S'pore NBN appeal beyond speed, price

ZDNet Asia talks to ICT regulator, market players to discuss what Singapore needs to do to drive adoption of national broadband network and resolve enterprise deployment issues.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The next-generation nationwide broadband network (NGNBN) first captured the attention of local consumers with it fast connection speeds and competitive pricing, but the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) hopes new services leveraging the fiber capabilities will attract more people onto the network.

First mooted by the IDA in 2005 as part of the country's Intelligent Singapore 2015 (iN2015) ICT roadmap, the fiber network has been deployed to 83 percent of all households and commercial buildings locally as of end-November 2011, said IDA's assistant chief executive, Khoong Hock Yun.

The NBN's network company (NetCo), OpenNet, is also on track to achieve the 95 percent deployment mark by mid-2012, according to Singapore's Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) Yaacob Ibrahim.

Khoong added that there are now seven operating companies in the market including Nucleus Connect, which act as the network bandwidth wholesaler providing broadband connectivity to downstream retail service providers (RSPs). As for the number of RSPs, there are now 18 such providers which include the three local telcos SingTel, StarHub and M1, he said.

"This is a tremendous change. I mean, just imagine two years ago, we only had two retail service providers," the executive stated.

In terms of subscribers, OpenNet announced on Jan. 27 it reached its first 100,000 fiber network subscribers this year, and Khoong predicted that this number would grow by about 10,000 subscribers every month thereafter as more people come onboard the network.

As for the types of services currently on offer, the IDA executive pointed to pure-vanilla broadband access at much faster speeds and higher quality--ensuring less latency and jitter rates--as well as increased competition in pricing, as some examples.

Other types of services include cloud computing, storage, video streaming and games which are also increasingly being offered via the next-generation broadband network, he added.

Videoconferencing service provider VSee, which opened its Singapore office in November last year, is one RSP that has benefitted from the introduction of the fast-speed fiber network. Christina Ng, tech advisor to the CEO at VSee, told ZDNet Asia that because of the NBN, VSee users can now enjoy high-definition telepresence video chat in the comfort of their homes.

She noted this is not possible in other regional markets as the "last-mile bandwidth is still very much a challenge", adding that Singapore's NBN solves this problem by providing higher bandwidth and lower latency connections.

Services such as those provided by VSee are what IDA's Khoong hopes would entice more people to subscribe to the NBN, over factors such as competitive pricing and fast broadband speeds.

"For many of the consumers, the first thing they see [among the NBN services on offer] is the price, and the second thing is [that the Internet connection speed] is super fast," he said. "What we want to see in the next stage is services that exploit the true capabilities of the network, and I think this stage will be coming."

Slow enterprise deployment a bother
However, Internet service providers have stated that OpenNet will need to work faster to meet its deployment deadlines, particularly in wiring up commercial buildings.

StarHub is one RSP which previously told ZDNet Asia that enterprise uptake of NBN services has been much slower than expected. Kevin Lim, head of enterprise business group at StarHub, pointed out that RSPs are frequently encountering cases in which OpenNet had failed to meet its request-for-service (RFS) date and not provided replacement time slots, leaving both RSPs and customers in a limbo.

He added in his e-mail that the maximum number of orders OpenNet would process each week was 2,400, and this low quota had led to service activation delays for its customers asking for fiber services.

"We therefore urge OpenNet to be more flexible in its operations and increase its quota to meet the growing demand for fiber broadband," Lim said.

Asked if the slow enterprise deployment would impact Singapore's NBN initiative, Khoong acknowledged that many market players are requesting that OpenNet operate faster in the non-residential market as the profit margins in this segment are higher.

That said, he noted that consumers need to recognize that the NBN was a "greenfield network rollout" and OpenNet would face challenges on the ground in terms of working with different building management teams to gain access and determine which party pays for insurance, among others. And these issues are unique to each building, he added.

As such, he expressed hope that the NetCo would take a more "proactive position" by going down to the ground and resolving as many of these issues as possible, and before the management team even requests for it to wire the building.

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