YES4G: Initial Impressions

Many have asked me why I’ve been actively talking about something called #yes4g. YES is the name of YTL Communications new WiMAX service, and there’s been a lot of hype built up around it. It launched on Friday, 19 November 2010, and it was deemed as a “historic day” for the nation.

If you care about standards and naming conventions, know that this is not a 4G service, by ITU definitions. It is for all intents and purposes a marketing term. The claim is 3-5x faster than regular 3/3.5G services. From a consumer standpoint, I believe most will not care if this is truly a 4G service or not – they just want speed delivered to them at good value. I was not at the press conference (duh, I’m not a representative of a media organisation), but you might want to read an excellent article by Wern Shen on what happened there, particularly the part about YES not being a 4G service (by ITU standards).

The Launch

I was lucky enough to get invited to the launch of this historic day. In fact, I don’t think the halls of the Marriott had ever been so full, considering the standing room audience. Highlights included:

  • A live feed from London. The audio/video quality was very good, and I wonder how it was in London?
  • There were talks from Francis Yeoh, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Muhyiddin, and another minister, Rais Yatim. I found it amusing that there was no bacaan doa, but a praise to the “Lord Jesus to bless this day” by Francis. The day was clearly blessed with a good turnout, but the service since requires some work (more of which I’ll talk about later).
  • There was a constant correlation made between GDP growth of a nation and broadband penetration.
  • I found out that the average age of a Malaysian today is now 26 years of age.
  • They made a very good YES Launch video. I found it rather muhibbah, very Malaysian. In fact all the adverts they have created are also very Malaysian.
  • The CEO of YTL Communications, Wing Lee, had a few choice comments including the fact that with YES, you get all of performance, innovation and value, with no compromises. He also went on to add that your address book (on your phone) is your original social network – I wholeheartedly agree. Also, YTL is following a no contracts mentality largely because they do not believe in commitment plans. They believe business comes from earning customer loyalty.
  • Some kid in London made a call to the Deputy Prime Minister using the YES network. The call from his mobile phone to the DPM’s was spotty at best. He then switched over to using their YES Life tool (available on Windows and Mac OSX, though I cannot find binaries for the latter) and this worked, including video. From what I gather this is just standard VoIP.

And that was the launch. It was wet and I had no interest to walk over to Lot 10 to check out the YES Concept store. In our goodie bags, we had a YES Go, aka a dongle (a RM99 value). A select few managed to get their grubby hands on a Huddle (a personal WiFi device, aka a MiFi device), and I’m thankful to be one of them. To date, I’ve only been playing around with the YES network using the Huddle, not preferring the dongle; a review of the Huddle is coming up soon.

The select few also managed to score some beers at Shook!, where we received our Huddles. Huddling around a Huddle? By golly that is what happened. Again, much thanks to the folk that invited me to both the launch and the little meet afterwards.

The Service Offering

What do you get with YES? Basically, 9 sen gives you either 3 megabytes of data, 1 minute of a voice call or 1 SMS. However, they couldn’t make it that simple: the more you use the service (i.e. by being a loyal customer), you will notice that rebates kick in, and the service becomes about 30% cheaper.

It is important to note that YES is not an all you can eat service, neither is it one with a quota. They are treating it as a utility. Voice and SMS today are already like utilities: you pay as you use the service. Data in Malaysia is generally all-you-can-eat (Streamyx, UniFI) or comes with a quota (on the mobile networks like DiGi, Maxis, Celcom). This is a very different, yet interesting model, and I certainly hope it does not set a precedent for other networks to follow suit.

So today, YES really is focused on mobility. It is clear by the two devices available at launch (dongle and Huddle), that it is not meant to replace your regular DSL or FTTH connection. It is at best meant to supplement it when you are mobile and on the move.

It is unclear if you have to pay for data that is being uploaded, or is it 9 sen for 3 megabytes being downloaded. In fact, it is also unclear if you have to pay to receive voice calls or SMS messages, but I find this to be highly unlikely as no other service in Malaysia currently does this (and while it would be breaking new ground, will kill the voice/SMS offering almost instantly).

Voice and SMS is not particularly useful if it only worked while you were on your laptop or desktop; so YTL will remedy this by launching a phone (in collaboration with Samsung, to be called the Buzz) sometime in December 2010. This phone will also be connected to the WiMAX network, and is unlikely to have any support for a GSM chip (so you’re dead in the water when you leave the country). All this is now merely speculation, so more on this when there is an actual device.

What is certain is that you will not be using your iPhone or BlackBerry on this YES network. Their Twitter careline does try to mention that it is possible via WiFi or 3G, but this is because you’ll be running a default VoIP client to keep it going. Basically anything that supports SIP should give you access to your 018-prefixed number.

