Mid-Year Review of Telco's 4G LTE Networks for Smartphones


Synthetic Benchmark & Real-world Download Speed Tests

Mid-Year Review of 4G LTE Networks in Singapore

It's been several months since telcos launched 4G LTE services for smartphones in Singapore. As a quick recap, SingTel is the first telco to announce 4G service plans for smartphones last June, followed by M1 on 15th September and StarHub on 19th September 2012. Speed tests and mapping out of the 4G LTE coverage were also done on the 4G LTE networks of M1 (1) (2) and SingTel (1) (2).

Currently, M1 is the only telco in Singapore to deploy a nationwide 4G LTE network. At time of publication, SingTel's 4G LTE coverage across the island is about 95% in early 2013. As for StarHub, its 4G network covers 60% of the island with a focus on outdoor coverage. Island-wide street-level coverage is expected by end of the year and pervasive in-building coverage is slated thereafter in the future.

It is important to note that there is no 4G coverage at underground MRT stations and tunnels as the shared mobile infrastructure has yet to be built. The three mobile operators are working closely with the two train operators to roll out the shared 4G network, which is expected to complete in two to three years.

Since half a year has passed from our our last round of 4G LTE network testing and that all three telco operators have been providing customers 4G LTE service for some time now, we decided it's time to assess the telco data infrastructure at this point of time and give our readers an independent analysis of the outcome.

 

Speed Tests

To conduct an independent analysis, we purchased our very own 4G SIM cards and all three teclos were completely unaware of these tests. This is to ensure we're able to report findings that are as close as possible to what all our readers would experience when using your respective telco's 4G LTE service. These are the plans we subscribed to:-

  • M1 - ValueSurf+
  • SingTel- FlexiLite
  • StarHub - SmartSurf Lite

In our previous rounds of 4G LTE network tests last year, we conducted them using the HTC One XL. This time, we used a much newer Sony Xperia Z smartphone. Using three of these phones, we dedicated each phone to test one of the three telco's 4G LTE data service. We then subjected the three telcos' 4G LTE networks to the following tests in each location:-

  • Pinging a local server (Singapore, NewMedia Express) via the Speedtest.net app to check its download and upload speeds
  • Downloading a 20MB PDF from Dropbox
  • Downloading a 20MB MP4 from Gmail

The above-mentioned tests were conducted at six different locations in five regions across the country:

  • North: Woodlands, Causeway Point
  • South: VivoCity
  • Central: Ion Orchard and Raffles Place
  • East: Changi Airport Terminal 2
  • West: Jurong Point

Before you read on, here are some important points you need to keep in mind while scanning through our performance findings:

  1. Prevailing network conditions will and always be affecting the speeds you will get on your device. For example, the data traffic and number of users in a certain location can play major roles in shaping the user experience.
  2. The tests were conducted at different locations at different timings, therefore actual performance may differ.
  3. All three telcos are constantly upgrading their network infrastructures based on their own plans and customers' feedback, therefore the speeds and results you see here may differ.
  4. The phone model used also one of the main factors influencing the network test outcome. We compared the first three 4G LTE smartphones in June last year and found that the hardware and software optimizations can lead to performance discrepancies among devices.
  5. Based on all the above pointers, the aim of this article is not meant to determine the best network among the three teclcos. Instead, the main objective of this article is to have an overview of the 4G LTE coverage and throughput across the three telcos from a general assessment point of view.

 

Synthetic Benchmark: Speedtest.net

The first test was to determine the latency, download and upload speeds. We used the Speedtest.net app as it is one of the most widely used apps for testing mobile Internet speeds. We ran the app on the New Media Express server three times to get the average score.

Points to note:

M1: Its 4G LTE network currently supports theoretical download speeds of up to 75Mbps, and typical download speeds at fixed locations between 6.9Mbps to 17.4Mbps.

SingTel: Its 4G LTE network currently delivers typical download speeds of between 3.4Mbps to 12Mbps 80% of the time, over a 24-hour period at various locations with 4G (LTE) coverage.

StarHub: Its 4G LTE network currently offers typical download speeds of between 3.4Mbps to 12Mbps 80% of the time at an outdoor stationary location.

Download Speeds (Mbps)
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Causeway Point
(North)
24.30 (indoor)
11.36 (outdoor)
36.49 (indoor)
24.03 (outdoor)
13.76 (indoor)
9.99 (outdoor)
VivoCity
(South)
26.99 (indoor)
21.00 (outdoor)

21.01 (indoor)
N.A. (outdoor)

11.88 (indoor)
3.15 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard
(Central)
30.39 (indoor)
18.93 (outdoor)
32.72 (indoor)
23.12 (outdoor)
22.05 (indoor)
19.48 (outdoor)
Raffles Place
(Central)
46.64 (indoor)
40.28 (outdoor)
18.74 (indoor)
38.22 (outdoor)
N.A. (indoor)
11.17 (outdoor)
Jurong Point
(West)
3.58 (indoor)
3.26 (outdoor)
32.92 (indoor)
47.14 (outdoor)
13.81 (indoor)
20.13 (outdoor)
Changi Airport
Terminal 2
(East)
49.73 (indoor) 32.00 (indoor) 15.44 (indoor)

 

