SingTel second to roll out HSDPA in Singapore

Six months after mobile operator MobileOne (M1) rolled out the first commercial HSDPA network in Singapore, SingTel announced today the availability of its HSDPA service for the island-state, but only for selected areas.

A clarification was made to this story. Read below for details.

clarification SINGAPORE--Six months after mobile operator MobileOne (M1) rolled out the first commercial HSDPA network in Singapore, SingTel announced today the availability of its HSDPA service for the island-state, but only for selected areas.

HSDPA, short for High-speed Downlink Packet Access, allows users to enjoy maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 3.6Mbps. The broadband technology is also dubbed 3.5G or Super 3G.

Today's announcement comes after a two-month commercial trial service which the mobile operator launched in Singapore last November. The initial coverage spanned from the Dhoby Ghaut MRT area to the Orchard MRT area and also selected buildings including Takashimaya and Plaza Singapura. Most tourists would recognize this 1.5km stretch as the Orchard Road shopping belt.

The operator has since added the Central Business District (CBD) to its HSDPA coverage and plans to expand the network to the northern part of Singapore in June. Island-wide coverage is expected to be available by end 2007, and this will include underground MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stations, according to SingTel.

Dubbed Broadband on Mobile, three price plans were announced at today's launch. Namely the 512Kbps, 1.8Mbps and 3.6Mbps packages priced at S$31.50 (US$20.65), S$47.25 (US$30.95) and S$78.75 (US$51.60), respectively. Free data bundle is capped at 10GB per month and any additional usage is charged at S$1.75 (US$1.15) per megabyte.

SingTel currently has about 466,000 3G subscribers and plans to convert this group of people to 3.5G users in about three months' time.

M1, on the other hand, has approximately 390,000 3G customers as of end-March 2007, and it will be upgrading its network from the current 3.6Mbps to 14.4Mbps by the end of this year. According to the company, users can expect to enjoy download speeds of up to 3.6Mbps in the CBD and 1.8Mbps in other parts of the country.

To drive the adoption of 3.5G, SingTel has also introduced an entry-level Pay-per-use plan, as well as Lite and Value versions of the higher-end Broadband on Mobile bundles. These plans have a price cap of S$299 (US$195.85) and users can select the appropriate bundle that suits their needs.

It's not a bed of roses, though, and there are limitations to using the high-speed network. Since HSDPA is based on the cellular technology, it is dependant on the signal strength, and dead spots or underground tunnels could possibly slow down data transmission rates. The capacity load of each base station and the number of concurrent users can also affect the high-speed experience.

Even with two of the three telco operators supporting HSDPA now, Victor Liu, an industry analyst at In-Stat of Reed Business Information, said: "The service is still targeted mainly at business users and it's competing with wired broadband in some market sectors."

Liu added that as of now, there's still minimal impact on data services used on mobile phones because there are not that many HSDPA services or handsets available. So even if a user has an HSDPA-enabled handset, he might not be using the HSDPA service.

"So basically the impact is on the business users as it provides them with an alternative to the current Wireless@SG program," Liu said.

Meanwhile, the country's third mobile operator StarHub told ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET Asia that it "will launch the full capabilities of HSDPA (14.4Mbps) this year" in an e-mail, though it declined to comment exactly when.

On the hardware side, HSDPA handsets currently available include the LG Shine (KU970), Samsung Ultra Messaging i600, Motorola Razr V3xx, Nokia N95, Palm Treo 750, O2 Atom Life and Dopod D810, but only the Nokia N95 allows the user to select between using 3G or 3.5G, according to SingTel.

Clarification: SingTel has clarified that the island-wide coverage expected by end-2007 doesn't include underground MRT stations. Dopod International has also confirmed that users can manually select between 3G and 3.5G on the D810 handheld.