Commmentary: StarHub 4G coverage to reach 95 per cent by October 2013

June 14th, 2013 | by Alfred Siew
Commmentary: StarHub 4G coverage to reach 95 per cent by October 2013

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Another day, another network upgrade by a Singapore telecom operator.

There was a time when subscribers didn’t care how a network was run, as long as they could make calls or get their e-mails on the go. Today, however, with users often upset over clogged-up 3G networks and spotty 4G coverage, telcos seem to have upped their game publicly.

The latest news comes from StarHub today. It will blanket 95 per cent of the island with its 4G signals in the next four months, joining rivals M1 and SingTel in providing nationwide coverage for the fast mobile Internet service.

Besides 4G, the “green” camp also said today that it will improve the quality of its older 3G service. By the end of this year, it will install 40 per cent more base stations as part of its efforts to increase capacity, boost in-building coverage and reduce its dropped call rate.

StarHub also claims it is the first in Singapore to use the 900MHz spectrum for its 3G services. A bigger chunk of the airwaves means it can carry more data over thin air.

This is the kind of information that telcos were previously shy to share. They didn’t want rivals to know what they were doing, to begin with. Plus, they did not want their network equipment suppliers to be all geared up to sell them stuff – at a high price.

Yet, the battleground has changed dramatically in recent years.

Consumers now want to know exactly what their telcos are doing to make things better when they tune in to a music streaming service on their way to work or while catching up on e-mail while sitting at a cafe.

So what if they don’t understand everything that’s being done – they want to see something done. Many are committed to two-year subscription contracts, after all. If telcos can sign on thousands more users as Singapore’s population increases over the years, they should jolly well improve the networks just as quickly.

All this unhappiness began, of course, with the poor service in the past few years.

The recent arrival of 4G services, run on a separate network and using a different part of the spectrum, has made surfing on the go slightly better. Yet, few users will so quickly forget how congested the 3G networks were – and often still are – when they try to get on to the Internet.

Thus, telcos coming out to publicise their network upgrades is a positive step forward. For users, it is another way to gauge how much effort a telco is spending to provide a good experience on the go, besides just looking at the theoretical top speeds on offer.

StarHub has actually been slow to talk. M1 has been providing lots of details on its plans on femtocells, for example, to offload some of the cellphone network traffic, while SingTel recently became the first to double 4G speeds to a max of 150Mbps.

Ultimately, the user experience is still key, despite all the publicity.

Since the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) fined all three telcos for their poor 3G service coverage last year, they have wasted no time in improving their services.

Perhaps it’s time the regulator upped its standards. Besides requirements in coverage and rate of dropped calls, it’s time for telcos to meet a minimum, realistic level of service for Internet links on the go as well. After all, the phone is increasingly used to go online besides making calls.

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