Friday, 4 April 2014

The Horrible Maxis Broadband

I started a new teaching contract in Miri, Malaysia - on the exotic island of Borneo. Unfortunately, foreigners have few choices for an internet provider. Some internet companies require foreigners pay a 1,000-ringgit deposit (or roughly $313) or sign a two-year contract.


I talked to a colleague who bought prepaid broadband from Maxis. He pays 30 ringgits (or roughly $9) per month with a maximum 1-gigabyte data download per month. Of course, he bought a new modem. I also saw the online comments and surveys where people said Maxis Hotlink has the best broadband.


I marveled over the technology. The modem plugs into a laptop's USB port and uses the cellphone's airwaves to transfer data. I thought it would be awesome to try Maxis Broadband. I strolled to the nearest store at my university to pay for the modem and signed up for Maxis Hotlink broadband.


The salesperson pulled out the first modem box, and I shook my head no. The box appeared old as if someone has already opened it. Then the salesperson grabbed another box that appeared new. Then I paid 100 ringgits for the modem, 10 ringgits for a SIM card (Yes, the modem has a cellphone number), and 30 ringgits for my first month. The whole adventure set me back by 140 ringgits (or roughly $44).


I returned to my office to try Maxis and came across my first problem. I plugged the Maxis modem into my computer, and it installed the connection manager onto my computer. However, the model would not connect. At the bottom of the connection manager, it stated – no device plugged in.


I almost returned to the store to complain about the modem, but I remembered during the install process, one driver did not install. I removed the modem from the computer and uninstalled the modem. Then I plugged the device back into the computer and reinstalled the program.


This fixed the problem. The modem began working and connected to the internet.


I remember my colleague said he had fast download speeds. Really? Compared to what - a turtle race? When I used an ADSL modem from TM in northern Malaysia, I could watch low-resolution Youtube videos. Unfortunately, Malaysia differs from the United States, where Americans can watch high definition movies online at home, even paying the same price as Malaysians for the internet.


Maxis Hotlink's download speed ranges between a dial-up phone and the ADSL. I did not expect too much and planned to use the modem to check my email and Facebook account. I thought broadband implied fast downloads. Maxis should tell the truth and call it narrow-band or slow-band. Company misleads its customers by calling it broadband. Occasionally, I would lose the connection and the device would reconnect after several seconds.


After a week, I was writing a blog online when the modem stopped working. I unplugged the device and plugged the device into different USB ports on my laptop – nothing happened.


I took the Maxis modem to work and plugged it into my new, office computer – nothing. The device had died. I tried two techniques to extend the life of a USB device. 


  1. Over time, the USB plug widens as the connections on the USB device do not touch the pins in the computer socket firmly. I pushed the metal on the top of the USB device inward. That way, the USB device plugs into the socket to make a tighter connection. However, that trick had failed.
  2. Humidity can corrode the metal, and Malaysia can be extremely humid. Corrosion prevents the pins and connectors from forming a good contact. I bought a can of WD-40. Then I sprayed the pins in the laptop and the modem's connectors and wiped them clean, removing the corrosion from the metal. Nevertheless, the device still did not work. It had broken.

I took apart the device to examine it and posted the pictures below:

Modem's Top View

Modem's Bottom View


I should have known better. ZTE Corporation, a Chinese company, manufactures the modems for Maxis. ZTE fabricates the $50 Android smart phones that the discount retailers sell in the United States. This corporation is a step above the Chinese companies that manufacture the fake Samsung Galaxy phones circulating across Malaysia.


I walked around the large mall in downtown Miri. I asked one vendor the price of a Maxis modem. She quoted 180 ringgits (or roughly $56). I shook my head in disgust because I paid 100 ringgits (about $31) for the first modem. She said she must charge full price for the second modem even though the first had broken.


I saw a Hotlink stand at the mall and noticed a stack of Maxis modems on the counter. This same stand manages the store branch at the college campus, where I bought my defective modem. Then I asked the salesman at the Maxis stand how much for a replacement modem. He replied, "these modems are for monthly payment plans only. We cannot sell them for prepaid. However, we can give you one for free if you sign up for a contract."


That raises a good question. If Maxis Hotlink were the best, why would I give this company my credit card or debit card information. Then this company would stick me with a shoddy modem and would keep charging my card every month. Then Maxis would charge me broadband prices for snail download speeds. At least with prepaid, I can stop paying its service without breaking any contracts and incurring excessive fees.


Many companies forget the memorial adage – once a company burns a customer, it loses that customer forever. Still they buy these cheap, electronic devices and push them onto their customers. I experienced the same problem with the Malaysian company - TM. After every thunderstorm or power outage, the ADSL modem shorted out. TM replaced the modem three times until I bought a new modem at the store. I paid $50 for the modem and never experienced further problems with the Wi-Fi until the monkeys damaged the phone line. (The Wi-Fi device still worked.).


I eventually found a vendor who sold me a D-link model for 70 ringgits (nearly $22) to replace the broken Maxis modem. The device continues to work after three weeks, but I continue having slow-band. During weekdays, I can check my email and Facebook and lose the connection three or more times. However, on weekend nights, I cannot even connect to the internet. Even if I do connect, I suffer from incredibly slow speeds as people congest the cellphone lines in Malaysia. I will try another broadband service.


I shake my head in disgust at these Malaysian companies. They stick their customers with terrible service and sell them this cheap electronic junk. If consumers experience any problems, then tough luck. That's their problem! Welcome to Malaysia – the land of the incredibly slow broadband.

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