Mid-Year Review of Telco's 4G LTE Networks - Orchard Road and Universities Edition
Synthetic Benchmark & Real-world Download Speed Tests
Our Analysis of 4G LTE Networks in Singapore Continues ...
We conducted a surprise test on the three telcos last week by going to six completely different locations across the country to gauge the performance of their 4G LTE networks. The tests were done on a weekday at different points in time. We decided to go for another round of testing on a weekend in the heart of town (Orchard road to be exact), to see how the network copes in a weekend where a good chunk of the population hangs out shopping and dinning. Additionally, we also visited four universities on a weekday afternoon to check the coverage while the campus is abuzz with students.
Currently, M1 is the only telco in Singapore to deploy a nationwide 4G LTE network. SingTel announced today that it has expanded its 4G LTE network to offer nationwide coverage. 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.
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, Viewqwest) 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 seven different shopping areas in Orchard and four universities:
- 7 Malls in Orchard Road (weekend)
- Wheelock Place
- Far East Plaza
- Wisma Atria
- 313 Somerset
- Plaza Singapura
- 4 Universities (weekday)
Before you read on, here are some important points you need to keep in mind while scanning through our performance findings:
- 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.
- The tests were conducted at different locations at different timings, therefore actual performance may differ.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Viewqwest 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.
|Wheelock Place||33.47 (indoor)
|Far East Plaza||22.61 (indoor)
|Wisma Atria||25.69 (indoor)
|313 Somerset||29.36 (indoor)||40.16 (indoor)||14.88 (indoor)|
|Plaza Singapura||21.03 (indoor)
|NUS||27.6 (outdoor)||12.33 (outdoor)||28.58 (outdoor)|
|NTU||33.90 (outdoor)||35.88 (outdoor)||11.90 (outdoor)|
|SMU||11.88 (outdoor)||40.92 (outdoor)||37.00 (outdoor)|
|SIM||N.A||35.10 (indoor)||13.74 (indoor)|
|Wheelock Place||11.79 (indoor)
|Far East Plaza||5.00 (indoor)
|Wisma Atria||12.60 (indoor)
|313 Somerset||9.66 (indoor)||6.11 (indoor)||3.35 (indoor)|
|Plaza Singapura||1.77 (indoor)
|NUS||8.98 (outdoor)||11.04 (outdoor)||11.42 (outdoor)|
|NTU||9.39 (outdoor)||10.20 (outdoor)||6.21 (outdoor)|
|SMU||13.84 (outdoor)||13.28 (outdoor)||7.15 (outdoor)|
|SIM||N.A||13.26 (indoor)||2.27 (indoor)|
|Wheelock Place||43.0 (indoor)
|Far East Plaza||46.7 (indoor)
|Wisma Atria||47.0 (indoor)
|313 Somerset||47.0 (indoor)||70.3 (indoor)||45.0 (indoor)|
|Plaza Singapura||67.7 (indoor)
|NUS||47.7 (outdoor)||72.7 (outdoor)||65.0 (outdoor)|
|NTU||48.3 (outdoor)||70.3 (outdoor)||65.0 (outdoor)|
|SMU||42.3 (outdoor)||72.0 (outdoor)||178.3 (outdoor)|
|SIM||N.A||71.3 (indoor)||153.7 (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.
We were unable to obtain any 4G LTE reception for M1 in SIM, where we conducted the test at Level 2, Block A. Not only was 4G LTE reception unavailable, we couldn't even obtain a 3G connectivity - this was further verified with another HTC phone (with another SIM card) at hand and we did walk about to different spots in the building to check for high speed data connectivity. Unfortunately, we didn't have any luck. We sent our query to M1 and they've updated us that there is a base station in SIM and their own engineers were able to verify 4G reception availability a day after we conducted our test. Perhaps, we weren't in the best spot or the base station was acting up during our test period in the afternoon.
Also note that due to the building design at each of the universities, apart from SIM, we conducted the tests in an outdoor environment.
As far as Speedtest.net is concerned, M1 again came had the lowest latency across all test locations, but SingTel was generally faster in actual download and upload tests. However, this outcome may not hold true for real-world usage as you'll soon see below.
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.
|Wheelock Place||27.4 (indoor)
|Far East Plaza||16.2 (indoor)
|Wisma Atria||16.9 (indoor)
|313 Somerset||16.9 (indoor)||241.2 (indoor)||27.9 (indoor)|
|NUS||19.4 (indoor)||220.2 (indoor)||277.8 (indoor)|
|NTU||17.8 (indoor)||155.2 (indoor)||336.6 (indoor)|
|SMU||169.4 (indoor)||31.5 (indoor)||197.2 (indoor)|
|SIM||N.A||76.3 (indoor)||276.5 (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.
|Wheelock Place||9.4 (indoor)
|Far East Plaza||12.1 (indoor)
|Wisma Atria||11.4 (indoor)
|313 Somerset||12.0 (indoor)||10.8 (indoor)||16.6 (indoor)|
|NUS||11.9 (indoor)||44.8 (indoor)||50.0 (indoor)|
|NTU||14.2 (indoor)||9.8 (indoor)||40.1 (indoor)|
|SMU||32.4 (indoor)||14.8 (indoor)||64.8 (indoor)|
|SIM||N.A||15 (indoor)||50.5 (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.