COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--The national next-generation national broadband network (NBN) is on track to hit 95 percent deployment across the city-state by the end of the month. However, local operators say the higher bandwidth does not equate to more innovative services introduced and at more affordable rates as poor local peering remains a key challenge, resulting in poor performances and user experience.
David Storrie, CEO of Nucleus Connect, the operating company (OpCo) for Singapore's NBN project, said despite the progress in deploying fiber networks to residences and offices across the country, innovation had yet to really taken off in terms of the type of services offered.
During a panel session organized as part of the imbX tradeshow here Tuesday, Storrie said existing services and products in areas such as healthcare and education had been merely tapping the fiber network infrastructure and there was no innovation involved.
Similarly, consumers were simply benefitting from the faster network speeds for the same or less subscription amount, he added. He questioned the government in how it had educated its citizens on the benefits of the NBN, saying it had not sold consumers on how the higher bandwidth could benefit them on a day-to-day basis.
Storrie later clarified that besides the government, the other stakeholders in the NBN ecosystem could have done more to educate customers too.
"The education of the network's benefits has been weak and poor, in my opinion," Storrie said.
Local peering challenge persists
Another panelist, Benjamin Tan, pointed out higher bandwidth offered by the fiber-to-the-x (FTTx) model was probably not designed to bring down the cost of such online services.
Tan, who is managing director of local retail service provider (RSP) SuperInternet, said the model brings down the cost per megabyte for Internet access but does not necessarily result in lower costs for services beyond what is currently quoted in the market.
To have affordably priced innovative services tapping the local fiber network and that boast good performances and user experience, he believes the persistent challenge of local peering would need to be addressed.
Telemedicine, for instance, is one innovation that relies on high-speed broadband to function but performance is compromised because the patient might be on one Internet service provider's (ISP) network, while the hospital could be on another's. Should the connection between both parties be required to transmit out of the country before returning back to Singapore, he noted this could increase both costs and time lag.
When asked by someone in the audience why the local peering problem was not addressed in the planning phase of the NBN project, Tan said: "That, I do not know. You have to ask the regulator, [Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)], about it."
Storrie chimed in, agreeing that peering remained a problem and would require regulatory pressure to fix it.
He said while the country created the Singapore Internet Exchange (SGIX), which was launched in 2010, to attract more providers to host content in the country and get foreign carriers to use it as a hub for Internet traffic, this had yet to materialize.
Currently, only the two major local telcos--Singapore Telecommunications and StarHub--are connected and can benefit from the exchange due to their high traffic volumes, but smaller service providers such as SuperInternet would not find it worth their while to come onboard, he noted.
Likening SGIX to a "digital harbor", Storrie called on the IDA to provide the impetus to get everyone on board and establish the same peering link to mitigate the longstanding problem and, by doing so, spur innovation in the country.