM meet was decidedly different. We expected middle management but instead we were greeted by group CEO Dato’ Sri Zamzamzairani along with his team of top C-level executives like Chief Strategy Office Ahmad Azhar Yahya and Chief Marketing Officer Rozalila Abdul Rahman along with key people like EVP of New Media Jeremy Kung and VP of Group Corp Communications Izlyn Ramli.

The underlying objective of the meet was to start a dialogue with these “influencers” and to distill the feedback and discussion points gathered from the session so that it will, through time, make a positive impact on TM, its operations and its service. In his welcome note Dato’ Zam admits that TM might not have all the answers now but establishing this dialogue was an important point in TM’s strategy to continuously improve its services and change the negative public perception that has been hanging over the company like a dark, overbearing cloud for as long as anyone could remember.

From the start, it was clear that TM meant for this social media session to be something that will eventually make a difference in the way TM operate and render their services. After all, if the group CEO was willing to give up his Friday night to be with a few bloggers surely we wouldn’t want to waste his time.

In the briefing, TM shared inside information of its operations and network that we are pretty sure not many operators will be comfortable or as casual sharing.

HyppTV: What’s the gameplan
From the beginning, we were curious as to what are TM’s plans for HyppTV — its IPTV service offered together with UniFi subscriptions. TM is rather reserved about claiming that HyppTV as an actual competitor to Astro stating that it offered a range of services that is somewhat different from Astro. TM said that HyppTV will be focused more on offering video-on-demand (VOD) content that’s not directly going head to head with Astro.

We see TM’s positioning of HyppTV as a source of VOD as confused. Essentially, HyppTV offers the same service as Astro on that premise that you pay for TV content. It doesn’t make sense of a user to have two set top boxes (one for Astro and one for HyppTV) at home. It’s just too much of a hassle to switch between the two. As subscribers of UniFi, we can attest to the hassle of having two TV boxes.

Fact of the matter is the average Joe would only have room for one set-top box and at the rate in which HYppTV is going, most will probably choose Astro over HyppTV. Astro simply has better equipment and more importantly, better content. Granted, there will be some who find HyppTV’s offerings interesting but it is safe to say that the number won’t be sufficient to sustain the service for the long run.

To be in the game HyppTV needs to change its positioning — that’s what we think anyway.

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Customer service
On customer service, TM admits there is much room for improvement and it has implemented a number of initiatives to ensure that the improvements are felt by its customers but TM is also realistic in telling us that these improvements will take time.

One of the major issues is making sure customers are able to get through the line when they call TM customers service. TM reveals that currently there are just too many calls and too many types of calls coming in. TM knows this and are working to add more people in its call centre in addition to having separate call centre numbers for different matters.

Another way to manage the number of calls coming into the centre is to keep customers informed and updated through more than one channel to make sure that they not only get the message but are regularly updated when there is a service disruption.

TM is also looking at improving the quality of is customer service staff through better training and better communication flow on network and service developments or disruptions so that its call centre is always the first to know and also completely knowledgeable to handle technical customers.

Dato’ Zam was passionate when the topic came to customer service. He said that the good service and good products are the best customer service. So in this respect, the end game is for TM to deliver a very good service so that there is no need for customers to call in to complain.

Streamyx: The service is so bad because some people are having it too good
In the briefing, we were presented with some revealing facts. One of the biggest issues facing TM today is capacity and this has affected TM’s capability to deliver acceptable performance to its subscribers. What is causing this deficit in capacity? The answer is data hogs.

TM data reveals that on average heavy users consume over half of TM’s traffic volume. These heavy users account for 14% of Streamyx subscribers. In short, less than a quarter of Streamyx subscribers are using close to 50% of the capacity using more than 25GB of data a month, some as high as an unbelievable 1TB a month. At the other end of the spectrum, a majority of Streamyx subscribers (over 60%) use less than 10GB of data a month while the remaining 25% use between 10GB to 25GB of data a month.

This means a small number of users are using too much of the capacity. So much so that it is affecting a larger number of subscribers. Adding more capacity won’t solve the problem either, as the more capacity is added, the more data these heavy users will consume data. In fact, TM has quadrupled its capacity in the last few years but the issue still remains.

Something drastic needs to happen to ensure that capacity and bandwidth is properly an efficiently managed for the benefit of everyone. What this is, we will go into detail later in this article.

UniFi: Making an impact in more than one way
TM reports that UniFi will create over 100,000 new jobs by 2017 and contribute 0.6% to the GDP. Currently there are close to 30,000 UniFi subscribers with 40% of users facing some sort of issue be it technical or performance related. TM claims that this is well within the industry norm, what that norm is was not revealed.

In terms of capacity, close to 80% of UniFi subscribers are using less that 100GB per month, a little over 12% are using between 100GB – 200GB a month. In terms of capacity, this by itself is already a large amount but what is even more absurd is that there are those within the UniFi network that are using up to 4TB of data a month!