Upload Speeds (Mbps)
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Causeway Point
(North)
14.69 (indoor)
7.03 (outdoor)
9.61 (indoor)
10.54 (outdoor)
8.19 (indoor)
4.78 (outdoor)
VivoCity
(South)
6.37 (indoor)
10.70 (outdoor)
10.91 (indoor)
N.A. (outdoor)
7.04 (indoor)
4.39 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard
(Central)
4.21 (indoor)
15.73 (outdoor)
15.32 (indoor)
15.35 (outdoor)
2.90 (indoor)
13.36 (outdoor)
Raffles Place
(Central)
13.78 (indoor)
16.53 (outdoor)
9.72 (indoor)
14.54 (outdoor)
N.A. (indoor)
4.85 (outdoor)
Jurong Point
(West)
9.49 (indoor)
12.22 (outdoor)
13.20 (indoor)
14.47 (outdoor)
6.11 (indoor)
13.25 (outdoor)
Changi Airport
Terminal 2
(East)
9.26 (indoor) 16.11 (indoor) 7.51 (indoor)

 

Ping (ms)
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Causeway Point
(North)
30.0 (indoor)
67.7 (outdoor)
49.7 (indoor)
72.7 (outdoor)
26.0 (indoor)
24.3 (outdoor)
VivoCity
(South)
53.0 (indoor)
50.3 (outdoor)
79.0 (indoor)
N.A. (outdoor)
54.0 (indoor)
97.3 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard
(Central)
26.3 (indoor)
54.7 (outdoor)
68.0 (indoor)
41.0 (outdoor)
54.0 (indoor)
48.7 (outdoor)
Raffles Place
(Central)
35.7 (indoor)
44 (outdoor)
30.7 (indoor)
72 (outdoor)
N.A. (indoor)
36 (outdoor)
Jurong Point
(West)
42.7 (indoor)
78.7 (outdoor)
44.3 (indoor)
33.3 (outdoor)
54.0 (indoor)
51.7 (outdoor)
Changi Airport
Terminal 2
(East)
35.7 (indoor) 73.3 (indoor) 25.3 (indoor)


While it may seem that StarHub is lagging behind M1 and SingTel, it is important to note that StarHub's 4G LTE coverage is currently available in the Central Business District (CBD), Changi, Pasir Ris, Bedok, Tampines, SengKang, Punggol, Hougang, Seragoon, Ang Mio Kio, Bishan, Woodlands, Bukit Batok, Jurong, Bukit Merah, Boon Lay, Tuas and Sentosa.

Two other small notes to be keep in mind for the above reported results: for SingTel, the outdoor base station for VivoCity isn't yet operational, hence the lack of results. However, the telco representative did mention that it will soon be operational. For StarHub, indoor results at Raffles Place wasn't available but we did mention earlier in the article that the telco is looking to improve indoor coverage in the near future.

  

Real-world Download Speed Test: Dropbox Test

Our second test involved downloading a 20MB PDF from Dropbox, arguably the most widely used cloud storage service used to share documents.

Time Taken (secs) to Download 20MB PDF from Dropbox
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Causeway Point
(North)
92.1 (indoor)
35.3 (outdoor)
247.5 (indoor)
58.1 (outdoor)
192.5 (indoor)
268.2 (outdoor)
VivoCity
(South)
98.4 (indoor)
163.4 (outdoor)
168.1 (indoor)
N.A. (outdoor)
27.0 (indoor)
> 600 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard
(Central)

35.3 (indoor)
22.0 (outdoor)

28.6 (indoor)
26.0 (outdoor)
46.7 (indoor)
42.7 (outdoor)
Raffles Place
(Central)
39.5 (indoor)
25.0 (outdoor)
28.2 (indoor)
41.6 (outdoor)
N.A. (indoor)
41.6 (outdoor)
Jurong Point
(West)
243.9 (indoor)
162.6 (outdoor)
40.7 (indoor)
125.2 (outdoor)
72.6 (indoor)
111.7 (outdoor)
Changi Airport
Terminal 2
(East)
27.0 (indoor) 21.7 (indoor) 44.4 (indoor)

 

Real-world Download Speed Test: Gmail Test

Our third test involved downloading a 20MB MP4 file from Gmail to mimic a typical scenario of downloading email attachments on a mobile phone.

Time Taken (secs) to Download 20MB MP4 from Gmail
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Causeway Point
(North)
19.6 (indoor)
17.2 (outdoor)
10.8 (indoor)
9.9 (outdoor)
35.7 (indoor)
38.7 (outdoor)
VivoCity
(South)
14.7 (indoor)
17.7 (outdoor)
33.2 (indoor)
N.A. (outdoor)
29.9 (indoor)
202.1 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard
(Central)
17.0 (indoor)
23.0 (outdoor)
19.7 (indoor)
20.9 (outdoor)
37.9 (indoor)
21.4 (outdoor)
Raffles Place
(Central)
12.5 (indoor)
15.9 (outdoor)
11.2 (indoor)
14.4 (outdoor)

N.A. (indoor)
24.3 (outdoor)

Jurong Point
(West)
84.6 (indoor)
48.3 (outdoor)
10.2 (indoor)
7.9 (outdoor)
28.7 (indoor)
18.5 (outdoor)
Changi Airport
Terminal 2
(East)
27.3 (indoor) 20.0 (indoor) 21.2 (indoor)


If you've noticed, some of the timings are really odd with one telco completing the download faster than the other two. As the files were downloaded from external servers, it is highly likely that the downloading process is subjected to many variables such as server location and available bandwidth (from the sender in the other end).

This is further explained in our previous article on SingTel 4G LTE for smartphones, where we saw faster downloading speeds on SingTel Store & Share cloud storage service which has local servers and is optimized for faster speeds.