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SingTel expands '4G' service, lowers data cap

update Local telco will offer LTE services on Tuesday, extending previous dongle-only availability, in conjunction with launch of three handsets. New postpaid plans in July, though, will have lower data cap of 2GB.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor
A clarification was made to this story. Read below for details.

update SINGAPORE--Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) will be expanding its Long-Term Evolution (LTE) services for consumers on Tuesday even as it moves toward completing island-wide coverage by early 2013.

The telco said on Monday SingTel customers who purchase LTE-enabled handsets will be able to access the Internet five times faster than via 3G networks. For areas without LTE network, consumers can fall back on 3G networks for wireless connectivity, it added.

During the press briefing, Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO for Consumer Singapore at SingTel, noted that the company now has 50 percent nationwide coverage of "4G service". It expects to extend its LTE coverage to 80 percent of the country by end-2012 and island-wide coverage by early-2013.

While often marketed by telcos as "4G", LTE is developed by the 3G Partnership Project and not regarded by some in the industry to be a true 4G technology. LTE Advanced is touted by others as a more suited candidate 4G system.

SingTel first launched its LTE service in December 2011 but access was limited to USB dongle modems.

At the event sidelines, Yuen explained the company had to wait for LTE-enabled handsets to be ready and for its network coverage to reach a "reasonable" 50 percent before launching LTE services for smartphones.

In conjunction with the service launch on Tuesday, SingTel will be launching three LTE devices: the HTC One XL, LG Optimus LTE, and Samsung Galaxy S2 LTE. Price plans for LTE devices will be the same as 3G handsets, said Yuen.

As the telco runs its LTE service on the 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz spectrum, he said some LTE-enabled devices bought overseas might not be compatible with the local network.

SingTel scrapping all-you-can-eat data plans
Starting July, SingTel will remove its current 12 gigabyte (GB) data cap and replace it with a lower 2GB limit for the entry-level plan. The higher data plans are capped at 3GB, 4GB and 12GB.

Excess data usage will be charged at S$0.01 per 2 kilobyte (kb) of data, up to a maximum of S$5.35 (US$4.14) per gigabyte, noted Yuen.

According to SingTel's analysis, 10 percent of its customers account for 64 percent of its overall mobile data consumption. Thus, with the introduction of the new bundle, he suggested heavy data users reconsider their network usage and switch to Wi-Fi when available to avoid high bills. This will also free up the network for the other 90 percent of users who will be able to have a "better and more consistent speed", he said.

The data cap will also allow SingTel to grow its network in a more sustainable method, Yuen added. SingTel invested S$2 billion (US$1.55 billion) in network investment over the last three years, said the executive.

He said the new plan will not affect its ARPU (average revenue per user) in the near future as the price plans are the same as 3G data plans.

The telco's decision to scrap its 12GB data plan has not been well received by some users. Twitter users are venting their frustration on the microblog site using hashtag #SingTelRuinsLives.

Twitter user, ‏@MizHalle, posted: "40 bucks for a 2GB data plan, 60 bucks for 3GB, and a hundred bucks for 4GB. SINGTEL DO YOU THINK I PRINT MONEY OR WHAT."

However, another Twitter user, ‏@jerricklim, asked users to check their data usage before complaining as "not many ppl use 12GB or even 2GB".

Rival mobile operator, StarHub, also agreed with the data cap. Cassie Fong, StarHub's senior manager of corporate communications, said in a statement it was necessary for operators to "bundle their data products right to better manage finite network resources so as to ensure network quality for customers".

StarHub's LTE network is expected to go live in key business areas such as Singapore Changi Airport, Marina Bay, Suntec, and Shenton Way later this year, Fong added. "As previously shared, we will not offer unlimited LTE data plans. More details about our LTE devices and services will be announced later," she added.

"In the near future, our new and re-contracting customers can choose from any of the three i2Surf plans that offer data bundles from 1GB to 5GB. They will also enjoy a S$30 (US$23) data price cap as well as a free 24-month multiSIM service," she added. However, StarHub did not specify the timeframe when exactly that would happen.

Clarification: StarHub previously said its 12GB data plan will be discontinued from Jul. 1, 2012, when it will offer data bundles from 1GB to 5GB. However, it later clarified its 12GB data plans will be discontinued "in the near future" and did not provide a specific time frame on when this will take place.
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