In July, when we took a closer look at the various providers’ fiber broadband plans, we noted that not all retail service providers (RSPs) offer a consumer 1Gbps (i.e., 1,000Mbps) plan. More specifically, those that did at the time were M1, MyRepublic, StarHub, and ViewQwest.
Since then, consumers looking for ultra-fast fiber broadband speeds have another choice after SingTel announced its Unlimited Fiber plan in August, which comes with an advertised typical speed of 800Mbps. While the 1Gbps term isn't in the name, looking at this SingTel Online Shop page, SingTel is indeed branding its Unlimited Fiber plan as a 1Gbps plan.
Did the other RSPs react? Is there anything else that’s changed since we last published our article? As we approach 2015, we feel that the time’s ripe for another overview of the fiber broadband landscape in Singapore; though this time, we’ll be focusing on the 1Gbps category.
How things - or rather, prices - have changed in the span of a year. Just a year ago, most of us were priced out the 1Gbps fiber plan, as it easily cost S$400 to S$500.
But this changed when MyRepublic introduced 1Gbps fiber plans with prices starting at S$49.99 per month in January 2014. Soon enough, ViewQwest also dropped the price of its 1Gbps plan from S$499.95 to S$149.95, and more recently, to S$89.95. We also saw M1’s 1Gbps offering dropped from a high of S$399 first to S$129, then to S$99, and finally, to a MyRepublic-matching S$49 in September. To put things into perspective, this magical S$49 price point used to be the typical price of a 200Mbps plan. We can’t think of any other way to call it other than a price war, but we aren’t complaining.
In case you’re wondering, yes, StarHub has a 1Gbps plan too, though the telco has stopped selling it for a few months in the second half of 2014. But as we’ve reported recently, it’s now back with a significant price drop: from S$395.90 per month previously to the current S$69.90.
|Note: Current promo prices shown. Non-promo prices for M1's 1Gbps plan, SingTel's Unlimited Fiber (1Gbps), and StarHub's Dual Broadband 1,000 are S$99, S$99.90, and S$99.90 per month respectively.|
In case you didn’t realize, to enjoy the lowest 1Gbps price from each of these ISPs, you’ve to agree to a 2-year contract. Only MyRepublic offers 12-month 1Gbps plans for new subscribers, and they’re priced higher (starts at S$65/month) than the corresponding 24-month contracts.
In addition, MyRepublic offers a ‘Gamer Ultra Edition’ for its 1Gbps plan. This plan includes several gaming-oriental features, privileges and freebies, and costs S$10 more than the regular ‘Ultra’ plan. In March 2015, M1 has also introduced a GamePro 1Gbps plan that costs S$10 more than its regular 1Gbps plan.
|Note: Typical speed numbers taken from ISPs' published data on their websites.|
Looking purely at monthly subscription fees, it’s evident that M1 and MyRepublic (Update: And Singtel too, until its S$50 promo ends) have the most affordable home 1Gbps plans in Singapore. But as we all know, price isn’t everything. For ISPs with higher-priced 1Gbps plans especially, they believe they’re able to differentiate from their competitors based on other things like the unique services that only they can offer, after-sales support, and reliability.
So what exactly are these differentiating factors, and are there anything you should look out for before signing up for a top-end plan?
One big advantage the three big local telcos here (i.e., SingTel, StarHub, M1) have is that being mobile and telephony providers at the same time, it’s easy for them to bundle free mobile and carrier-specific services in their fiber broadband plans, in addition to the free or discounted networking equipment offers (usually routers) that can be replicated easily by the competition.
For example, M1’s current 1Gbps promotion includes free mobile broadband (1GB), a free DECT cordless phone, and a S$200 mobile handset discount.
For SingTel, the current S$54.90/month Unlimited Fiber promo includes a 10% discount for your SingTel mobile bill. This provides extra stickiness if you’re a SingTel mobile customer.
For StarHub, its 1Gbps plan also comes with an additional 100Mbps cable broadband connection. And being a major pay-TV provider, StarHub is able to bundle StarHub TV Lite (with 15 channels and set-top box rental) with its fiber plan.
Of course, smaller players like MyRepublic and ViewQwest have their own ways to differentiate themselves. A common one is to make use of the broadband connection to offer a triple play service that covers Internet access, TV, and home telephone.
For example, MyRepublic provides free three months of its Home Voice Plus service, which offers free unlimited local calls and about 30 minutes worth of monthly IDD calls (depending on where you call). It also offers free three months of its Teleport service for easy streaming of overseas content, say from Netflix, ITV, BBC, or TVB. As Teleport is a network routing technology that’s built into MyRepublic’s network and not a VPN, there are no complicated settings to configure.
For ViewQwest, you’ve the option of OneVoice, an Internet-based phone line that gives you free and unlimited incoming and outgoing local calls. For TV entertainment, you get the Android-based ViewQwest TV box that’s preloaded with apps to turn your TV into a smart TV. Of course, getting overseas content like those on Netflix and PPTV here is a challenge. To solve that, ViewQwest offers something called Freedom VPN (you get three months free if you sign up for a ViewQwest fiber plan), a DNS-based routing service similar to MyRepublic’s Teleport that enables you to get to these services without you doing any ninja VPN configurations on your end.
That being said, the big three telcos are also offering their own version of triple play service. For example, M1’s 1Gbps plan comes with a free Home Fixed Voice service, and a free 12-month subscription of the company’s MiBox Internet TV service. Relying on an Android-based set-top box, the latter includes a variety of channels and video-on-demand titles, as well as other content and social media services like games and online shopping.
