Singapore smartphone users: to 4G or not to 4G?

September 9th, 2012 | by Alfred Siew
Singapore smartphone users: to 4G or not to 4G?

The first nationwide 4G service is going online in Singapore in the coming days and for the first time, the new mobile broadband technology seems like a viable offering for smartphone users here.

Users don’t have to worry about a “partial” 4G service if they sign up for M1’s nationwide offering unveiled on Thursday. Previously, the “orange camp” had only sold its 4G service to commercial users and only promised coverage to parts of the island.

Its rival SingTel, which had provided a consumer service in the past three months, is still building out its network to cover the entire country by 2013. Meanwhile, StarHub has said it will launch its 4G services in the remaining months of 2012.

Is it time to jump on the 4G bandwagon? Here’s a list of pros and cons.

Why go on 4G now
1. Nationwide coverage
M1’s new 4G service means you don’t have to worry about “dropping back” to 3G, like when you turn up at an area without the high-speed service. The islandwide service is said to cover both indoors and outdoors. One place you won’t get 4G for now is on the trains. Eventually, that too will be covered by the 4G service, says M1, though it does not have a date for that.

2. Faster access – for now
With speeds of up to 75Mbps – typical downloads are expected to between 7Mbps and 17Mbps – 4G services offer faster downloads and Web surfing. More importantly, this new network is currently separate from the clogged up 3G networks here and you’ll probably get on Facebook or Skype more easily. It’s like getting on a spanking new MRT train with lots of empty seats because few people are on it.

3. Some attractive phones
Okay, the silly “new” iPad still doesn’t work with 4G networks outside North America. But there are great devices now, like HTC’s One XL, the 4G version of the excellent One X phone. If you are looking for a tablet, then Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 8.9 is the best bet now. It is said to be popular with corporate users, so perhaps the Korean manufacturer believes that’s where the early adopter market is.

Why not go on 4G now
1. Lower data cap
As expected, M1 has “rebooted” its mobile broadband plans with the launch of its 4G services. Now, if you sign up for or recontract on a 3G or 4G smartphone plan, the free data bundle starts from 2GB instead of the generous 12GB of old.

Telecom operators have said that the average user won’t exceed his data package, but with faster networks come heavier usage. If you’re worried about bursting your limit, it’s best to stay put with the contract you have got now.

2. More users coming onboard
Like an MRT train, sooner or later, more people will come onboard down the line. After 4G was launched in South Korea in the middle of last year, the network quickly got saturated by users downloading videos and other bandwidth-sucking applications. One concern is that 4G networks could become just as crowded as the current 3G networks. Ironically, as wry users will note, the 3G network could get less congested when more people sign on to 4G.

3. Small number of devices
The upcoming iPhone rumoured to be unveiled in the coming days is expected to feature Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, so there might be a popular 4G phone for many users here who want to get on the new network. However, many tablets and other devices are yet to have access to the new network, partly because of the complexities involved in adding another radio in already small chassis. If you don’t like the current crop of 4G devices, wait for upcoming ones next year.

Going forward
Much depends on whether users will change the way they use 4G services with the less generous data caps. Telecom operators certainly hope that users will offload some of the traffic that is clogging up cellphone networks by perhaps logging in to Wi-Fi at home.

But how users will use 4G – or what apps they will load it with – is still unclear. The Korean experience shows that 4G is not the magic bullet to solve the congestion issues that have plagued 3G networks.

It’s true the telcos in Singapore are “re-farming” or re-using the 2G spectrum to provide more bandwidth for the new 4G services, but it’s common sense that the airwaves will not be able to handle the increasing amounts of data that users are throwing at them without a big breakthrough in compression technology, for example.

The other thing to note is competition, which will surely bring more users onboard.

Just hours after M1 unveiled its 4G service, SingTel said it was keeping both 3G and 4G prices the same, doing away with an “add on” fee of S$10 for good. That’s the price that M1 has levied on early adopters for the technology, which it believes is fair since it has the widest 4G network now.

In time to come, when StarHub also joins the fray, users can expect prices to come back down to current 3G levels. Less likely though are the generous data caps of old, given that all three telcos are trying to shape usage patterns to provide a smoother experience on the new network.

Are you using 4G or planning to go on it soon? Share with us your experience or concerns?


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