By Qishin Tariq
A brand new discounted prepaid data plan that works out to just RM5 a month is coming our way. And it's all part of the Malaysian government's mission to boost digital connectivity.
Announced by Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil, the "Unity Package" aims to make internet access more affordable and in the process, reduce the cost of living for those in the lower-income bracket.
So what can we expect from the plan that is set to be launched in February?
Here is the lowdown on the plan and what comes next.
Who is eligible?
The Unity Package will be made available to youths between 12 and 30 years of age, those in the B40 economic group (the lowest 40 per cent income group), persons with disabilities (PWD), senior citizens, plus army and police veterans.
Essentially, the plan is an expansion of the Malaysian Family Youth Package, which was introduced in September 2021 by the previous government.
The earlier package is still in the market, incidentally, though all promotions end on 30 April, 2023. Furthermore, it has a limited scope, and is only offered to teens under 21 years of age, and college and university students.
Cheapest in the market
Priced at RM30, the Unity Package offers mobile internet at speeds of between 1Mbps and 3Mbps, with a quota of 30GB for 180 days (six months). This ostensibly makes it better than the Youth Package, which is priced at RM30 and offers 20GB of data for 90 days (three months).
It also means the cost to Unity Package subscribers is just RM5 a month.
It is important to note, however, that in terms of total data quota, the new plan averages 5GB per month, a slight decrease from the Youth Package's 6.67GB per month.
A collaborative effort
While meant to be more affordable than existing plans in the market, the Unity Package is being rolled out in collaboration with participating telecommunications providers, rather than in competition with them.
This means that those interested can sign up for the plan via one of the participating Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), which right now comprises CelcomDigi, Maxis Berhad, U Mobile Sdn Bhd, Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) or YTL Communications Sdn Bhd.
For the record, the Youth Package was offered by more operators, including Celcom Axiata Berhad and Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd (then separate corporations) as well as Maxis, U Mobile, Telekom Malaysia, YTL Communications, BeONE Network Sdn Bhd and Tune Talk Sdn Bhd. So it is unclear whether more telcos will be brought in to participate in the Unity Package initiative.
Incidentally, many of the participating telcos do have non-Unity Package plans on offer with prices of between RM20 and RM40 per month for unlimited data capped at 3Mbps; the Unity Package's promised speed. Over six months, however, these plans could cost subscribers between RM120 and RM240.
That is significantly more than the Unity Package cost of RM30 for six months, or RM5 a month when broken down.
A discount on speed
High-speed internet, which refers to uncapped 4G internet speeds, can vary from telco to telco and is dependent on a user's location and/or device. Even so, according to mobile network analytics firm Open Signal's latest Mobile Network Experience Report, download speeds in Malaysia range from 8.6Mbps to 20.5Mbps.
This makes average download speeds three to six times faster than the Unity Package's proposed speed of 3Mbps.
However, that Fahmi has said 3Mbps should be enough for most activities on smartphones, like messaging, using apps or even streaming videos.
Although the Unity Package is set to offer between 1Mbps and 3Mbps internet access and a quota of 30GB over 180 days, Fahmi has said this is merely the baseline set by the government.
Telcos, thus, will be allowed to top up the service with additional perks in their versions of the Unity Package. Significantly, then, the to-be-launched packages may have higher data quotas and/or speed caps, depending on the mobile operator.
So far, the participating companies' individual Unity Package offerings have not been revealed. However, the different versions of the Youth Package may offer clues as to what to expect.
For instance, Celcom currently offers 110GB of data over 90 days, while BeONE offers a 30GB data quota, with most others sticking to the 20GB baseline.
Signing up for the Unity Package
The Youth Package currently requires users to upload their MyKad or Student ID. But while PWDs, senior citizens, and army and police veterans have identification cards that can prove their status, it's not clear how those in the B40 economic group will prove they qualify for the Unity Package.
The expectation is that those interested will likely need to submit relevant documents to their chosen mobile operator, either online or through the company's app.
PeKa B40, the Health Ministry’s healthcare initiative for low-income groups, for instance, automatically accepts users who are already recipients of Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat (BPR) cash aid.
So those intending to register for the Unity Package may need to show this, and if they aren't recipients of the aid, they will need to register online or by visiting the Inland Revenue Board.
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