In SingTel’s case, the new Unlimited Fiber plan comes with a home digital line for free and unlimited local calls. However, it doesn’t come with the company’s mio TV digital pay-TV service that we see in its various 200 to 500Mbps Fiber Entertainment Bundle plans.
Naturally, it’s hard to say which provider has the best triple play offering, especially for the TV leg. But for tech-savvy users and those hooked to overseas content, there’s no doubt that the flexibility of MyRepublic’s Teleport and ViewQwest’s Freedom VPN provide a strong counter to the three big telcos’ more traditional and curated Internet TV offerings.
Now, if there’s one thing that’s directly linked to the price of a fiber broadband plan, it’s speed. And after so many years of dealing with the ISPs, most of us should know by now that this subscribed speed is just a theoretical maximum speed, and that no ISP is guaranteeing that you’ll be hitting it all the time.
To rehash, a better metric to pay attention to is the typical speed range, which is a range of download speeds that you’re more likely to experience. In some cases (e.g., M1, ViewQwest), this range consists of a mix of local and international downloads, and the result is applicable 80% of the time (because it’s taken at the 10th and 90th percentile of the speed distribution of the collected data points). Note too that such tests are always done with a wired connection. So don’t blame the wrong person if you’re limiting your speed by using a slow Wi-Fi router.
To recap, here are the typical speed ranges published by the ISPs themselves for their top-end plans:
SingTel traditionally doesn’t publish typical download speed ranges for its fiber plans, other than saying that subscribers should be able to “experience average download speeds as advertised 95% of the time”. But it did break the rule to list an 800Mbps typical speed claim for its new Unlimited Fiber plan. According to a SingTel spokesperson, speeds for this plan will be entirely dependent on the constraints of the existing NGN infrastructure, router, host servers, and content providers, and 800Mbps is definitely not this plan's maximum speed. And yes, while the name of this plan doesn't have the word '1Gbps', SingTel has confirmed that this is a 1Gbps plan.
For MyRepublic, there’s no speed limit imposed on international downloads too, and the company claims that its unique data prioritization system affords everyone maximum advertised bandwidth 99% of the time for streaming, surfing, gaming, and VoIP. A spokesperson told us that the company has plans to publish typical download speeds soon.
Of course, making a promise is one thing; whether the ISP delivers is another. Unfortunately, the SamKnows data (which include download throughput, upload throughput, latency, and packet loss) published over at IDA’s Consumer Broadband Report doesn't cover plans over 200Mbps, so it's hard to tell who has the fastest speeds in this category. The best alternative is to listen to experiences of other users, and there's perhaps no better place to do that than the HardwareZone forums - more specifically, the Next Generation Broadband Network sub-forum.
Last year, we saw most ISPs moving from asymmetric bandwidth to symmetric bandwidth, whereby the subscribed upload speed is the same as the subscribed download speed. Currently, most ISPs have moved to symmetric bandwidth for most, if not all, of their home fiber broadband plans. An exception is the 1Gbps plan offered by the likes of M1, MyRepublic, and ViewQwest. For their 1Gbps plans, the upload speed is capped at 500Mbps.
Put another way, if upload speeds matter to you (maybe you put a lot of files in the cloud), know that SingTel, StarHub, and (in March, 2015) M1 offer symmetric upload/download speeds for their 1Gbps fiber plans. Which means, 1Gbps download speed and 1Gbps upload speed. (SingTel doesn't explicitly say that on its website, but we've confirmed it with a spokesperson. StarHub has listed it over here. M1's T&Cs are here.)
In fact, what this also means is that the big three telcos are now offering symmetric upload and download speeds across all their fiber offerings.
Traffic shaping is a network management technique often used by ISPs to ensure that their networks operate in an efficient manner. Generally, ISPs who implement traffic shaping (or traffic management) aren’t really bothered by high HTTP, FTP, or SMTP traffic. However, they’re very concerned with P2P (peer-to-peer) traffic (e.g., file sharing using BitTorrent). For the most part, the reason given is sound: it’s to ensure that the small percentage of P2P users don’t use up the majority of the bandwidth at the expense of other, non-P2P users.
In Singapore, the three major ISPs (SingTel, StarHub, M1) have a history of performing network management. In general, they all target P2P protocols and the traffic shaping kicks in during peak hours. Of course, each ISP has its own implementation details, so one ISP’s network management policy may kick in earlier or throttle the speed more than the other. Also, while traffic shaping isn’t usually done during off peak hours, it isn’t a rule cast in stone. It may still kick in if the level of P2P activity has crossed a predetermined threshold. When it happens, the download speed of your P2P app is greatly reduced, sometimes by as much as four times. Because of this, many people have turned to new players like MyRepublic and ViewQwest, who say they don’t do hard bandwidth caps or throttle popular file-sharing applications.
That said, it looks like the big telcos are softening their stance on P2P throttling, especially for their high-end plans. According to M1’s updated FAQ on its website, the company’s 1Gbps plan doesn’t come with P2P throttling. And as we reported earlier, SingTel is also saying that it won’t be throttling P2P traffic for its new Unlimited Fiber plan. StarHub, who just re-introduced its 1Gbps plan, has also said that it won’t be doing speed throttling for this plan.
So there you have it, the state of high-end home fiber broadband plans in Singapore today. With ever-falling prices and rules that make sense (you know, no speed throttling), there’s never been a better time to sign up for a 1Gbps plan.
Moving forward, it’s clear that speeds will get faster. The first to fire a warning shot to its competitors was ViewQwest, who has announced that it will launch a 2Gbps plan in early 2015. Sure, most consumers don’t need that kind of bandwidth, but as history has told us repeatedly, competition always leads to more innovation and price cuts, especially at the lower tiers. A 1Gbps plan below S$40? Don't hold your breath.