Commentary: Opennet problems threaten to spoil Singapore’s fibre broadband experience

May 19th, 2012 | by Alfred Siew
Commentary: Opennet problems threaten to spoil Singapore’s fibre broadband experience
Internet
10

When thin, fragile-looking cables are being laid in thousands of drains, risers and other ducts in Singapore for its fibre broadband network at such pace, you expect the occasional hiccup.

Who would blame Opennet, the contractor laying the cables to 95 per cent of the island, if once in a while a cable or two are not patched correctly?

Certainly, with fibre broadband prices at a low and a variety of options for savvy Net users, Singapore consumers never had it so good before. Intense competition has brought a 100Mbps fibre service to under S$50 and there are now services catering to gamers and video buffs.

Yet, a number of issues with Opennet now threaten to spoil the experience for users. And if not tackled, they could put the brakes on the competition that has benefited the newly-opened up market.

Lay the cable right
First, Opennet needs to do its basic job right – that’s laying the cable.

Earlier this year, a resident complained that Opennet had damaged some StarHub cable TV wires and caused him to lose reception to cable TV programmes. StarHub accused the fibre contractor of tampering with its cables, though the case was resolved eventually.

Unfortunately, problems with Opennet’s cable fault are not isolated. I speak from first-hand experience, as I just spent three-plus hours yesterday and today waiting for engineers from M1 and Opennet to trouble-shoot a fault in a new broadband line I had signed up for.

Yesterday, hours after installing a 100Mbps “gamer” plan at my home in the morning, the M1 engineers called up and said their system had raised an alarm – my connection had high data loss. That may explain the rather inconsistent latency I had experienced while playing online games.

The M1 folks came yesterday, and again this morning with a few Opennet contractors, to check the line. After another two hours this morning, they found that a fibre optic cable at the MDF (main distribution frame) room at the foot of the building was at fault. The signal was too high (“-25”) and the Opennet folks had to reconnect the line to bring it down to more regular levels (“-16”).

All in, I wasted a good many hours waiting for the troubleshooting to be done, and the poor M1 guys had made two extra trips – each costing the company money – through no fault of theirs.

Thing is, after all the trouble caused by Opennet, its contractors happily pushed me a service form to complete and left the place without so much as an explanation.

Was it a fault that came with the original laying of the line, I had asked. It’s a “pigtail” connection, the white cable, came the cryptic, non-committal reply from the supervisor representing Opennet. After wasting all our time, the last thing he wanted to give was the reason for the cable fault. He left promptly when I tried to ask more.

Why doesn’t Opennet care? Because I don’t matter. I’m not its customer – I pay M1 my monthly fees – and it is not motivated to get things done or explain things when they don’t work.

Unfortunately, this sours the entire experience for customers. If Opennet cannot get its task of laying the cables right, splicing them and connecting them without error, the entire next-gen broadband doesn’t come to users’ homes.

Yet, it seems to get away with things because it doesn’t lose any revenue from a small cable fault. Whether the line is up or down, it still gets paid to roll out to each home by the Singapore government and collects revenue from telecom operators.

Separated or not?
The problem also calls into question the network separation that the infocomm regulator had set in place to prevent one telco from dominating the market.

Opennet is expected to deal transparently with all telcos. But it is partly owned by SingTel, and by three other companies, and it hires SingTel contractors to lay the cables to homes and offices islandwide.

Are these SingTel contractors then motivated to solve the issues of customers signing up for a rival telco’s services? They are obliged to roll out the fibre as their contracts stipulate, no doubt, but what type of customer service would they extend to consumers in need? I think I got my answer today.

To be sure, the speed with which the rank and file purple-shirted contractors have rolled out the nation’s network has been impressive. But Opennet and SingTel have to be open about this potential conflict of interest and its impact on the broadband experience.

Opennet has rejected recent offers by StarHub and M1 to lay cables to homes to speed up the process. Why does Opennet use only SingTel for this job of connecting homes?

Here is where the government regulator has to step in. If one contractor is not up to job, it should order Opennet to broaden its list of contractors. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is paying Opennet S$750 million to roll out the network, after all.

Recently, IDA pushed the fibre contractor to increase its rollout of fibre to homes, but it should also look at the quality of the wires. It should record the number of cable faults submitted by users and ISPs and determine if SingTel/Opennet is doing a good enough job.

After all, what’s the point of “reaching” a home with fibre, only to spend hours of troubleshooting afterwards on a cable fault? More importantly, what more can IDA do to get Opennet to make sure its cables are laid perfectly the first time?

The problem is not just for new fibre users. Thousands of homes already connected face the same scenario, including the 133,000 active fibre subscribers here now.

That’s because each home actually has two fibre links – the wall socket has two ports – and if you subscribe to a new fibre provider, chances are Opennet has to come again to connect up the second link at your building’s riser and MDF room downstairs. In doing this, it can introduce new cable faults.

Now, what can IDA do to make sure this doesn’t spoil the experience for users? With its mission of hooking up Singapore complete in the next few months, it will have to examine the quality of the rollout. Look hard enough, and it’ll find problems needing urgent action.

Advertisements

10 Comments

  1. abang says:

    I’m still cursing opennet contractor for installing the fibre optic cable up to my room near the window. That’s simple works compare to my living room. Now I face many network interruption. Very poor services opennet.. Until now I’m blaming your lazy contractors.

  2. Chin says:

    Ha at least you guys managed to get the cable laid. First they said April 2012, then April 2013. It’s Feb 2014 now and they haven’t even stepped foot into my estate. Fucking useless shits.

  3. rykellim says:

    OpenNet gave me a date to do a relocation and they failed to do so, citing “technical problems”. It is more than a week since then.

  4. John Lim says:

    It’s just a farce – whimsy company sucking up 750 million for poor services, poor quality and cheap indian contractors workers.

  5. M1 user says:

    My optic fibre terminal became spoilt after 2 years. Replacement cost $220. This is absurb. Why should consumers pay for poor quality devices being installed in our house, which we do not own, nor do we maintain? And M1 conveniently pushes the problem to Opennet, despite the fact that we have contract with M1, not Opennet. I will convert back to cable. Optic fibre broadband is a disappointment.

  6. Bernard Chua says:

    OpenNet are a bunch of idiots. I wanted my 1st TP together with my structured network cables and router in my civil defence (CD) room. They said “NO”. Long delay – 2 months. Then they put the 1st TP and router in my living room. WTF, my structured cables are from the CD room to my 3 bedrooms and study-room. SOooooo. … I ripped them off and rerun the TP and router to where I wanted. GREAT JOB OpenNet idiots.

  7. Wilson Wong says:

    Well quickly go over to fibre so that I can have faster speed on my cable connex. 🙂 

  8. Francis Sim says:

    I complained to IDA with regards to the pace OpenNet is rolling out the network. Apparently, OpenNet is understaffed according to insiders. In the end, I don’t think IDA will do anything and neither will IDA slap OpenNet with a heavy fine for all the delays in the deployment.

  9. Wukm2000 says:

    If you dont have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? John wooten. My m1 fibre is currrently down, call 1627 , network busy, major outage going on?

  10. IDA boh zhi says:

    I suppose scholars need another 2 years of studying and writing a paper about this fiasco?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.