Year-End Review of Singapore 4G LTE Networks - Orchard Road Edition

Synthetic Benchmark & Real-world Download Speed Tests

2013 Year-End Review of 4G LTE Networks in Singapore

Eight months ago, we conducted two independent and surprise tests on the 4G LTE networks of the three telcos. We traveled to six locations across the island in our first test, and followed up with testing at 7 shopping malls in Orchard Road and four major universities

Back then, M1 and SingTel were the only telcos in Singapore to deploy a nationwide 4G LTE network with street-level coverage at 95%. StarHub's 4G network coverage then was only 60% with a focus on outdoor coverage.

As a quick recap, SingTel was the first telco to announce 4G service plans for smartphones last June, followed by M1 on September 15 and StarHub on September 19 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).

Again, 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' time.

With StarHub reaching nationwide coverage in October this year, we decided it's time to assess the data infrastructure again and give our readers an independent analysis of the outcome.

 

Speed Test Parameters

To conduct an independent analysis, we got hold of three 4G SIM cards and all three telcos are completely unaware of these tests. This is to ensure we're able to report findings that are as close as possible to what you would experience when using your respective telco's 4G LTE service. 

In our previous rounds of 4G LTE network tests last year, we conducted them using the Sony Xperia Z. This time, we used the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Using three of these phones, we dedicated each phone to test each 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 18.8MB PDF from Dropbox
  • Downloading a 20MB MP4 from Gmail

The above-mentioned tests were conducted at six shopping malls along Orchard Road:

  • Isetan
  • Wheelock Place
  • Ion Orchard
  • Wisma Atria
  • Takashimaya
  • Paragon

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 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 from yours.
  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 telcos. 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.

 

1) 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 upload speeds of up to 37Mbps. Its typical download speeds at fixed locations is 10.4Mbps to 40.7Mbps.

The typical download speed range refers to the range of download speeds that users can experience 80% of the time based on specific test conditions and parameters that are stipulated on www.m1.com.sg/MBBspeeds. Testing time frame: July to September 2013

SingTel: Its 4G LTE network currently supports theoretical download speeds of up to 75Mbps. Its typical download speeds range from 7.5Mbps to 42Mbps for 80% of the time, over a 24-hour period at various locations with 4G (LTE) coverage. Testing time frame: April to June 2013

StarHub: Its 4G LTE network currently supports theoretical download speeds of up to 75Mbps and offers typical download speeds of between 11Mbps to 40Mbps 80% of the time at an outdoor stationary location.

Download Speeds (Mbps) - Indoor Test Unless Otherwise Stated
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Isetan 21.74 50.16 17.64
Wheelock Place 36.31 (indoor)
14.29 (outdoor)
62.43 (indoor)
19.00 (outdoor)
27.86 (indoor)
29.11(outdoor)
Ion Orchard 35.11 (indoor)
14.57 (outdoor)
29.90 (indoor)
48.43 (outdoor)
23.74 (indoor)
25.37 (outdoor)
Wisma Atria 22.47 (indoor)
21.57 (outdoor)
50.55 (indoor)
43.42 (outdoor)
19.53 (indoor)
27.80 (outdoor)
Takashimaya 71.25 (indoor)
61.34 (outdoor)
56.74 (indoor)
32.24 (outdoor)
23.44 (indoor)
6.12 (outdoor)
Paragon 42.35 50.75 24.09

 

Upload Speeds (Mbps) - Indoor Test Unless Otherwise Stated
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Isetan 17.05 6.88 18.61
Wheelock Place 47.44 (indoor)
18.99 (outdoor)
20.03 (indoor)
12.23 (outdoor)
17.85 (indoor)
18.97 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard 3.89 (indoor)
18.89 (outdoor)
17.37 (indoor)
25.10 (outdoor)
10.75 (indoor)
15.68 (outdoor)
Wisma Atria 7.96 (indoor)
17.27 (outdoor)
37.81 (indoor)
26.26 (outdoor)
3.73 (indoor)
15.07 (outdoor)
Takashimaya 44.43 (indoor)
21.98 (outdoor)
9.68 (indoor)
21.25 (outdoor)
16.05 (indoor)
0.85 (outdoor)
Paragon 5.73 7.29 16.28