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If this is not properly managed UniFi subscribers will soon find themselves in a similar predicament as Streamyx subscribers. And once again we find ourselves pondering on the fact that adding capacity is not the solution. Rather, a drastic shift in the way people subscribe to broadband service needs to happen. What it is, we will reveal in a bit.

UniFi: Security and device issues
The issue of the UniFi router being easily compromised through the remote access exploit is well document one but it was also an issue that TM had addressed very quickly.

In the short term, TM has completely disabled remote management for its UniFi routers. In addition, TM worked closely with some of the more advanced UniFi users on a long term solution and as a result will roll-out a firmware upgrade to further enhance the security of the UniFi router by the end of February 2011.

In addition, weak signal strength of the custom D-LINK DIR-615 WiFi router that is included with every UniFi installation is a known issue and TM confirms that it is in the midst of sourcing for multiple vendors to improve the quality of the modems and routers that it provides to its customers. In the meantime TM says that it is ok for UniFi subscribers to use their own WiFi router to boost the WiFi coverage.

Broadband: The new frontier
So with so few people utilising so much of TM’s capacity, what is the drastic change that needs to happen to ensure that customers get good internet connectivity while still being able to do things that they want to do online?

Firstly, we need to understand that TM is not the only one affected by this capacity issue. Every Internet service provider in the country is affected. TM is the worse impacted by this issue because being a fixed line operator means more people are on their network for longer.

Secondly, we as users need to realise that the days of all-you-can-eat broadband plans are numbered. In Malaysia it is no longer a question of should I get broadband but a matter of which broadband plan is right for me. More Malaysians today want broadband in their home and in their mobile devices than ever before, on the same token, broadband has never been so affordable. The fact of the matter is broadband demand is the strongest it has ever been in the country.

But broadband, specifically capacity, is not an infinite resource. Like any utility, broadband capacity has a limit and we need to start using broadband with this notion in mind because things are going to change. Operators will come down hard on data hogs, and not only that, content owners and regulators will join in the fight to stop the rampant download of illegal content from the Internet as well.

In fact, an upcoming legislation will require ISPs to issue warning letters if a user has partaken in copyright infringements — as in download illegal content from the Internet. And don’t think that this is still a long way away. As it is, film studios and record labels in the US have already issued letters to local ISPs to crackdown on users who are using their broadband connection to download pirated content. This is the reality and like it or not we all need to be responsible with how and how much with use the Internet.

This is a cliched analogy but it is the best one, imagine broadband like it is electricity. With electricity, you don’t switch on every air-conditioner in your home 24/7 all year long, that would be ridiculous, you’d rack up a very expensive bill every month. Well, its going to be same with broadband. The time will come when all of us will have to start being conservative with our broadband use and it will come soon.

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Internet service providers in the country, be it mobile or fixed are now at the cusp of a new frontier in the broadband landscape. There will be stricter method of bandwidth monitoring, there will be new broadband plans that need to strike a balance between optimum management of limited capacity resource and delivering the satisfaction and flexibility broadband users in Malaysia expect.

Truth of the matter is, no operator in the country, or the world for that matter, have had experience with this before. There will be some learning to be done on the operators side and there has to be some understanding on the consumer side when we enter this new frontier but make no mistake, things will change.

At the end of the day
Overall, it was, in our opinion at least, a tremendously good session. We can say with some conviction that the TM today is not your father’s TM from before.

People at TM know their stuff and they are a friendly bunch of people. For Dato’ Zam and his team to take the effort to spend time and share the kind of information that they did with bloggers, it says a great deal in way of their sincerity and their desire to provide the best that they can to the customers.

TM is serious about making a difference but the problem is the organisation is just too big of a company for change to happen quickly. And Dato’ Zam agrees that this is an issue when he joked, “the problem with a big company is that sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” he finishes by saying “but were addressing this.

Imagine a large cruise liner, it takes time from when the captain gives an order to steer the ship in one direction before the ship does eventually go that direction. Similarly it will take time for things to change at TM.

In any case, after the briefing, our perception of TM has forever changed. Many will agree that TM is seen as an organisation that is incompetent, lax and uncompetitive. To an extent, we share the same view but but not anymore. From our discussions with the top management of TM on that night, we can see that the leadership of TM has the desire to affect change. They know what is wrong with TM and they know what to do. The thing now is to do what needs to be done and to do it quickly.

Many will not agree with our opinion of TM and that’s ok. This is just our opinion, our observations from our interactions with the top management of TM at the meet. It is our job to share with you our thoughts but it is not our job to convince you that TM is now a better company.

That task lie solely on the shoulders of the good people at TM, If they could demonstrate to the Joe Public what we’ve seen during the briefing last Friday, if they can communicate the positivity, the dynamism, the desire to deliver a better service to their customers and more importantly, to their own people than that’s the battle half won. For now, we can only wish TM all the best in this new front

[ picture credit: yonsterz ]