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S'pore telcos deny creeping 'dead zones'

Local mobile operators refute claims of more places in Singapore with no signal reception and stress they will continue to work with consumers to maintain high network coverage.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Singapore's three mobile operators have denied claims that the number of places with limited or no mobile signals, also known as "dead zones", have increased. Executives of the telcos stressed their commitment to enhance their networks for better customer experience.

StarHub spokesperson, Michael Sim, for one, said the company does not agree that there are now more dead zone areas in Singapore. He acknowledged, however, that such poor signal zones can be created when buildings, typically new ones, block mobile signals from reaching certain locations. The problem can also arise when a partition is erected within a building, blocking the penetration of mobile signals.

"We do see, from time to time, some dead zone spots in a particular building but these areas are, wherever possible, corrected once we receive feedback from our customers," he said in an e-mail.

Sim added that, nowadays, property owners and building managers work more closely with telcos to ensure there are sufficient mobile signals within and around a new building in order to minimize mobile signal disruptions to their customers.

Ivan Lim, M1's deputy director of corporate communications and investor relations, concurred. He said that M1 disagreed that there are increasing areas with poor or no mobile signals. Rather, these perceived dead zones are actually due to the "differing reception characteristics" of users' mobile devices, he explained.

The executive pointed out that the company's network is consistently monitored to ensure that congestions, if any, are minimized. Furthermore, in the event customers complain of dropped calls or loss of reception, it will send its engineers to the affected sites to investigate, he said.

Earlier this year, M1 successfully outbidded its two operator rivals for additional 1800MHz band mobile spectrum following an auction held by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), agreeing to pay S$21.7 million (US$17.2 million) for its rights. The additional spectrum, Lim said, will be used in part to maintain its network quality of service.

Meanwhile, SingTel did not directly address the question of whether there are more dead zones in Singapore. Instead, its spokesperson said that the telco's mobile coverage includes remote locations such as Jurong Island, where it had deployed several mobile base stations. SingTel also said it has "excellent coverage" in high-rise locations such as the Sky Park at Marina Bay Sands, one of Singapore's two integrated resorts.

"SingTel has an ongoing program in place to enhance its mobile network based on customer feedback. This ensures our customers' mobile needs are continually met," he added.

Claims of increased dead zones were highlighted in a news report by local daily The Straits Times earlier this month. The newspaper said mobile signal loss in high-rise buildings has become more common in recent years, adding to the list of dead zones initially populated by outlying and coastal areas.

The report added that visitors to high-rise buildings such as Marina Bay Sands, Swissotel The Stamford and Centennial Tower have complained about poor reception and being routed to foreign networks.

Network switching challenge
Addressing the issue of network switching, M1's Lim said that the company has deployed a Border Roaming Gateway module that is able to identify customers who inadvertently log on to foreign networks despite being in Singapore and chalking up charges unknowingly.

He did not say if such subscribers will have the additional roaming charges waived, but noted that the incidents are handled "on a case-by-case basis".

StarHub, too, adopts such a stance, Sim shared.

"Typically, we offer to waive such charges if it occurs for the first time," he explained. Additionally, StarHub staff will advise these customers to set their network selection mode to "manual" on their mobile devices so that inadvertent network switching will not happen again, he said.

Besides advising customers to tweak their network selection settings, the SingTel spokesperson added that it works closely with regulatory boards and mobile operators of neighboring countries to minimize the overlapping of mobile coverage to mutual customers.

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