Malaysia's disparity in mobile network connectivity: an operator level view

In our last analysis, we found that Malaysian users in thinly populated rural areas connect to 4G just 44% of the time. Now, we have delved deeper into the existing urban-rural disparity to understand our users’ mobile network experience while connecting to 3G and 4G services on Malaysia’s five major operators’ networks — Celcom, DiGi, Maxis, U Mobile, and unifi.

We found that our users on Celcom’s network enjoyed the highest connectivity in densely populated urban areas with 4G Availability of over 90%, while the time connected to 4G dropped to almost 75% for U Mobile’s users. And this difference widened further in scarcely populated rural areas, where Celcom users enjoyed nearly 75% 4G Availability, while U Mobile users could only connect to 4G services about 40% of the time.

Also, we investigated 4G Availability experienced by our users on all five operators’ networks across the country and classified 144 districts from 13 states and three federal territories into four distinct categories based on their population density by using the latest census data from the Malaysian Government Open Data:

  • Category 1 — Up to 50 people per sq. km
  • Category 2 — 50 to 100 people per sq. km
  • Category 3 — 100 to 300 people per sq. km
  • Category 4 — More than 300 people per sq. km

Our measurements show that users on Celcom’s network enjoyed the highest 4G Availability across all areas regardless of their population densities, with users in the most populated areas (Category 4) being able to connect to 4G over 90% of the time, followed by users on Maxis, unifi, DiGi and U Mobile, who could connect to 4G services  86.1%, 84.4%, 82.7%, 86.1% and 74.5% of the time on average respectively.

On the other hand, when we examined the time our users spent connected to all mobile data networks (3G and 4G services combined), this disparity diminished. We saw much higher 3G/4G Availability across the board: almost all five operators scored above 90% across all four categories of population density, with U Mobile being the only exception to score 86.4 % in the least populated areas (Category 1). The highest 3G/4G Availability of 98.4 % was observed by our users on unifi’s network in the most densely populated area (Category 4) followed by Celcom’s network with 98.1%.

While Malaysian operators have shown some rapid improvements in 4G Availability, these measurements show that Malaysian users in underpopulated areas continue to depend more on older and slower 3G technology. And to overcome this issue of disparity in connectivity, the Malaysian government and MCMC, along with the main industry players, are constantly making efforts to strengthen the existing 4G networks and provide wider coverage to Malaysian users.