Getting Started

I pre-registered for an account a few weeks ago, picking my user ID, telephone number and password. About a week ago, they said my telephone number had interconnect issues and I had the option to change it, or just wait till December when the interconnect issues were fixed. Interconnect issues simply means you can dial anyone with a 018-prefixed-number (technically, anyone on the YES network; it does not need to be a 018-prefix, consider Malaysia now has mobile number portability), but you would be unable to dial anyone else on any other network. I chose not to act as I did not imagine needing yet another voice number.

I took Saturday pretty easily, and only started playing with the service sometime in the early evening. It was clear that the network was going on and off at that time, and their gateway (172.20.196.1) seemed to be having some issues. Not long after, they switched it back on at full power; I was not the only one that noticed this. Through this, I found that they have no network status page, something I think is crucial for any ISP to have (to show service levels/quality of the network).

I then found out that this service is not truly prepaid. You need to pay a RM50 activation fee, and top-up your account with RM30 per month (at minimum). Any unused credit will be carried forward to the following months. The activation fee is something even pre-registered folk need to pony up.

In fact, if you pre-registered, chances are you still needed to register for a new account. Why? There was clearly some syncing that lacked in their databases (or probably no syncing – no one I know who pre-registered managed to just “sign-on”).

A common error you would see if you pre-registered and attempted to login would be: Persona Id not found (shot).

Signing up was not exactly easy. The YES team claim that their website was under attack from a distributed denial of service. Through some perseverance, I managed to sign up and activate my account. The signup process required your identity card number, address, and of course your race. No race, no signup.

Then came searching for my voice number. The suggestions would not work. I entered my current number and it would not work. The solution? Just enter four-digits and it will suggest a number based on those four digits. I’m willing to believe that this will be fixed when they get their website sorted out.

After that, all I had to do was pay using my credit card. Only Visa and MasterCard is accepted, and it looks like they are using Maybank for online transactions. This also means that you will need some further verification depending on what credit card you use – please note this by asking your bank.

Afterwards, you get an email stating that the payment had been made (4-digits of your credit card are hashed out). You also get an email with your plaintext password sent to you. This leads me to believe that the YES systems are not encrypting your password. Remember to use a unique, throwaway password, and use a tool to keep track of it. In fact, you regularly get emails with your plaintext password, so make sure you are accessing your email over HTTPS/IMAPS/POPS.

YES4GYou should then go ahead and reload some credit to your account. As you can tell, that list does not seemed to be sorted.

Your credit card details are not saved in your account so everytime you want to reload, you will need to enter your credit card details. This, in my opinion, is quite annoying. But looking at the probable lacking security around the whole YES system, maybe this is a good thing (see above for plaintext password issue).

That’s it! The YES account is now ready, and you’re RM50 poorer (plus whatever amount you decided to reload).

The Network

The network is currently pretty reliable, compared to the 3G services offered by DiGi/Maxis/Celcom. I’ve yet to see it crawl, but its not as amazing as they’ve made it out to be. I’ve seen with real world tests (not just speedtest.net which isn’t too useful), that in some locations I can get 2.5mbps down/1.6mbps up. I’ve also seen it be as slow as 0.95mbps down/0.09mbps up. Ping times vary, around 92-233ms. As I write this piece, on average, I’m getting 2.45mbps down/0.11mbps up. All tests are based on connecting to a box hosted in the Jaring data centre, as well as two more boxes, one in London and one in California. Others have reported greater speeds, but it might be where their Huddle/dongles are located – I’ve been using everything indoors so far, in a few locations that I happen to be.

All YES customers get a public IP (IPv4). 183.78.x.x is your IP range. Some geolocation databases seem to be service up incorrect ads for the region, but it should be noted that APNIC has allocated the range of IPs to YTL Communications. The Huddle allows port forwarding or setting a DMZ host, so it is probable that you could run a server behind your YES connection; I am still unsure if your IP is fixed or dynamic, though so far I believe I’m getting the same IP on my Huddle.

MCMC has a content blacklist that they encourage ISPs to use. It turns out that the YES by default follows this particular blacklist, so forget looking at certain sites with objectionable content, unless you know how to workaround it.

Anyway, when DiGi first came out with their broadband offering, their network rocked too. YES is new, YES hardly has users (maybe 15,000 over the weekend?), so YES might change.

Behind The Scenes

I’m happy to note that the YES infrastructure is mixed-mode opensource and proprietary software.

