Singapore’s broadband penetration past 100 per cent

March 10th, 2009 | by Alfred Siew

It’s official. There are more broadband connections in Singapore than there are households.

In January 2009, the household broadband penetration rate here reached 102.1 per cent, according to the latest figures from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). The government regulator usually releases these figures two months after they are collected.

Already third in the world ranking of household broadband penetration in Q2 2008, Singapore looks likely to go up the rankings released regularly by research group Point Topic.

I’ve been a broadband advocate ever since I first got my hands on a trial cable modem back in the late-1990s, so I’m glad more people are getting on the bandwagon.

However, I’d say this watershed, now that we’ve reached it, should mark the start of even more efforts to bring broadband to those who don’t have it.

Why do we need broadband? It’s simple – if you don’t these days, you can’t do your school project, you can’t keep in touch with your work mates, and you miss out on all the knowledge and social activities online.

The current upswing in broadband is likely driven by the massive takeup of 3.5G services, whether this is used on a phone or via a USB dongle that you stick to the side of your laptop to surf at a cafe or at home.

The issue here, however, is that “household penetration” has become a bit of a misnomer. Though 102.1 per cent penetration means that, on average, there is one connection per home, in reality, there are are many homes still not connected. This could be due to cost or people failing to see the need for a high-speed link.

I’m sure IDA doesn’t know how many homes are yet to be hooked up, so it’s a good idea that the authorities ask that question when they interview homes, say, during the Department of Statistics’ regular surveys. That will give us an idea of the task at hand to hook up everyone on this island.

Having spent most of my journalist career following the takeup of broadband here, I hope IDA will not slow down its efforts to get broadband to poor families, despite achieving a nice score card with these numbers.

I’m thinking of IDA’s NeuPC Plus scheme, for example, which brings not just a PC but also a broadband connection to needy families. More families connected through such schemes will bring more real meaning to the idea of 100 per cent connectivity in Singapore.

Now that fixed line broadband costs have come down, the next thing that IDA might want to focus on is 3.5G mobile or personal broadband services.

They are actually a much easier way to drive broadband takeup – especially among poor families. Not everyone can afford a S$1,000 PC and pay S$30 a month for broadband. But people are more likely to have a cellphone, which they can use to surf the Net and get e-mail all the same. Think of the 3.5G phones now, some of which go for nothing when you sign up with a telco for two years.

Now, would the IDA take a look at the still-high 3.5G data charges and think of jumpstarting a little competition there?

Sure, the introduction of free Wireless@SG hotspots a few years back have forced telcos to lower these charges, but surely, going at S$48 to S$75 a month for an unlimited 7.2Mbps plan, 3.5G services are still too expensive (I don’t count the slower 3.5G plans as they are too slow to offer an alternative to fixed broadband).

So, IDA? Time again to stir up the market a little?

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9 Comments

  1. Albert says:

    A lot of ISPs’ “benchmarking or performance measurement are designed to favor the ISP. This is not entire unfair because in reality, the ISP’s job is to provide last mile connectivity to end users, and to buy international transit to link these end users to other parts of the Internet (the world).

    Anything beyond the first hop of their upstream provider is “technically” not within the local ISPs’ control. Thus benchmarks are literally benchmark against SLA agreement of these upstream providers (uptime and latency) only.

    The practice of over-subscription of these international bandwidth is normal to ensure profit. Over-subscription rates for consumers and commercial users are not made known and I believe not enforced by IDA.

    Some of these numbers, presented in very positive and pretty numbers by ISPs and IDA matters little in real life experience when actual congestion sets in. ISPs are profit driven first, acceptable performance second for commercial users. Therefore if one expect consumer speed to match those seen in Japan or Korea, IDA has to regulate with layer 7 (application) benchmark, such as the download speed of a websites via HTTP or Flash video playback via Youtube, not single small ICMP ping packet for latency.

  2. Alfred Siew says:

    @deb: nope, they dun count wireless@sg in there, otherwise, we’d get 300 per cent, heh.

    @jmarr: interesting point. that just means IDA needs to update their benchmarks to represent what the average user here would use the Net for, e.g. YouTube, etc. they will have to set realistic or at least basic benchmarks for that.

  3. jmarr says:

    Alfred, IDA does publish these stats regularly (http://www.ida.gov.sg/Publications/20061213184450.aspx). It just doesn’t work. It’s pretty weird how the reports dont actually report anything wrong (they check stats on an hourly basis as well), when the experience of myself and hundreds of Hardwarezone forumers is the exact opposite.

  4. debswee says:

    Ok my bad. Just checked with our analyst and it seems like we’re looking at the same trend. Opps!

  5. debswee says:

    Hey I’m not an analyst working on broadband subscriptions, but it seems like the household penetration IDA provides includes free subscriptions on Wireless@SG as well, which could inflate the figure because it measures potential rather than actual.

    Just a thought, FYI 🙂

  6. Alfred Siew says:

    Agree with the comments here. International bandwidth and a lack of local content have been a problem since the first ADSL modems were shipped here.

    To be fair, things have improved greatly – just try downloading a graphics card driver, an antivirus update and even watch an MSN video and you’ll get a pretty good ‘broadband’ experience. The reason: they are all cached locally, or have servers based out in Asia to serve audiences here.

    But as pointed out, things can surely improve. YouTube, for some reason, doesn’t seem to be one of those applications located close enough to Singapore. And it’s true, some ISPs really oversubscribe the hell out of their pipes during peak hours.

    Years ago, IDA did a regular bandwidth check on ISPs’ links with overseas sites in the US… I’m not sure what happened with that. I think that concept is workable. Sure, a $30-a-month line won’t come with QoS, but IDA can and should regularly check the “experience” of, say, watching YouTube or playing WoW on all the broadband services every quarter and post them online.

  7. Marshall says:

    I agree with those two comments.

    I too have a 10mb connection but cannot use youtube much of the time. Well I can, but only if I’m prepared to wait 30 minutes to buffer a 5 minute video.

    Overselling is a common practice among ISPs but it either needs to be regulated or consumers need to complain more about it.

    The small size of Singapore is both a curse and a blessing. The blessing is everyone can be connected with low latency and low cost. The curse is you only have a couple providers to choose from and they both oversell :P. We have a business line however and it does not seem affected.

    I would be prepared to pay a slightly higher rate to ensure I get a minimum amount of bandwidth at peak times!

  8. jmarr says:

    The real next frontier, Alfred, is getting the world class broadband speeds for the world class fees that we pay. I don’t care how many broadband consumer reports IDA come up with, it’s clearly not enough. It’s pretty useless paying a small fortune for broadband, coming home after a day’s work and finding that Youtube won’t bloody load at 9pm because the fat Starhub pipe isn’t fat enough.

  9. Albert says:

    Penetration and high speed adoption is one thing, sufficient *international* bandwidth to support is another. Unlike Korea and Japan, where language keeps content within the country, more than half would consume content out of Singapore.

    I wanna see you try getting anything close to 50% of the promised bandwidth on your peak hours.

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