Almost everybody in Malaysia nowadays has a mobile phone. Correction, AT LEAST A mobile phone. Some may acquire brand new ones, being the latest model in the market whilst others may acquire for themselves good well maintained second-hand ones.

The Nokia N8
The Nokia N8
The Samsung Galaxy
RIM’s Blackberry 8900
HTC’s Butterfly

The more tech savvy guys with deep enough pockets (and with a credit card to boot) may get for themselves ‘smart phones’ whilst us more pragmatic guys go for those mobiles whose main feature is just to be able to make and receive calls as well as send and receive text messages. And in today’s market, that normally comes with a camera, a radio, and Bluetooth.

The selection process may differ from one person to another, with some going for a more established brand name eg Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Blackberry and what else  have you whilst some may place price as the main criteria.

Some go for power and some go for sophistication, often taking into account the many apps available in the market whilst some go for models that complement a certain image the mobile owners want to project. And we are not talking about colours yet, what with the many mobile housings available in the market, almost inevitably with a ‘Made in China’ tag to it.

Then there is the matter of the operating system. Android? Symbian? If Android is the chosen OS, which version to go for? Sandwich? (seriously!) Jellybean? (weird sense of humour this.) And so the list goes on and on and on, that it’s a wonder that people could actually decide on one. Or two. Or three even.

Then there is the question, should we go for pre-paid or post-paid? What are the pros and cons, of going pre-paid as compared with going post-paid? Shall we go with the CDMA? Or GSM? Again, the list can go on and on and on.

For some, the decision-making process in choosing a mobile can get so complicated, that matters of state and international relations can, to these people, pale by comparison. Woe is one who gets ‘the wrong model’ without the latest apps.

Iron Man 2 Reload Card
Maxi’s Hotlink RM10 reload card, promoting the movie Iron Man 2. (@ all rights reserved)

Likewise, the competition for mobile communication companies is as stiff as the decision-making process in choosing a mobile. The cost of placing the necessary infrastructure in place and what else have you can run into the billions of US Dollars (multiply that by three and you’ll get the Malaysian Ringgit RM’s equivalent). And this does not include the costs of getting the licence to operate one yet.

It’s not easy, establishing yourself in this market. Organizational issues, infrastructure, mobile coverage, towers, personnel, maintenance and what else have you. But make no mistake, the telecommunications industry is a very big business. VERY BIG BUSINESS. There are billions to be made, never mind millions.

Malaysian Telcos Reload Cards
Reload cards from UMobile, Hotlink, & Celcom. Not much imagination, is there? (@ all rights reserved)

If you think too much about it, it can get a bit mind-boggling to say the least. But one thing for sure, as the mobile services get more and more sophisticated in line with the many new and different models available from all the different mobile phone manufacturers, it is noticeable that reload cards (for people like me who opt to go for the pre-paid mode as part of an effort to control costs and not add-on to whatever debts I may already have to my name) has not only gotten smaller but also nondescript.

There was a time when a reload card was not just a reload card. It carried images, whether of humour or locations or of an advertisement of a soon-to-be movie release etc.  Admittedly, the costs of printing these reload cards may be slightly higher, what with the images and all but the printing costs can be recouped via the advertising.

AVATAR Reload Card
The Hotlink RM10 reload card from the telco Maxis, with promotion material for the movie AVATAR (@ all rights reserved)

Today’s reload cards are so dull and boring, with just the name of the mobile operator and the reload amount printed. And with reloads now readily available via ATMs, POS terminals and not forgetting the reload services at telephone shops, the reload card may soon join one of its cousins into the annals of telecommunication history : the telephone card.

Will it be a sad day when that happens? Who knows? Only history will tell. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure when talking about the telecommunication industry. With more and more technological advances being made and more and more applications, both functional-wise and software-wise, the industry will always remain in a state of flux.

Taking it one step further, and for all we know, the mobile phones, ‘both the smart and the not so smart’, may one day even go into the annals of telecommunication history themselves. What happens then, your guess will be as good as mine.