Goondu guide to fibre broadband operators in Singapore

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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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