Goondu guide to fibre broadband in Singapore

April 14th, 2011 | by Alfred Siew
Goondu guide to fibre broadband in Singapore

So, you’re finally getting the fibre optic cable set up at home and seem all ready to hook up to Singapore’s fast lane that promises faster downloads. Then, all of a sudden, questions come up.

How should I run the fibre optic cable at home? How should I set up up my home network? Which service provider should I sign up with?

As a new fibre broadband user who just signed up two weeks ago, I can tell you I have asked all those questions, and there are solutions, sort of, if you know what you want with the new service.

First, here are a few things you need to know:

1. How fast?
Though the fibre optic services boast speeds going up to a crazy 1,000Mbps (costing over S$300 a month), you are still limited by how fast content is delivered over the Net.

It’s like this: you may now have a new highway built next to your home, but the char kway teow store you drive to everyday for your lard fix is still only served by a small lane that is always jammed up by fellow drivers, and there is no other way to get there. You are held up all the same.

On the Net, there are many such small lanes as well. In fact, most sites are hosted on servers that offer nowhere near the top speeds you can get on your fibre service. So, you are still limited by whatever capacity they have on their end – this could be as low as under 100Kbps for some small sites or up to 100Mbps on sites hosted with Singapore ISPs like StarHub.

As such, with many websites and other Internet content, you will NOT get speed-ups with the new broadband service.

But some “overseas” sites such as AMD, Nvidia and Apple, for example, cache their content all over the world, including in Singapore, so that their servers are not overloaded when a lot of traffic hits their sites, say, to download drivers or to watch a new iPad video.

You can expect really fast downloads for such “cached” content, especially if the owner has paid a lot of money to deliver it to a place like Singapore. You’ll also get fast downloads, say, at EA Singapore, which is based in Singapore, and which offers fast PC game downloads to folks here.

With EA Singapore, you can get about 30Mbps downloads, and at times, close to 100Mbps for some of these cached sites. But you will almost never get 1,000Mbps (if you know a site that is as fast, let me know).

So, is this top speed a “fake” top speed? No, the truth is you will still get the capacity, which means you can have concurrent downloads, all amounting to the speed you pay for. For some folks, this means downloading stuff over bit-torrent all day, without ever worrying about choking the bandwidth to their homes.

Some ISPs do throttle the download speed of bit-torrent downloads, but take with a pinch of salt what people complain about on forums. There are so many variables, for example, whether an ISP throttles certain types of traffic only at certain times, and between certain groups of subscribers. Unfortunately, the only good test of this is to try things out yourself.

2. Why sign up?
So, with all these “disclaimers”, why bother signing up for fibre? There are two reasons. One is that they can be cheaper than traditional broadband options. M1, which has some of the cheapest offers now, provides a 25Mbps service for S$39 a month – cheaper than StarHub’s cable modem services, which give you only a 6Mbps service for about S$35 a month.

So, even if you “don’t need” the speed, you can get cheaper or faster deals than what you have got currently. That makes it a no-brainer to sign up with the cheaper fibre broadband options now.

For those who are heavy users, the download speed is just one thing to look forward to. There’s also upload speed. Typically, a synchronous technology like FTTH (fibre to the home) means that you can upload as fast as you download – a big change to the older asynchronous technologies such as ADSL and cable modem.

What this means is that you can share files with friends in Singapore a lot faster. I’ve tested the uploads for my M1 fibre service (100Mbps down/50Mbps up), and the speeds are miles faster. One of my pals who used to download at 1Mbps from me now gets more than 10Mbps (it’s not 50Mbps, possibly because of the poor peering arrangements between his ISP and mine).

And here’s something that will interest bit-torrent users: for some file downloads, the faster you upload means the faster you can download as well (based on a superior share ratio). So, the upload speeds do count for something.

3. Teething problems
I’d advise anyone who is taking up fibre optic broadband to be patient. I’ve been lucky so far to not have had any problems, but some users have reported occasional disconnections, while others have reported fibre installers for damaging existing cable TV wires.

Users will have to give the technology time, as it matures. After all, the network is still being rolled out to parts to Singapore right now, and will only be complete by the end of 2012.

To be fair, the new fibre broadband services are already rolled out in a much better way than the first wave of broadband services back in the late 1990s. Anyone remember waiting 45 minutes on the phone when their costly SingTel Magix ADSL service went offline?

If you are all set, then let’s have a checklist of what to look out for when installing the fibre. Read on.


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