  • From errors like OBRM Error – Failed to check Persona ID existence from OBRM, it was quickly revealed (on Twitter nonetheless – thanks @l33tdawg, @alphaque, @yclian) that OBRM stood for Oracle Communications Billing & Revenue Management.
  • From this article in MIS Asia, it seems that they’ve bought in a lot of Oracle tech: Oracle CRM On Demand, Oracle Communications Billing and Revenue Management, Oracle Database, and Oracle Contact Centre Anywhere.
  • Over the weekend, and even now, there’s been lots of chatter on social media. I guess their tools from Buzzient will come in handy now. Customer Care 2.0 is about talking back to the customer and solving their problems on their platform of choice, but this is a matter for another post.
  • They use the JBoss GateIn portal (opensource)
  • For YES Mail, they run Atmail, with a pretty usable web interface. It is powered by Exim and other opensource tools.
  • The webservers are not powered by IIS (rumour on Twitter?) but Apache.

Conclusion

YES4GThis is YTL’s first foray into the communications space. This is probably their first foray into dealing with users. Users talk back these days so Team YES have had it difficult all weekend, and are still having it difficult. Just look at one platform: Twitter’s #yes4g hashtag.

The network works. The mail works. Their login to manage your Yes ID still does not work as I write this.

We’ve seen them abuse Google AdWords (well, their agency, Carat Media Services apologises). There has been a lot of hype, every newspaper I read has YES ads, and Edwin Yapp does ask: Is YES stumbling on its own hype?

To me, this launch seemed a little rushed. There should have been some kind of soft-launch. Just look at the image about online security for example – “One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar” – shows they’ve lacked QA and things have been rushed. In fact, today there is no way to check your usage quota. There’s a lot of finesse missing, so why the rush?

When I spoke to Francis Yeoh a few months ago, I asked him about his strategy (for the future when 4G is ratified) and what he will do come launch. He left me with one pertinent thing: “I’ll keep my engineers and management on their toes all the time to respond”. Respond to change, respond to requests, just respond.

I believe they are on their toes responding now. I even got a phone call from their call centre at 6.30pm on a Sunday. I don’t know if heads will roll in due time, considering they hired world class experts. Sometimes a company should look inwardly and realise there are many an expert sitting in Malaysia, and always remember the 7 P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Good luck YTL Communications. I’ll continue using the service, for mobility, and my next post on this topic will probably be about the Huddle.

Do you want to know about the service? Feel free to leave a comment.

Update (23-11-2010 18:00): Dinesh has a good writeup: YESterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

Disclosure: I received a YES Go dongle (worth RM99) and a YES Huddle (worth RM399) as review units.

Resources

  • Good write-up. I've seen some people getting a constant 8/9mbps so it really depends where you are I think.

    Not sure why their routing is so inconsistent though, some local traffic seems to be peering overseas – which is odd. I think their BGP is incomplete and perhaps they aren't using MyIX properly.

    It's early days though, looking forwards to seeing them improve.

    And the no-commitment thing is a bit of a con as you need to spend a minimum of RM30 a month – surely that's a commitment?

    • Hi!

      Yup. From what I see on Twitter, location seems to be important. And possibly being outdoors as well, or having better LoS. Houses and buildings are notoriously bad at blocking WiMAX signals (see P1 issues before).

      Yes, BGP is incomplete, routing seems to be off.

      Definitely early days, so I expect it to improve. I also wonder how they will handle lots of folk when they signup? Will it become like every other ISP?

      Yes, RM50 + RM30/month is a commitment surely. It was portrayed differently at the launch, which is why I was surprised when I found out by signing up online. Heck, I didn't know a pre-paid commitment free service needed a RM50 signup fee either. They all came as surprises and I hope that was portrayed clearly above.

      cheers,
      -c

    • wiredaus

      A commitment would be a contract period, i.e. you must commit to RM30/month for 24 months. This looks like you can stop anytime?

  • Cheers to YTL for the drinks and many a laugh at Shook! :]

  • Vernon Chan

    Awesome post, dude.

  • Bravo I should say. anyway i think they did change their server from IIS to apache (again I could be wrong , it was retweeted to me , so I passed the message along). So far one of the best first impressions ever written

    Totally unbiased and gets to the point. Awesome !

  • Good detail account and neutral write up !!! Cheers !!! :-)

  • Abudakam
    • Read that again and you'll realise there's been changes…

      cheers,

      -c

  • very comprehensive summary. As with all new networks, i'll wait and see if it stabilises into something worthwhile. Thanks for saving us the effort to research this… much appreciated.

    i did the voice for the commercial btw :)

    • Congratulations! Good voice. How goes Foldees?

      cheers,

      -c

  • Goes well! 18 stores in Singapore this christmas. Hoping to find something big in our stocking come Jan :)


i