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Goondu guide to fibre broadband operators in Singapore

June 9th, 2013 | by Alfred Siew
Goondu guide to fibre broadband operators in Singapore
Internet
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blue fibre optic cables

Step into the PC Show this weekend, and you’d find fibre broadband prices that may make you wonder why you’ve been paying so much previously. The packages are not bad too, with various new TV options now being bundled together.

This is a huge change from just a few years ago, before fibre broadband was introduced. Then, only SingTel and StarHub played the field, with each competing on the freebies they gave out rather than on lower prices to attract users.

Today, fibre broadband can be had for under S$40 a month. M1 gives you a generous 200Mbps for that, while StarHub provides 100Mbps for S$39.90 and MyRepublic goes even lower at S$38.88.

After several rounds of price cutting, this seems to be the lowest point where telecom operators will thread. They’d rather give you more bandwidth – which most users will never max out – than to slash prices any further.

Just what does each one have in store? A look at what they offer at IT bazaar every three months reveals much.

M1
The telco that has been “spoiling” the market, M1 has been dropping prices since the battle began almost two years ago. Its first S$39-a-month offer for the popular 100Mbps link reeled in lots of undecided users.

Its strategy is simple. Without pay-TV channels to bundle as part of a deal, the “orange” operator has to rely on lower prices. On the flip side, it does not have to worry about “cannibalising” on older broadband services and pricing the new fibre options higher to maintain margins.

Thus it has dropped prices like never before. This means that, even if you don’t need all that 100Mbps, S$39 a month is cheaper than many old broadband contracts that users had with SingTel and StarHub previously. The choice is a no-brainer.

There’s something else M1 has done right. By making it so cheap to buy broadband as a standalone service, people can actually sign up with M1 for broadband and get a few channels separately from StarHub or SingTel, without paying more.

From a telco that always lacked that fixed line broadband service, M1 has become a clear winner in the fibre broadband contest. Now, the question is whether it can keep up the fight with its tight margins.

MyRepublic
MyRepublic is the kind of small, nimble player that the next-gen broadband network was set up to encourage.

With the cost of building the expensive network taken out – paid for partly by the state as national infrastructure – MyRepublic could concentrate on fine-tuning the options that users want from the new “fat pipe” to the Internet.

When it launched in early 2012, it wasted no time in promising a differentiated service for gamers with little lag for online games. This was a first in Singapore.

Today, all the telcos listed here, except SingTel, offer a gamers-first service. Though it is smaller than its rivals here, MyRepublic has wowed young uses with new offerings such as its Teleport service, which lets them view online TV shows, say, on Netflix, without having to configure anything on a PC or tablet.

SingTel
Fibre broadband has been good to SingTel. As a part owner of the company that lays the fibre, it gets paid for every new subscriber signed up, even by rival telcos.

At the same time, it has upgraded its capabilities from its old phone line-based services without spending an exorbitant sum digging up roads and laying cables on its own.

Now, however, it faces the toughest fight in a while. With M1 signing up fibre users looking for a cheap deal, it has also found it increasingly hard to ward off its biggest rival StarHub and keep its customers “stuck” to its bundle of Internet, phone and TV services.

Its trump card – English Premier League (EPL) matches on pay-TV – looks to be something that StarHub customers will get hold of as well. That is still pending an appeal with the authorities, thanks to the new cross carriage rules in Singapore.

If the decision remains, SingTel won’t have a clear edge over StarHub. To be fair, SingTel does have a good deal in its S$69.90-a-month bundle which includes a 100Mbps fibre service, phone service and Family+ channels, which includes National Geographic.

Yet, SingTel’s TV service needs time to build up. It will have to sign up more channels in the coming years as they cease being exclusive to StarHub.

When the new football season starts in August, many football fans may just go back to StarHub to keep to one set-top box at home, since StarHub has more channels. As a result, they may also pick a StarHub bundle that includes a fibre broadband plan.

That’s unless SingTel can prevent StarHub from showing the next three seasons of the EPL on cable.

StarHub
Of all the telcos, the “green” camp was probably the worst hit when the price wars in fibre broadband broke out two years ago. It had to run a still-young 20-year-old cable network, which became suddenly bypassed as users turned to newer fibre broadband services. Yet, it had to compete with low-cost, faster offerings from rivals.

It seems to be have recovered a little of late. Not only is it matching M1’s prices, it has come up with gamer-centric plans to rival what Viewqwest and MyRepublic have offered. If it cannot be the first to offer such services, StarHub at least tries to keep up with the competition.

This year, the best news for StarHub must be the fact that SingTel has been told to show EPL matches on StarHub’s cable TV.

