S'pore fiber network needs ecosystem support

Service providers are now focusing on getting the fundamentals right, such as offering low latency and zero disconnections, but further innovation will require more developers and venture firms to come onboard.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

Singapore's retail broadband space has seen lower prices and a slew of new offerings since the rollout of its next-generation nationwide broadband network (NGNBN), with new players forcing incumbents to up their games. However, a strong media communications ecosystem is needed to drive further service innovations.

Previously, before the rollout of the NGNBN, the market was dominated by two players--StarHub and SingTel--which provided ADSL and cable services, pointed out Michael Khoo, research analyst for TRPC.

Since the launch of the fiber network in 2010 though, over five retail service providers (RSPs) have emerged, including MyRepublic, SuperInternet and Viewqwest. This has helped lower prices due to increased competition, Khoo noted.

Financial broker Mike Lim corroborated Khoo's observations, saying that in 2008, a 100 megabit per second (Mbps) connection would have typically cost over S$120 (US$98) a month. Now, the same package goes for as low as S$39 (US$32), he said.

Lower prices, more services from NBN roll out
Besides lower prices, contracts are now also typically bundled with more freebies such as devices and installations. Market incumbents are offering more package deals for consumers too, the analyst noted.

In September, the country's second-largest telco StarHub launched plans to offer high-performance broadband services targeted at gamers--muscling into a niche where smaller players had successfully carved out earlier.

Other incumbents such as SingTel and M1 have also been following suit.

"SingTel even has a package attempting to target sports fanatics, bundling NGN plans with its cable TV sports packages," added Khoo.

Such moves by the bigger telcos are inevitable as they see new avenues for growth, said Foong King-Yew, research vice president of Gartner. They also have the option to strategically bundle services and have more financial resources, he added.

"In order to compete effectively in the market, small players have to constantly out-innovate and out-think the larger telcos," he noted.

Khoo did say it was too difficult to judge if smaller service providers such as MyRepublic or Viewqwest will eventually be muscled out by the more established players.

"Personally, I do not see innovation coming from the other games operators offering anything other than a label."

"Personally, I do not see innovation coming from the other games operators offering anything other than a label," said Viewqwest CEO Vignesa Moorthy, referring to how bigger telcos are looking to tap premium speed users.

He pointed out Viewqwest was the only operator to offer "a true gamer experience" by giving its customers 50 percent more bandwidth during peak usage times of between 7pm to 7am.

Ecosystem, mindset changes needed
Foong pointed out while the NBN initiative has lowered entry barriers for RSPs and shifted the competitive focus away from infrastructure to services, these are only part of the effort to inject innovation into the media and communications ecosystem.

Oher elements are needed to complement it, he said. One example would be to establish a critical mass of developers, startups and venture funding to spur more services, he explained.

Agreeing, Moorthy felt there was more room for progress.

"Whilst we have a first-class network in place, most of the service providers are still operating the NGNBN with traditional mindsets; with the use of extensive traffic shaping, bandwidth throttling and bandwidth caps," he said.

Moorthy added while Singapore's network could rival that of Japan and Korea, the country was not even coming close to using 1 percent of its potential. He highlighted the lack of connectivity amongst local operators as a key obstacle against further innovation in content and services. The lack of local peering meant users who subscribed to 100Mbps services cannot even exchange traffic with each other at 50 percent of the subscribed rate, the executive pointed out.

For now, though, attracting and retaining customers may not be a matter of having to out-innovate each other, Khoo said.

"Delivering the fundamentals well, such as downloads, low latency while gaming, and few to zero disconnections, etc, will make a RSP stand out--something that current companies are already finding it hard to do," he said.

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