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Singtel network down? Tough for connected homes and businesses

December 6th, 2016 | by Alfred Siew
Singtel network down? Tough for connected homes and businesses
Internet
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A man walks while staring at his phone at Singapore's Raffles Place in March 2016. PHOTO: Wilson Wong for Techgoondu

A man walks while staring at his phone at Singapore’s Raffles Place in March 2016. PHOTO: Wilson Wong for Techgoondu

More than a day after Singtel said its network services were restored, there are still customers being locked out of the Internet.

Understandably, these home and business users are venting their anger at Singtel, which has been struggling to find an answer after its broadband subscribers got cut off on Saturday.

The unhappiness comes partly from being left in the cold while others got back online. More likely, though, it points to the deep dependence on being connected.

Once again, the outage is forcing people to rethink their reliance on a single telecom operator. Should they invest in a second link, possibly from another telco, if their business depended on an Internet connection?

Big companies have such “redundancy” built in because their million-dollar operations can justify the additional costs. But what about small outfits? Or home business owners who need the Internet just as much?

Imagine if you are a trader who works mostly from home. Losing that connectivity during a crucial period could lose you a good deal of money.

What if you are a graphics designer whose portfolio is online? You’d need to get out to a free hotspot to get things done, assuming you can work with a small laptop instead of a large screen.

And who says online gaming or music streaming are trivial? Without the Internet, you won’t be able to catch up with friends as easily and you suddenly lose your music collection as well. Talk about a bad weekend.

I’m sure you can go to the park, but there’s no denying that the Internet has become a basic utility on which everyday life depends. Okay, you can live without the Internet, unlike water or air, but you’ll be rather unhappy because you’ve got so used to it.

Each outage today is news, because it disrupts the lives of potentially thousands of users. A prolonged one such as Singtel’s is reminiscent of the recurring issues with network quality in Singapore just a few years ago.

In 2013, a fire at a Singtel telecom exchange disrupted not just broadband users but also electronic payment kiosks. Businesses were thrown into chaos that day, as some shops could not process payments.

Something similar happened over the weekend, though on a much smaller scale. I was at a store in the Millenia Walk mall when the sales person told me they could not get the credit card payment through. Fortunately, there wasn’t a long line of people waiting to pay.

It’s good that Singtel is waiving the fees for mobile broadband usage during the affected period, but it knows as well as anyone that is no substitute for a high-speed wired connection.

The frustrating thing for many users is that Singtel has not been able to find the cause of the problem this time.

Though it has ruled out a denial of service attack like the one that hit rival StarHub in October, Singtel is still investigating why its servers cannot assign IP addresses to users.

Meanwhile, users have to come to terms with the loss of connectivity, one way or another. That’s the irony of the situation.

As more of their digital selves are uploaded, shared and analysed online, they are being asked to live without the Internet whenever a network issue crops up.

Nothing is fail-safe, to be fair. Yet, each outage has deeper consequences for users as they tether more to the Net.

The angry comments online, on Singtel’s Facebook page, for example, are not just a reflex action triggered by typical Singaporean impatience.

People are frustrated because the stakes are higher now. The impact is immeasurably greater.

2 Comments

  1. Harish R. says:

    Dear Alfred,

    Thanks for posting this article, somehow I always visit your site first for the latest news and gossips on Singapore’s technology scene before visiting others.

    I am not surprised with SingTel taking time to resolve issues or explain the cause whenever there are breakdowns. If I am not mistaken their consumer and small business broadband packages may not have complete SLAs. Hence if there are any service breakdowns, resolutions would typically be on a best effort basis. Since SLAs are lacking, proper backup measures may not be in place too. In this specific incident since they claimed IP addresses were not being issued to consumers’ routers, shouldn’t there be some form of basic redundancy infrastructure in-place to kick in during emergencies?

    I am one of the very few citizens I think who never ranted on Facebook when the service was down last Saturday. I was an engineer before and I understand the time and effort Singtel engineers must have gone through to get the service back online. Tech support is normally a thankless job though 🙂 As much as we use the Net in our daily lives, we must also adjust to occasions to enjoy the simple pleasures of life without technology from time to time. I don’t blame my fellow Singaporeans from being disappointed, but majority of the rants on social media were certainly uncalled for. It was a nice gesture from SingTel on waiving the bill costs, but what about the small businesses who had lost revenue during this period. Having said that, I think such businesses will treat this as a wake-up call to think about their very own business contingency plans in due course.

    In my opinion, I think SingTel must review the following with urgency after the latest incident:

    1) Consider putting up basic SLAs for consumers and SMEs on varying broadband plans. Expecting consumers or businesses to own full responsibility during such incidents doesn’t translate to good customer service.

    2) Review their infrastructure and perhaps put in place redundancy mechanisms for critical services. This may allow basic essential services to continue operating while their engineers work on the issues on hand.

    3) If there is a continuous service improvement process in-place to check the infrastructure and services on a regular basis. Pro-active monitoring of such services is not the only way to prevent incidents, small or large.

    4) Refine the incident management and communication handling processes during service breakdowns. For example if citizens do not have access to the Net, how could SingTel be posting updates on FaceBook.

    Hope the above is not my rant to you, your Team or Techgoondu readers. Just some constructive feedback to share, of course it will be great to hear from you and others too.

    When a service or product is first introduced, ways and means should be taken on a regular basis to improve/enhance the user experience to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty. I believe this is now important than ever due to the “disrupted” world we live in.

    Cheers 🙂

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