Maxis and Celcom are the 2 mobile service market leaders in Malaysia in terms of network coverage and speed. They are closely challenged by Digi and U Mobile, followed by Unifi Mobile.
This comparison is made based on my personal experience and observation by installing SIM card of different operator, one at a time, into the same SIM card slot of the same handphone, and using the handphone at the same location during the observation timeframe.
Note that only Maxis, Celcom and Digi (and their respective sub-brands) are using own 2G/3G/4G and even 5G network. Yes only has 4G coverage at limited areas. The others are somehow riding on the network of these Big 3 (mostly on Celcom), as shown in the table below.
However, based on my observation, the SIM card of the operator does play a role in your network usage experience. For example, TuneTalk and Celcom will be connected to the same infrastructure belonged to Celcom, but the way your handphone maintains the connection with their SIM card might behave differently.
Between Maxis and Celcom, I observed that Maxis provides an overall better experience, particularly when you are inside a building. This observation is made in a location which OpenSignal indicates that both their 2G/3G/4G signal at the area are equally strong.
How does Maxis achieve the better result? This is possibly due to Maxis behave differently from Celcom when the phone is in standby mode (not in phone call, no SMS in/out, no foreground open app, screen is on).
When WiFi is connected, Maxis will settle down with the most stable signal at highest strength (in terms of dBm and ASU). For layman, this will be a state which your phone get the most signal bars shown at the status bar. In my observation, unless there is background network activity ongoing, else it will settle down to 3G UMTS connection, giving a full bars or close to that. The maximum network speed at UMTS is 384 kbps only.
When WiFi is off, Maxis will immediately scale up its connection, and maintain at a balance between speed and signal strength, to provide optimal network stability. In my case, it will stay at HSPA+ with maximum speed of 42.2 Mbps. It will only reach out to 4G LTE when the phone's network activity increases, demanding higher network speed.
On the other hand, Celcom will always go for the highest generation and stays at 4G LTE or LTE+ as long as there are 2 bars of signal and above for 4G, regardless WiFi is connected or not, despite the signal at lower generation is much stronger.
U Mobile will settle down with 2.75G EDGE with maximum speed of 220 kbps, when WiFi is connected. OpenSignal showed that it connects to the same Maxis tower when Maxis was tested as above.
By connecting and staying at lower generation when WiFi is connected, it actually helps to save some battery usage.
When WiFi is connected, it seems that:
- Maxis connection will stay at the most stable signal at highest strength.
- Celcom connection will try to show off they got 4G LTE/LTE+ at the area by connecting to 4G, even though the signal is comparatively weaker than lower generations.
- U Mobile will connect to the lowest possible generation while maintaining decent connection speed.
When WiFi is disconnected and Internet is in used, it seems that:
- Maxis connection will try to strike a balance between speed and stability.
- Celcom connection will actually fall back to HSPA when LTE/LTE+ signal is too weak for stable connection, otherwise it will just stay at LTE/LTE+.
- U Mobile does not have 4G coverage at the area, since the connection never reach LTE/LTE+.
When there is an incoming phone call or SMS, it seems that:
- Maxis connection will raise from UMTS to HSPA.
- Celcom connection will drop from LTE to HSPA if the 4G signal is too weak.
- U Mobile connection will raise from EDGE to UMTS.
Due to the different in their behavior:
- When I make a call from another phone, Maxis will ring faster than Celcom. Sometimes, you will see the connection of Celcom changed from LTE to HSPA before the phone actually rings.
- When I send an SMS from another phone, it will generally reach Maxis faster than Celcom.
- The voice quality in a phone call with Maxis is generally more stable and better than Celcom.
- There is not much different between them in Internet usage, their speed is almost the same in this area, regardless connected with HSPA or LTE. The download speed is much higher than the upload speed.
- Let the phone lying overnight, U Mobile is able to conserve slightly more battery than Maxis (different for about 1% draining), which in turn conserves more battery than Celcom (different for about 2% draining).
Besides, there are several other reports available in the Internet about general comparison of Malaysia mobile service providers, including comparison of postpaid packages, prepaid packages, price, coverage, network speed, etc. One of the good source is OpenSignal which you can search around for their analysis reports.
- Observation facilitated by Network Signal Info Pro by KAIBITS Software GmbH, cross checked with SIM Card Network Status info shown in Android OS "About" screen.
- You might probably be interested to also read about The evolution of cellular mobile technology (from 1G to 5G) .