That will keep its subscription lines busy, as football fans pick the telco with the most number of channels and buy into its Hubbing bundle once again. The best thing is, it did not even bid for the rights, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Viewqwest
Last on this list by alphabetical order, Viewqwest is surely not last in terms of what users think of it.

Indeed, the service provider has won plaudits from some of the most difficult-to-please users who have switched from years of using StarHub and SingTel services and want something that unblocks the fast lane.

Want to run a server at home? No problem, Viewqwest gives home users fixed IP addresses. Want to get low latency links to overseas game servers? Viewqwest offers updated statistics of its network connection to those servers (via “smoke ping”).

No other telco here offers that level of transparency for the price that home users pay. If you want to be linked to the Net via a tightly-run network, chances are you’ll sign up with Viewqwest.

It has been a leader in breaking down some of the old telco thinking and truly “opening up” the fast lane that the fibre network offers. It led the way in offering “no bandwidth cap” for overseas sites, for example.

Last week, it also unveiled its TV services, to be offered via its self-developed Android-based IPTV box. Like a small Apple TV, this hooks up to overseas online TV services such as Hulu, Netflix, PPTV and even TVB Cantonese drama serials.

All these programmes are geo-blocked – they only allow viewers within the home countries – but Viewqwest automatically unblocks them via its network routing, so you don’t have to configure anything at home to view them.

Its bet is that users will spend more time watching videos delivered over the Net over the next few years, and not subscribe to pay-TV like before.

Its network has been primed for that, and it even believes enough in such services to throw in a nicely-made streaming TV box for you to plug into your TV, just to make things easy to use.

Viewqwest’s bundle for S$65 is good value if online TV and a well-run network are what you’re looking for.

Who should you choose?
This depends on what you favour most. Do you watch pay-TV programmes on cable and want to include that as part of the cost? Or do you want a low-latency service that gives gamers a fluid connection?

We’ll have more on an upcoming guide on picking the right fibre broadband service in Singapore. Stay tuned!

Share with us what you think of the fibre broadband service you’re using right now.

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  • Rossyjordin

    Thanks for share he blog!!!interesting and informative also!!!i liked your blog!!Cheapest Broadband Service

  • sChen

    Hi Alfred,

    Thanks for the chat the other day … as mentioned this was a great article! :-)

    Thought I’d just add a few additional considerations …

    (1) is the consumer being asked to pay for additional installation and activation charges, which can be upwards of $100? (eg. MyRepublic Pure 100 Mbps)

    (2) does the consumer want the flexibility of having a mobile broadband SIM card for use in their iPad / Android tablets? (ie. without having to set up a wireless hotspot)

    (3) does the consumer want the flexibility of a reliable recorder of local TV serials and CNA documentaries? (eg. StarHub offers free rental of their HubStation box, which I think is far more reliable than SingTel’s Mio record function. Obviously, StarHub also wants you to subscribe to pay-per-view content … )

    (4) can the consumer use a 3rd-party VPN solution to watch overseas network TV? (Of course, MyRepublic’s Teleport and ViewQwest’s TV box should make things more simple. But is it necessary and is it much more advantageous than signing up with a free VPN service from Anchor Free?)

    (5) does the consumer need the flexibility of having multiple points of entry into the home for various services? (eg. both StarHub TV and Digital Voice can be delivered over the existing cable network, which can help reduce renovation / rewiring costs for those with the OpenNet TP installed in an inconveniently located utility cabinet)

    (6) are you willing to pay for your own half-decent wireless router? (eg. forums seem to indicate that StarHub has wifi issues with their default residential gateway router, with the router becoming the bottleneck of the home wifi network. Hence it may worth the consumer’s while buying one of the higher-end Asus router offered by MyRepublic or M1.)

    Would love to hear more thoughts from you or others … looking to switch to fibre soon.

    Cheers,
    sChen

    • Guess

      Personally I feel any broadband package should include a router as standard, with the option given to the customer to choose whether they want to upgrade or decline.

      Packaging mobile broadband service, discount on handsets, free installation, etc.. only make sense if the customer wants, needs or doesn’t already have it. For those who already have such services signed on separately, it doesn’t quite make a whole lot of sense from the customer perspective to sign on to a new broadband plan contract other than the price.

      Perhaps what they can do is to offer the customer some choice e.g if the customer does not want the package router, mobile broadband service, etc.. offer the customer a substitute for it. Otherwise as a customer, it feel as if we are somehow we are getting a bad deal, don’t you agree?

      • sChen

        Hi Guess,

        I believe all the RSP’s offer a router as standard. SingTel offers the Aztech 7000; StarHub the D-Link DVG-N5402SP; M1 is now offering the Asus n56u again; MyRepublic the Asus n15u or better; ViewQwest offers the Zhone 2426 ONT+router combo.

