DBC Network

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Aha! A different route to the Internet

“Our focus is on user experience,” Erik Meijer said during our one-on-one interview. Erik is the VP of Marketing at Bakrie Telecom (BTel) and the president director of Bakrie Connectivity (BCon), a subsidiary of BTel specifically focused on Internet connectivity using a BCon product, the Aha USB Modem.
Aha USB Modem
A USB modem connecting a PC or notebook to the Internet over a mobile network is not a new concept.
There already are several 3G and HSDPA options offered by GSM operators. “I’ve seen people try to use them here, but sometimes they had to wait two days for the connection. We wanted our subscribers to say ‘Aha!’ when they receive an instant Internet connection,” Erik said.
That was the design philosophy of the Aha USB modem, which I took home and tried myself.
The sleek modem is almost twice as long as a regular thumb drive, but the user has to flip the connector mechanism out, which is actually a good design decision because it makes it possible to use the modem with other Internet-ready devices, such as tablets and pads.
Inserting the RUIM card into the modem is easy (the RUIM cards are very similar to a SIM card for a GSM phone).
Installation of the software driver is straightforward. An installation window immediately appears after inserting the connector to the USB port. After a few clicks, the modem is ready to connect.
Once connected, registration is required. On the dialer window, there are buttons to launch Google’s Chrome browser, the Google search bar, live online news tickers, and Picasa — Google’s photo management and editing software.
New updates are automatically downloaded and installed without additional charge, and the interface can be set in Indonesian or English.
Aha wireless Internet broadband is based on 1x EV-DO, the standard for CDMA technology high speed data developed by Qualcomm. It is not a new standard, and may not even be the “next generation”.
Qualcomm is now also embracing Time Division (TD) LTE as its upcoming access methodology.
In places where 1x EV-DO is not available, subscribers can still connect to the Internet via CDMA 2000-1x. However, download speed will drop from 3.1 Mbps to 153 kbps, which is still much better than a dial-up connection.
“Our Aha network is currently available in Surabaya, Malang, Semarang, Solo, Jogjakarta, Bandung, Tasikmalaya, Cirebon, Bogor, Denpasar, Jakarta and Medan. Fifteen thousand people are already using it,” Erik said, adding that subscriptions are rising.
So, what user experience did I acquire? I can tell you I was not disappointed. I had previously thought, 3G — never! HSDPA — only in my dreams. But I was amazed that I was still able to access the maximum 3.1 Mbps speed in my private study at home, where the GSM signals from two of the largest operators are not strong enough and I am often forced to rush outside even to take a call on my mobile phone.
The strength of the network coverage was already a huge plus, but then I received a courtesy call from Aha’s customer care center, to check if everything worked well. I have not had the chance to test the modem in other places, but if it works so well as in the area where I live, it is safe to assume that it will work well in the central business district.
“We made sure that our services were spot-on before we launched the service,” Erik said.
The service is available in the five mayoralties of Jakarta, and also in Karawang and Serang.
The Aha hardware is manufactured in China, but the applications and the user-friendly features are the product of local engineers. Erik said that because he and his team did not have experience developing this product, they contacted Google, the largest Internet company in the world today, and telecommunications giant Sprint, to ensure subscribers will be satisfied with the product and the service.
“Luckily we share the same vision, and they are eager to work with us and teach us how to make the product easy to use,” Erik said, adding that this is the reason behind the Google Chrome logo on the modem. “It is the first such product in the world to carry the logo.”
Aha subscribers have several subscription options based on download speed. They can subscribe on a daily or monthly basis, and they can easily change from one option to another. The price of the modem itself is Rp 499.000.
The Aha network uses BCon’s ISP license, which means that you can take the modem to another city and use it anywhere as long as there is BTel’s Ix-EV-DO or CDMA-1x coverage. But you cannot simply remove the RUIM card and insert it into a CDMA phone to make calls, because it would be crossing the boundaries of the carrier’s licensed territories.
My final question to Erik was why the service came to Jakarta after it was already offered in Surabaya, Semarang, Solo and the other cities. “In Jakarta, people have more alternatives for connecting to the Internet, but options for people in the regions are limited,” Erik said.
I understand that Jakarta is a tough nut to crack, especially with the upcoming launch of various WiMAX services. For us, however, the benefit remains the same: More choices will inevitably lead to better services at lower costs.

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