Terragraph Lands in Penang, Malaysia, and It’s a Big Deal
February 20, 2019 Andrew Cheng

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Terragraph: a multi-node wireless system from Facebook that aims to deliver high-speed internet access in urban areas. Well, surprise surprise, YTL Communications, with support from Facebook, is launching Terragraph in Penang, Malaysia.

But how big of a deal is Terragraph? Will it be able to replace fibre optic networks in the future? If things go well, it can certainly serve as a viable alternative.

Now, to be specific, YTL is implementing Terragraph in George Town, Penang, which is pretty interesting. Because George Town is a UNESCO heritage city, it’s difficult to install fibre optic network for high-speed internet while adhering to architectural guidelines set by the UN.

However, implementing Terragraph is much, much easier, as it can be installed on street furniture (such as street lamps) and rooftops. There’s no need for digging works to lay down fibre infrastructure, and it’s much faster to deploy too.

How fast can it be installed? According to Amanz, 25 nodes of Terragraph were installed throughout George Town in just one night. That’s really quite impressive.

On top of that, Terragraph can deliver gigabit speeds too, so it’s not like it is inferior to fibre optic networks in this regard. YTL demonstrated that the Terragraph network installed in George Town can achieve download and upload speeds of well over 1Gbps, though the company did clarify more tests need to be done to ensure that the network is capable of delivering consistent speeds.

Speed is not an issue with Terragraph, but because it relies on WiGig technology, the infrastructure has limited range. Terragraph operates in the 60GHz frequency range, so it has shorter wavelength than, say, a typical WiFi network operating in 2.4GHz or 5GHz.

For this very reason, Terragraph is only practical in dense, urban areas, where the multiple nodes can be installed on street lamps and rooftops of buildings. On the bright side, one node consumes about the same amount of electricity as an LED street lamp.

At this point in time, the Terragraph network in George Town, Penang is not active yet. In fact, the installation of the nodes is to prepare for the pilot study, which will commence from 1 March onwards. According to YTL, it’s the first large-scale pilot of Terragraph in Asia, and it will be held for six months.

The Terragraph pilot test will start from George Town itself; the city would have 60 nodes installed when the test begins. In the next few months, Terragraph will be expanded to other parts of Penang too, and it remains to be seen if the network will be implemented outside of the state.

If you happen to be living in George Town, you’ll love this: the Terragraph network will be accessible to the general public for free. This should put Terragraph through its paces, and if it proved to be robust enough, it’ll be a promising alternative to the more traditional fibre optic infrastructure.

Of course, if Terragraph is a viable option, the next question that would have to be answered is who exactly will lay out the infrastructure for the technology nationwide. Even though it is cheaper to deploy than conventional fibre optic networks, it will still cost a considerable sum of money.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The bottom line is, Terragraph is a very promising technology, and the 6-month pilot test in Penang will tell if it is good enough to deliver better internet access in urban areas.