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I arrived in Jakarta on the evening of 4th of July, for my sister’s wedding and Anggi’s sister in law’s wedding. Somehow many people are getting married in July 2007, I think about three or four of my high school friends are getting married during the period, and at least two of my university friends. Interestingly, during this trip, I experience a few “culture shocks”, as I haven’t been home for more than one year. I’ll list down those “shocks” in a two parts: the first one is about internet connectivity, and the second one is about other stuff.
Getting Connected in Indonesia
When I go to Indonesia, I would always prepare myself to stay disconnected from the internet during the period. Not that I want to, but internet connection in Indonesia is expensive, really slow, or impractical (like, I have to go to a mall a few km away from my inlaw’s house to get free wi-fi, or that I have to subscribe to a broadband service: impractical for my short-term stay).
But this time, I can’t avoid being disconnected any longer. The reason is that I didn’t manage to finish a few papers to be submitted to my bosses, the professors. So, this time around, I couldn’t relax in Jakarta, since I have to fit in a few hours a day to work. And just working on those paper isn’t enough, I still need to send them over to my bosses. Those papers are at least 5 megabytes in size, because it has a few images. For Singapore standard, 5MB in filesize is peanut. But for Indonesian standard, sending it over the internet pipe is like fitting an elephant into a Volkswagen.
So during the first few days, I tried to stick onto Telkomnet Instan, the only service available in my inlaw’s house. I used to remember that Telkomnet Instan wasn’t that bad: the connection rate is quite fast for dialup Indonesian standard. But this time, I felt like pulling my hair out because sending 1MB of document took me at least 60 minutes, and sending 8MB of document took me two hours of effort, and failed because it got disconnected at 60 percent upload. My gmail accounts kept getting disconnected. And forget about browsing images: I had to turn them off in firefox. And my laptop modem port and HD were at the brink of being overheated. I gave up and send the files using thumbdrive over at my uncle’s house, which has cable internet, several hundred meters from my inlaw’s.
A few days before my departure to Jakarta, I asked my pak-bos-dangdut Jeremy Wagstaff for the solution to my problem. He promptly suggested that I try HSDPA 3.5G connection, which he had been very satisfied about. So, back in Singapore, I did a quick research about this and agreed that it’s quite promising. However, it was not easy to make a decision. First, the upfront cost for HSDPA modem is high, so, I had to do a research on market price very carefully and look for lobangs for a bargain. Second, most HSDPA connection requires subscription, something that is not worth for my short-term stay in Indonesia. Third, not many people are using HSDPA, or most of them are on subscription, therefore it was difficult for me to find a solution specific to my needs: for a short term stay in Indonesia.
Then I found out that Telkomsel had just released their FLASH scheme. There are a few things that attracted me into this scheme: First, it does not require subscription. Second, it’s time-based rather than use-based: which fits to my needs for downloading and uploading big files. So, the first thing I did upon arriving in Jakarta is to buy a prepaid Telkomsel SIM card which I would use solely for HSDPA.
But there’s another problem. I need an HSDPA modem. It was difficult finding one because most of my friends who are using HSDPA are on subscription scheme (so they got a bargain deal). Moreover, I want a modem that is not locked to specific network, because I would want to use it outside Indonesia. If I buy the modem from Telkomsel, it would be locked to Telkomsel network. I could get a modem in Singapore for free (as part as M1 subscription), but it is also locked. The Singtel’s HSDPA modem looks like unlocked, but it costs more than 400 SGD and I had to sign up for 2 years contract. (note: I found out that unlocked / non-contracted HSDPA modem is far more expensive in Singapore, perhaps because there wasn’t a very high demand for it due to nationwide Wireless@SG scheme).
Thanks to Othe and Bram, who are very active in forumponsel and have an understanding on HSDPA market due to their work with the telcos, they recommended me to buy a modem from a shop in Taman Anggrek. It was quite a bargain, about almost half the price compared to buying it at bhinneka.com, and worth the hellish traffic to go to Taman Anggrek. The shop even installed the modem for me and it came with one year warranty. The only downside is that the built-in software comes only in German. Perhaps it’s a smuggled product or something, because I couldn’t even log into Optic Globesurfer Icon Website to download the manual using the serial and IMEI numbers at the back of the modem. Nevertheless, when I tried to get connected to Flash Telkomsel, I got 1.8MB speed, and it was quite a breeze. A far cry from Telkmonet Instan’s 52K crippling speed!
In a nutshell, looks like cellular based broadband has a strong prospect in Indonesia due to the strong demand, telco competitions, and less cost in building cellular network compared to fixed line or wi-fi network. Correct me if I’m wrong. But I felt that the demand is really strong, that the current modem price is almost 80 percent compared to a few months ago, and even that dodgy HSDPA modem seller in Taman Anggrek has already reduced the modem price for the next shipment by 100,000 rupiah (I bought the last unit of their first shipment). So, thanks to my dad, Jeremy, Othe, Bram, Ankz, and Phoebz for helping me in the quest for HSDPA connection. And for Singapore residents who want to go to Indonesia, I suggest you to rent my modem (hoping to recoup the cost).