        Now, whether these routers have decent wired or wireless routing performance is another matter … hence the consideration of whether you want to pay for a half-decent router.

        And for StarHub fibre customers who decline the standard router upon sign-up, StarHub does offer rewards points as a replacement, towards which the customer is free to choose some other voucher, product or service.

        Now, whether those points can buy something worth the claimed valued of the router is another story …

        Signing up for a low-cost fibre plan may not result in low total cost of access if you need to pay high installation charges, hire a contractor to hack walls and lay new networking cables, bear the intangible cost of living with unsightly external trunking, bear with locating your cordless phone base station in an unlikely place (like inside the utility cabinet), pay extra for mobile broadband or dual SIM cards to get your tablet online, buy a separate DVR to record local TV programmes like CNA documentaries, etc.

        So the whole idea is that one has to carefully weigh the different trade-offs based on your home or personal networking constraints (if any).

        Cheers,
        sChen

    • Alfred Siew

      Thanks for sharing your own experience. Good info there! :)

      • sChen

        And thanks for generously sharing yours! :-)

  • CJDias

    Thanks for this article Alfred. What is your take on the consumer broadband reports being published now by IDA? How tangible is the impact of the bandwidth variance during peak hours indicated in those reports (I.e 7pm-2am window)?

    • Alfred Siew

      Hi CJDias, the reports from IDA do offer a glimpse of what’s the general types of speeds users get. However, they connect to a number of US servers that may or may not be where you would usually go to. I’d say the bandwidth variance won’t be too bad for average surfing in general, but if you’re into heavy downloads, then you might want to subscribe to one of those high-end plans, say, from Viewqwest, M1, StarHub or MyRepublic, which promise to connect you on the best route even during peak hours.

  • Guess

    an interesting point raised in the article, “geo-blocked”.

    if there are changes made to prevent companies getting around this in the future, what is impact going to be on existing subscriber contracts? plus is there a reason why the other 3 telcos haven’t offered similar services.

    • techgoondu

      Hi Guess, that’s a good point. It’s possible that they could block out a range of IP addresses, for example. But they might be better off blocking the true pirated sites that provide content for nothing! :) StarHub and SingTel obviously have their own pay-TV businesses to take care of, but even they offer VOD services (SingTel miostadium and StarHub TV Anywhere), because they know many viewers are watching TV content away from their set-top boxes. -Alfred.

      • Guess

        i am not sure whether it done in the same way as dvd region code, but if it is, the long term solution has to be changing it to region code 1 for english content. English movies are shown almost immediately here as it is there any way, so why we are classified under a different region has always been kind of puzzling.

        • tim

          Guess, geo-block refers to blocking via IP address, rather than some region-restricted codec block.
          I agree region-classification is extremely frustrating to say the least. But this really is a industry related issue where content distributors try to juice new contracts (read: profits) at the regional or country-level.

          • Alfred Siew

            My thoughts exactly, Tim. TV content folks will have to get used to lower profits from slicing and dicing their distribution deals. They just gotta innovate to give viewers more to get more dollars out of the content.

          • Guess

            Hi Tim, agreed. region classification is frustrating, especially when shows take a long time before they are aired on cable locally, but I supposed it also has a bit to do with the need to edit content to meet local requirements too. However with tv over web becoming more common, there surely must be a re-think on how, why and the need for region classification.

  • blitzio

    Who’s the best in terms of lowest latency (for gaming) and uncapped international download speeds?

    • Guest

      ViewQwest, followed by MyRepublic.

      • blitzio

        Where does M1 fit in? They seem to be possibly the cheapest, but do they also allow for uncapped intl speeds?

        • Guess

          supposedly they don’t cap international speed, at least not that i know of. however (and i hope Alfred Siew will correct me if i am wrong) websites do limit the speed we get in order to manage traffic and there other factors too like ipv4 vs ipv6, how request (internet connections) are routed, etc.

          • techgoondu

            Officially, they do not cap international speeds. But most of the time, the bottleneck is not at the telco, but at the sites overseas. Not many servers will provide, say, 10Mbps never mind 100Mbps, to one single user to connect at. However, if you download from several sites at the same time, for example, from hundreds of peers on Bit-torrent, you can get an aggregate of 100Mbps or more. -Alfred.

          • Guess

            Hi Alfred, thanks.

          • Phoenix

            Does this mean 100mbps while downloading from, say, FileFactory? While I’m connected via WiFi? (I don’t know ANYONE who connects via LAN cable anymore). So inside Firefox my DownloadEmAll will show 100mbps?