BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

They’re on a mission to change the way we access the internet, starting with Sabah

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[Written in partnership with MaGIC, but the editorial team had full control over the content.]

While internet connectivity has long been considered a luxury, the pandemic has exposed its necessity, pushing broadband services as a utility service, just like water and electricity.

Up until December 2017, Telekom Malaysia (TM) controlled 90% of the country’s market share in broadband, creating near-monopoly conditions. A few new entrants have come in, but most users still depend on TM’s infrastructure. 

That’s according to iFIBER, a licensed Malaysian telecommunications company creating an open-access network so users can easily switch between multiple internet service providers (ISP) as needed. The service is modeled after Vumatel, a South African startup that toppled the broadband monopoly in that region.

iFIBER shared that with little competition, consumers suffer from slow connections, patchy coverage, and inflexible contracts. For example, Malaysia’s average internet speed stands at 93.67Mbps, while Thailand and Singapore record an average of 308.35Mbps and 245.31Mbps respectively.

Bad internet coverage has seen residents in rural areas finding the means for a stable connection, and one event that made ripples through the news was when Sabahan student Veveonah Mosibin (Veve) climbed a tree to sit for an online exam. Inflexible plans also cause users to be locked into 24-month contracts where they are charged hefty penalties for early terminations.

Now, iFIBER has set its sights on tackling these issues, aiming to bring flexibility and affordability to its customers.

Here’s how it works

iFIBER’s role in improving Malaysia’s internet connectivity is to set up the infrastructure and be a fibre broadband provider to businesses and individuals. The company, while not an ISP itself, merely offers the hardware and sets up services for the end users. 

Having an open-access network means that multiple ISPs can offer broadband services using the same infrastructure. Consumers can switch ISPs any time without installing new modems, routers, or cables.

At the same time, iFIBER launched its own ISP brand, VeVe Telecom. It was named after the aforementioned Sabahan student, and features a monthly subscription plan as opposed to the usual long-term contracts. 

An illustration of how open-access networks work / Image Credit: iFIBER

The brand works with 2 kinds of property markets, greenfield (new projects) and brownfield (old buildings) apartments.

For greenfield apartments, hardware like fibre cables and WiFi routers are pre-installed in buildings via iFIBER’s partnerships with new property developments. Here, users will have access to a plug and play model.

To access its services, users will have to subscribe through its marketplace and choose between broadband services with different pricing structures and offerings. From there, its team claims that the service will be activated in 20 seconds.

For old apartments with copper cable already installed, the startup will lay new fiber optic cables to the home based on customer demand. 

To drive growth, iFIBER is offering free installations during its current pre-construction period. It’s where apartments will be pre-installed with a modem and wifi router ready for customers who subscribe to VeVe Telecom. Otherwise, the installation fee will cost RM150.

Already generated RM1 million revenue in Sabah

iFIBER started its proof of concept (PoC) at MaGIC in January 2018 where its team developed the open-access software’s backend system at the Cyberjaya facilities. The startup also launched its first pilot project Cyberjaya Gigabit City in April 2018. 

From there, they used MaGIC’s facilities to demonstrate the open-access concept to property developers and state governments. The demonstration won iFIBER a contract from a Sabahan property developer which operates and manages 12,000 apartments. 

“Majority of Sabah’s broadband market is still using copper and we saw an opportunity that 80% of Sabah residents do not have fibre infrastructure yet and are dependent on mobile broadband whose internet speed is below 10Mbps,” Shaharin Saman, CEO of iFIBER shared.

This large-scale installation managed to obtain iFIBER 1,500 subscribers in Kota Kinabalu, bringing in RM1 million in revenue after 8 months.

One of iFIBER’s projects at the University Utama Condominium (UUC) in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah / Image Credit: iFIBER

iFIBER is now planning to raise RM10 million from investors to supplement a total of RM50 million in financing to expand the open-access network in Sabah. If its plan works as intended, it will obtain 150,000 users by the end of 2022. 

With this funding, it will also deploy its infrastructure in Klang Valley homes and businesses along the MRT line from the Sg Buloh to Kajang route in Q1 2022. Through this project, it aims to enable 4,000 buildings with an estimated 500,000 housing units with its open-access network.

“With the experience that we have in Sabah, we are quite confident that the open-access network concept will be well accepted by residents in Kuala Lumpur that prefer flexibility, multiple choice of ISPs, [and] month-to-month services instead of long term 24-month contracts [which are currently not available for Klang Valley residents,” Shaharin told Vulcan Post.

To complement its broadband connectivity setup, iFIBER is also rolling out an in-house content company known as IGG Arena. It will function as a virtual eSports platform integrated with 400 games publishers.

Shaharin added that this is iFIBER’s marketing strategy to convert eSports players who download iGG Arena software into users of open-access networks.

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Many complain about their internet often (our Vulcan Post office included), but don’t switch their ISPs on a whim. Though it may be due to long contracts by their ISPs, education is still lacking on what solutions are available in the market.

iFIBER is emulating a business that succeeded in South Africa, where 70 ISPs jumped on board its open access network, including the nation’s monopoly at the time (according to data provided by the company). 

Although it may come off as though iFIBER is trying to do too much with its hardware setup, software onboarding, and eSports business, each subsidiary complements one another. The latter will help it attract an existing market of gamers in Malaysia, which is one target market that needs a strong internet connection. 

To add, it’s a smart move by the startup to partner property developers to build its hardware into new buildings, providing residents with the option to use its move-in-ready services if they deem it beneficial.

iFIBER now has to increase its brand awareness and further educate Malaysians that there are better options out there, and it must live up to its word of being the better option for accessing ISPs.

  • You can learn more about iFIBER here.
  • You can read about other Malaysian startups we’ve featured here.

Also Read: 9 facts about personal loans in M’sia you should know to borrow responsibly in a pandemic

Featured Image Credit: Shaharin Saman and Wan Mohalina, CEO and Managing Director of iFIBER

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