Jun 4, 2013

Need for Speed

Media Invite
(Daddy blogs)

I have been a SingTel mobile subscriber for close to 14 years now - gosh, has the obliteration of pagers been that long? - and just like all married couples, there are not-so-smooth-sailing moments along the way. 3G date coverage suddenly dips in certain areas, while lines get cut off in a middle of phone calls. Yes, I have the common grievances too and like you, I also want to grab hold of someone from SingTel to rant.

So it was perhaps fitting that SingTel invited me down for an Insider event where I got to meet up with SingTel's network team and have a first-hand look at how they determine network speed and coverage

We were all bundled into a van and taken for a ride (literally, not metaphorically) around the CBD and town area to see how SingTel's network engineers patrol the streets of Singapore everyday to monitor its network coverage around the island.

Don't worry, my head was spinning too when I first saw the torrential amount of figures on the latptop screen. But what did help was the important nuggets of information that was shared by the network engineers during our time in the van.

First of all, I just had to get one burning question off my chest - Why do I experience poor reception at some place but at other locations, my reception is good?

I found out that there are actually various factors that may affect coverage, and these are often due to the inherent nature of mobile technologies. Generally though, users experience weaker reception if their office or apartment is not located near to shared mobile infrastructure and signals are blocked by walls and structures. These issues are not unique to the SingTel network and could affect customers of any operator.

In fact, SingTel has invested more than S$2 billion across all its networks in the last 3 years to expand and enhance its network. SingTel has upgraded more than 240 sites across Singapore in its on-going accelerated network enhancement programme to offer download speeds of up to 42Mbps - currently at 75% islandwide - which is double the 21Mbps speed of existing 3G networks. And in case you are curious as to how a base station looks like, it is the rectangle-shaped box on top of the building in the photo below.

So the solution seems to be very easy, no? Just pile on the base stations on every rooftop in Singapore and we will have the most awesome coverage. Ever.

If only life is that simple.

In HDB blocks, condominiums and office buildings, operators require permission from building owners and the authorities to install their mobile equipment. The schedule of deployment and equipment location sites are often not within their control and sometimes, their requests to install new base stations can also be rejected. So it can take months or even years before permission may be granted to install new base stations at the said location.

And there is the issue of poor network coverage in certain shopping malls and MRT tunnels too. One important thing to note is - and I didn't know about this beforehand - that the mobile infrastructure in most shopping malls and MRT tunnels is shared among all mobile operators. So during peak periods, the capacity is shared among many many users, thus resulting in a slower broadband experience.

That said, SingTel has been continuously investing in its mobile network to enhance capacity and coverage in its own way and you can visit HERE for a list of the 3G network upgrades that have been done in the shopping malls and HDB estates. Should you encounter a problem spot in Singapore where the coverage drops frequently, you can help by alerting SingTel to it too! Click HERE to submit your feedback, and SingTel will act on it after a series of checks.

The other portion of our van joyride centered on SingTel's 4G network. Fourth generation mobile network, or 4G for short is technically termed as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and has speeds faster than 3G. As of now, all 4G networks are only data networks so voice calls are still supported on 3G.

SingTel's 4G network is currently nation-wide and it is the first in Singapore to offer dual-band street-level coverage for 95% of the island.

And we sure did have a taste of its speed while in the van - 14.8 GB of data was downloaded at an average transfer rate of 45.8 Mbps, which is definitely more than adequate for me!

So whether you want to load web pages in an instant, watch videos with less than 1 second buffer or download a 20MB file in less than 20 seconds, SingTel 4G strives to provide seamless and reliable connectivity to its subscribers.

Certainly, the Insider event with SingTel did help to address some of my concerns regarding its network coverage and I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with some of its network engineers. Next up, my actual experience with SingTel's 4G and enhanced 3G network!

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