Monday, September 20, 2010

Why SingTel’s network stinks

Recent data by iPhone developer Muh Hon Cheng provides evidence that SingTel’s network is groaning at the seams.

The chart below gives a breakdown of users who updated the app SG Buses in the 10 days before September 14. According to this chart, 54,170 SingTel users upgraded their copy of SG Buses to the latest version. In comparison, 32,090 StarHub users upgraded while the corresponding number for M1 users was 25,090.

SG Buses downloads
Source: Muh Hon Cheng

This suggests that SingTel has 1.7 times as many iPhone users as StarHub and a staggering 2.2 times as many users as M1.

The chart for people who upgraded SG NextBus shows a similar pattern. A total of 52,720 SingTel users upgraded, compared to 36,440 StarHub users and 32,710 M1 users. Based on SG NextBus, SingTel has more than 1.4 times as many iPhone users as StarHub and 1.6 times as many users as M1.

SG NextBus downloads

Source: Muh Hon Cheng

These numbers are for two extremely popular local iPhone apps, and it should be representative of the local iPhone population.

Looking at the data, it show that while the precise percentage differs but the trend is clear: SingTel has many more users than its competitors.

On one hand, this no doubt a good thing for SingTel, which gets to enjoy the steady stream of revenue from iPhone users on its network.

Unfortunately, iPhone users are notorious data hogs and the sheer number of users must put SingTel’s network under a tremendous strain. I’m no telecoms engineer but I’m guessing that an overloaded network will cause a poorer network experience. As someone who has been with SingTel since it started selling the iPhone two years ago, I can say that the network has deteriorated over time. I get many more dropped calls now and functionality has been affected as well. You used to be able to tether your iPhone and conduct a phone conversation at the same time. Not any more.

These numbers also suggest that switching to M1 might be the way to go simply because there are fewer iPhone users on the M1 network now compared to SingTel and even StarHub. That means less competition for capacity and hopefully a better network experience. (This is, of course, assumes that all three carriers have a roughly equivalent network to begin with.)

The Singapore government is selling off more wireless spectrum and all three local carriers are said to be interested in bidding for it. If SingTel wants to hang on to its iPhone customers, it needs to upgrade its capacity or it will start to see a migration of iPhone users towards networks that actually deliver.

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ilcourtilcourt said...

Unfortunately (or fortunately since I am on Singtel) these are just suppositions: more iPhones does not mean worse network QOS.
The experience I have had so far with M1 on iPhone have been much worse than with Singtel: my bf was on M1 while I was on Singtel for the last 2 years.
Singtel has gotten worse, but that does not make M1 better.

When people ask me which is better network: I do say "Singtel", even though I really do not like to be Singtel's customer.

Unless someone can come up with some QOS numbers...

Melvin Lau said...

Singtel network quality might have dropped but it has not significantly dropped till the standard of Starhub and M1. The green and orange still ain't good as the red.

Singtel thus far still better than the latter.

tiger4™ said...

@ilcourtilcourt: Agree with you. M1 user here. I stay in Punggol n the 3G network there is horrible. Further coverage wise, I believe Singtel is better. So I still believe Singtel is the better of all 3 networks though I still stick with M1 as I too dislike Singtel.

Carlo said...

I was going to say it, but ilcourtilcourt beat me to it:

This evidence is hardly suggestive of the claim that SingTel is worse than StarHub and M1.

If you want to use Muh Hon Cheng's access statistics to try to look into network quality of service, perhaps you can look at server access, not app download, statistics.

If StarHub and M1 users seem to be using these apps more often than SingTel users do (adjusted for the difference in number of iPhone users per network as shown in this post, as in they access Hon Cheng's servers more often), then perhaps there is some problem with SingTel's QoS.

A plausible theory for that would be that SingTel users have such a bad network they can't eve use the app they downloaded.

bentanhl said...

I have data plans from both Singtel and StarHub at supposed maximum speed of 7.2Mbps. So far, my speed test at the same location has always shown Singtel to be better. Not sure if StarHub SIM card being in my iPad matter though.