SingTel admits its wireless is slow, vows changes

SINGAPORE Thu May 10, 2012 6:21am EDT

A woman speaks on a mobile phone in front of a SingTel logo at the company's headquarters in Singapore May 13, 2010. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

A woman speaks on a mobile phone in front of a SingTel logo at the company's headquarters in Singapore May 13, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Southeast Asia's biggest telecoms firm, on Thursday acknowledged mobile Internet speeds in the city-state are slow and said it is introducing plans that offer more reliable connections.

Despite being a major Asian business centre with a tech-savvy image, Singapore is among the countries with the slowest mobile Internet speeds, according to checks by Google (GOOG.O).

Using a mobile device, a typical page takes an average of 12 seconds to load in Singapore, Google data shows.

That is far slower than the 4.6 to 6 seconds in Hong Kong and South Korea. Singapore's mobile data speeds even lag Vietnam but are faster than Malaysia and Indonesia.

SingTel (STEL.SI), the biggest of three mobile providers in Singapore with just under 50 percent of the market, said it has addressed the problem by offering higher-end plans - for a price - that promise narrower fluctuations in data speed.

More plans will become available as it rolls out its fourth-generation or 4G network. SingTel has also stopped offering unlimited download mobile plans to reduce network congestion.

"We've done a lot of research and surveys in that area and we're very confident that as we start to give a better quality network and less variations in terms of speed, customers will value that a lot more," Allen Lew, chief executive of the Group Digital Life unit, said at a media briefing.

But James Sullivan, head of Asia telecom research at J.P. Morgan, said improving the network will only partially address the problem in Singapore as the biggest bottleneck for users involves accessing content that is hosted overseas.

Mobile Internet speeds on wireless packages apply only to locally hosted content.

"Seventy percent of content Singapore users access is offshore - some people would put it at 90 percent - and that is equivalent to an eight-lane highway leading onto a one-lane highway," Sullivan said.

Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority, the industry regulator, said last month it was speeding up the roll-out of its 4G networks. Part of the plan includes reclaiming the spectrum in the 1.8 gigahertz band now used by second-generation mobile services.

SingTel now offers "Priority Pass" services that start at S$40 per month, which is about a third higher than its basic mobile data plan, according to its website. Such services give priority access when there are many users in the vicinity.

SingTel and rival M1 (MONE.SI) offer 4G services in Singapore, with coverage limited to the central business district and several other high-use areas. StarHub (STAR.SI), the third provider, plans to launch 4G services later this year.

(Editing by Kevin Lim and John O'Callaghan)

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