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DiGi Conducts Network Drive Test


DiGi recently completed its network upgrading exercise, aimed at significantly improving its customers’ experience for both voice and data applications. To test out the new infrastructure, the company has been conducting Network Test Drive exercises involving its own staff. Recently, during the 5th Network Test Drive, DiGi invited a small number of media to join their staff and Simon Tan was given the opportunity to put the new network through some pre-determined tests.

The tests included:

  • voice calls to a fixed line which was looping music, to see if there was any audio problems;
  • playing soundtracks on Deezer, a music streaming service;
  • performing data transfer tests via Speedtest.net;
  • accessing YouTube, Facebook and other websites.

On that day, a total of more than 600 DiGi staff divided themselves into groups of four (per car) and traveled to the most of the major urban areas of the Klang Valley, with specific instructions on how to conduct these tests. Those of us from the media who didn’t have a DiGi line were provided with Prepaid packs. Unfortunately, prepaid accounts don’t get access to the LTE network, so we were limited to their HSPA+ network.

Here’s what happened:

Our car left DiGi’s office at the Subang Hi-Tech Park in Shah Alam and joined the jam on Federal Highway.

At this point, we were travelling at low speeds, around 20-40km/h. The download speed hit just below 2.8 megabits per second (Mbps) while uploads were a mere 0.56Mbps. According to the DiGi staff in our car, that’s normal as the handover from one cell tower to the next will cause a degradation in speed. The good news is that voice calls and Deezer streaming carried on smoothly.

Test 1: Federal Highway, headed towards KL from Shah Alam.

Our transport then left the Federal Highway at the turnoff to the Western Digital industrial area and made its way onto the LDP (Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong), headed towards Damansara. Apparently, DiGi has a blind spot in this area (the pond next to the WD factory) as the nearest cell towers weren’t anywhere nearby. True enough, speeds fell to a dismal 0.43Mbps and 0.63Mbps for downloads and uploads respectively.

Test 2: In the vicinity of Western Digital, along the LDP.

At these speeds, voice calls weren’t affected, but Internet surfing was impossible. Facebook and even Google News timed out. Deezer too, died.

After passing Paradigm Mall, we continued towards the 1 Utama Shopping Centre and speeds along the way picked up again, but not significantly. However, that was enough for Deezer to sputter back to life and for Facebook to refresh itself. Trying to upload a picture, however proved difficult as the uplink was consistently much slower than download speeds throughout the whole journey.

Test 3: On LDP, headed towards the 1 Utama Shopping Centre.

When we got to the 1 Utama Shopping Centre, we turned into the basement car park at the old wing and stopped to do further tests. I had quite a shock when my Speedtests started giving me really lousy numbers. As evident from the screenshot below, I had full signal strength, but the speeds were atrocious!

Test 4: What happens when your data quota runs out – unusable Internet.

Something had to be wrong here and I soon figured out that my 250MB daily Internet package subscription had run out. Yes, apparently Speedtest consumes a lot of data and the 15 or so times I had run the app, plus the Deezer streaming service and Facebook updates had totally decimated my 3 Ringgit’s worth of data. After re-subscribing to a second chunk of 250MB of data, speeds went back up. After spending 10 minutes in the car park, we left the area and headed back to Subang.

Definitely better

Compared to a year ago (which was when I ported my line from DiGi to another carrier), things have definitely improved. Previously, it was difficult to get anything above 1Mbps and even then, sometimes apps would just time-out trying to access the Internet. One of the DiGi staffers had an LTE connection and he was showing off the above 30Mbps download speeds on his smartphone (upload speeds were nearly synchronous too). This was pretty consistent throughout the journey, along stretches where there was LTE coverage. But unless you had an LTE handset, chances are you will be stuck with HSPA+ speeds of around 2-5Mbps.

The problems many DiGi users had with voice calls (either dropped or had bad audio) did not rear its ugly head during the Network Test Drive. Connection times for voice calls were extremely fast, below 5 seconds for sure. Data speeds didn’t see that much of an improvement (at least on 3G+) but throughput has definitely become more consistent. Surfing on DiGi’s mobile Internet is definitely a more pleasant experience now.

But is it enough?

As with all mobile networks, congestion is the enemy and who knows how long it will take before DiGi’s network gets clogged up again. Hopefully, the company would have learnt a valuable lesson from its past experience and be more proactive in tackling congestion issues.

Personally, I think DiGi has finally done what it should have 12-18 months ago. Although there’s defintely tangible improvement, I am not totally convinced that it is enough to make me port over all four of my voice and data lines back to their network. Not when I’m currently getting roughly the same performance for slightly lower monthly fees. Having said that, if my current telco’s network deteriorates any further, DiGi will probably be my first choice to port to, thanks to their affordable postpaid packages.

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