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.

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