 

Ping (ms) - Indoor Test Unless Otherwise Stated
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Isetan 35.0 47.7 83.7
Wheelock Place 33.7 (indoor)
32.3 (outdoor)
42.7 (indoor)
37.0 (outdoor)

83.0 (indoor)
77.7 (outdoor)

Ion Orchard 30.7 (indoor)
37.7 (outdoor)
46.7 (indoor)
42.3 (outdoor)
79.3 (indoor)
47.3 (outdoor)
Wisma Atria 38.7 (indoor)
32.0 (outdoor)
47.3 (indoor)
40.0 (outdoor)
50.7 (indoor)
33.0 (outdoor)
Takashimaya 33.3 (indoor)
33.0 (outdoor)
76.0 (indoor)
71.7 (outdoor)
37.7 (indoor)
39.3 (outdoor)
Paragon 38.0 73.0 78.7

Based on our findings from Speedtest.net, it seems that it's a close fight between M1 and SingTel. M1 once again had the lowest latency across all test locations, but SingTel was generally faster in actual download and upload tests. 

However, do note that these results are not indicative of their true network capabilities as there are many factors out of our control that can affect the outcome. 

 

2) Real-world Download Speed Test: Dropbox Test

Our second test involved downloading a 18.8MB PDF from Dropbox, arguably the most widely used cloud storage service used to share files.

Time Taken (secs) to Download 18.8MB PDF from Dropbox - Indoor Test Unless Otherwise Stated
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Isetan 11.60 26.69 15.41
Wheelock Place 17.98 (indoor)
15.48 (outdoor)
21.93 (indoor)
24.93 (outdoor)
20.55 (indoor)
26.70 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard

24.98 (indoor)
17.01 (outdoor)

13.13 (indoor)
30.46 (outdoor)
16.36 (indoor)
29.18 (outdoor)
Wisma Atria 21.41 (indoor)
19.70 (outdoor)
13.85 (indoor)
46.48 (outdoor)
27.91 (indoor)
41.11 (outdoor)
Takashimaya 12.50 (indoor)
11.30 (outdoor)
36.55 (indoor)
24.96 (outdoor)
28.7 (indoor)
38.56 (outdoor)
Paragon 19.80 105 25.01

 

3) 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 - Indoor Test Unless Otherwise Stated
  M1 SingTel StarHub
Isetan 14.13 20.45 22.50
Wheelock Place 14.73 (indoor)
17.65 (outdoor)
19.90 (indoor)
17.46 (outdoor)
17.98 (indoor)
14.85 (outdoor)
Ion Orchard 13.33 (indoor)
19.98 (outdoor)
14.45 (indoor)
23.63 (outdoor)
11.98 (indoor)
14.96 (outdoor)
Wisma Atria 25.93 (indoor)
17.46 (outdoor)
17.08 (indoor)
25.01 (outdoor)
22.46 (indoor)
22.96 (outdoor)
Takashimaya 11.51 (indoor)
7.31 (outdoor)
59.01 (indoor)
19.33 (outdoor)
18.10 (indoor)
36.75 (outdoor)
Paragon 23.6 11.66 19.08


If you've noticed, some of the timings are really odd (e.g. at Takashimaya where M1 took only 7.31 seconds to download the file from Gmail and SingTel taking a very long to download the file from Dropbox at Paragon). As the files were downloaded from external servers, it is highly likely that the downloading process was 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.

 

Closing Remarks

As far as the real-world tests are concerned, M1 seems to have a slight overall lead in this comparison at the heart of Orchard road. As iterated throughout this article, the results reflected here do not represent the actual performance of the mobile network for everyone. Network infrastructure upgrades and improvements are always a work in progress for the telcos, so the reported outcome in this feature article is only valid for the period of our testing. We hope the results are a useful baseline of comparison and information, but beware that device type used and its underlying hardware can drastically affect the outcome.