Singapore firms ready to tap fiber network

Service providers describe enterprise adoption of country's next-generation fiber services as "encouraging", but highlight that some businesses unable to hop on since fiber installation has yet to reach their premises.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Retail service providers (RSPs) of the next-generation national broadband network (NBN) say they are encouraged by enterprise adoption of fiber services, but note that the network is still not accessible to all companies.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, Petrina Teoh, senior manager of corporate communications at M1, said response from corporate customers has been "very positive" and attributed this to the higher connection speeds that fiber offers compared to cable and ADSL.

Customers that have signed up for M1's fiber services include small and midsize businesses (SMBs), multinational corporations, government agencies and schools, said Teoh.

Local telco, StarHub, also said it was "very encouraged" by the response to its fiber broadband offerings. Vice president of business solutions, Kevin Lim, noted that prior to the launch of the NBN, commercial customers did not have any choice in their selection of a telecoms provider and StarHub is keen to take advantage of the network to reach out to these commercial customers. He added that this segment presents a significant growth opportunity for the telco. StarHub is also Singapore's incumbent cable operator.

Another RSP, ViewQwest, also found enterprise adoption to be encouraging. The company's CEO Vignesa Moorthy noted that a large range of companies have signed up for its fiber services, including technology vendors, engineering companies, creative agencies, printing companies and recruitment agencies.

Moorthy added: "These companies usually run large e-commerce sites or have large Web sites. Companies that have a need to upload huge amounts of information to their data centers, or are transferring huge files on a daily basis, are also companies that opt for our Fibernet service."

At Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), a spokesperson pointed out that the telco has been offering business fiber services for over10 years, "long before the introduction of the NBN", and provides a range of products catering to diverse needs.

A former monopoly until the local telecommunications market was liberalized in 2000, SingTel has the most extensive ADSL network in the country.

SingTel currently uses a combination of its own fiber infrastructure as well as those installed by OpenNet, the network company (NetCo) which deploys the passive fiber infrastructure for the NBN, he shared.

In his e-mail, the SingTel spokesperson added that fiber services in the past were adopted mainly by larger companies. Now, with more affordable fiber services, many of SingTel's SMB customers which need higher bandwidth for their business operations are also able to enjoy the benefits of high-speed broadband connection.

He noted that for some fiber services, SingTel offers a bandwidth-on-demand capability that allows customers to upgrade their bandwidth in less than an hour.

All RSPs contacted declined to provide the actual number of enterprise customers that have signed up for their NBN services.

Fiber reach still an issue
While customer reception to the national fiber network has been positive, M1's Teoh noted that some of its clients have yet to make the transition because there is still no access to fiber in their office premises. Others also prefer to stay on their legacy systems which run on existing lines.

She added that some SMB customers are "just comfortable with the current speeds that they are riding on".

There have also been hiccups in the installation.

StarHub's Lim noted that there were some incidents of delay in the installation of the Fiber Termination Point for some of its commercial customers. "As it is OpenNet's responsibility to keep within provisioning timeframes, we can only monitor the situation closely to ensure that any delay to our customers is minimized," he said.

Asked why some customers preferred to stay with their existing connections, Lim said: "As with any nascent technology or service, we believe it will take some time for all-fiber broadband access services to gain mass adoption."

He added that StarHub expects more customers to take up fiber access services when more buildings are connected to the NBN.

In an e-mail response to ZDNet Asia, an OpenNet spokesperson said over 75 percent of Singapore currently can subscribe to fiber services and the company is on target to achieve 95 percent nationwide coverage by mid-2012.

He explained that longer provisioning time was required for the deployment of fiber in non-residential buildings because each building would have its own unique requirements. "Each of these buildings has its own process that we need to follow to be able to secure access, to carry out the installations," he said.

OpenNet is reviewing how these processes can be streamlined in order to encourage building managers to give the NetCo access more quickly so installation also can be pushed out more quickly, he added.

Despite delays in fiber installation for some commercial buildings, RSPs said they would continue to promote fiber services and urge companies to make the switch from their old connections.

M1's Teoh added that companies should be informed of the benefits and capabilities of the NBN can provide. "Once acquainted, they would see the instantaneous benefits, which fiber broadband is able to contribute to their businesses, in terms of improving productivity and cost efficiency," she added.

StarHub's Lim advised SMBs to assess if their existing Internet connectivity was a future-proof technology that was scalable and robust enough to support their future business growth.

The SingTel spokesperson noted that companies should look at the experience and track record of the service provider, and evaluate its capability to provide services that optimize the high-speed potential of fiber services.

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