The state of mobile networks in Singapore – who does what best?

mobile networks Singapore
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Singaporean operators struggle with challenges unseen in other markets, as the performance of Singapore’s 5G networks is hampered by spectrum harmonization issues. Nearby countries use the 3.5 GHz band for direct to home satellite TV services. This limits the amount of new mid-band 5G spectrum that the regulator IMDA has been able to license to Singapore’s operators, at least for now, because of the need to avoid interference with Singapore’s neighbours on this band. IMDA has issued two licenses for 100 MHz each in the 3.5 GHz band, by comparison South Korea’s operators have been using a total of 280 MHz of similar spectrum since spring 2019. In addition, all four of Singapore’s operators have been assigned mmWave 5G spectrum which is extremely high capacity but has limited reach.

Singtel announced early availability of its 5G standalone access (SA) network in late May, with users requiring Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G handsets and a beta release of Samsung’s Android software both of which are available via an early access program. Singapore’s other operators are gearing up to also launch SA services. M1 and StarHub’s joint venture Antina’s SA radio access network (RAN) will be built using equipment from Nokia and the vendor is working with the two operators to upgrade their core networks so that they can support SA.

In this report, we have analyzed the mobile network experience of Singapore’s four national operators — M1, Singtel, StarHub and TPG — in the 90 day period starting February 1, 2021 and ending May 1, 2021, to see how they measure up. We have used 5G measurements in addition to those from previous generations of mobile network technology when determining the overall scores for each metric.

Four out of seven of our awards are won outright, up from the single outright win seen in our last report. StarHub is the first operator in Singapore to win the Video Experience award and not have to share the glory with a rival, while Singtel takes full possession of the Upload Speed Experience award and TPG has done the same with 4G Availability. Out of the four national operators, StarHub has the largest haul of awards, beating Singtel by one outright win. StarHub has two outright wins and three joint wins. It also commanded an impressive 8.3 Mbps lead on Download Speed Experience.

Looking beyond the awards table, progress since our last report has been limited, as Singapore’s operators have been focused on creating a resilient experience and on their early 5G rollouts. While there is a big jump in the speeds our M1 users have seen, on other operators our users have seen their experience tread water since the last report. In many markets 5G has been available since 2019, but the first 5G moves in Singapore took place in August/September 2020 with Singtel and StarHub describing their initiatives as commercial trials while M1 referred to its as a launch.

Opensignal Awards Table

Video Experience

StarHub is the first Singaporean operator to win the Video Experience award outright, with a score of 78.6 points. A 1.5 point increase in its score — larger than the 0.8 point rise in Singtel’s — allowed StarHub to break the statistical tie between it and Singtel in our last report. Singtel is in second place with a score of 77.5 points, 1.1 points behind the new outright winner. TPG and M1 were in a statistical tie in our previous report, but this time, M1 follows Singtel with a score of 76.8, while TPG has dropped back to last place. This change was driven by a 3.9 point fall in TPG’s score and a 1.5 point increase in M1’s. The decline in TPG’s score had one other consequence — the operator has fallen into the Very Good (65-75) category, while the other operators have retained their Excellent (75 or above) ratings.

Games Experience

Users’ experience when playing multiplayer games over mobile connections is becoming increasingly important to operators given the rapid growth of the mobile games market and the fact that 5G can potentially deliver improvements in areas of performance important to gamers such as latency. For example, StarHub recently announced that it will launch an NVIDIA GeForce NOW cloud gaming service in the third quarter of 2021. The operator claims that this solution will allow customers to play demanding computer games from phones, tablets and web-browsers.

Our Singaporean users’ Games Experience across the city-state’s three established operators remained in the Good (75-85) category, while relative newcomer TPG retained its Fair (65-75) rating. StarHub and Singtel are still statistically tied for the award, making the two operators joint winners. StarHub was the only operator whose score has increased since our last report — it rose by 1.5 points to 83.1 points. Meanwhile, other operators’ scores fell by 0.9-2.9 points.

A Good Games Experience indicates that most users deemed their experience acceptable. The gameplay experience was generally controllable and the user received immediate feedback between their actions and the outcomes in the game. Most users did not experience a delay between their actions and the game. A Fair rating means that users found the experience ‘average’. In most cases the game was responsive to the actions of the player with most users reporting that they felt like they had control over the game. The majority of players reported that they noticed a delay between their actions and the outcomes in the game.

Voice App Experience

M1, Singtel and StarHub are joint winners of the Voice App Experience award, due to a three-way statistical tie. A similar state of affairs existed in our previous report, but back then the award was shared between TPG, Singtel and StarHub. Our TPG users witnessed a greater decline in their Voice App Experience with the operator’s score falling by 1.4 points compared to M1’s decline of 0.3 points, which led to its replacement on the winner’s podium. The only operator not to see a fall in its score was StarHub and all four of Singapore’s operators remained in the Good category (80-87). The last time the Voice App Experience award was won outright happened in our June 2020 report, when Singtel was the sole winner.

A Good Voice App Experience indicates that many users were satisfied, but some experienced minor quality impairments. Sometimes the background was not quite clear, it could have been either hazy or not loud enough. Clicking sounds or distortion were very occasionally present.

Download Speed Experience

For the second report in a row, StarHub is the outright winner of the Download Speed Experience award — this time with a score of 56.4 Mbps. Its lead over second-placed Singtel has increased by 1.3 Mbps to 8.3 Mbps as Singtel’s score fell by 2.1 Mbps, while StarHub’s dropped by only 0.8 Mbps. Our TPG users saw a more marked decline in their average download speeds, which dropped by 3.7 Mbps (14.5%) to 21.5 Mbps

In stark contrast to Singapore’s other operators, M1 put on an impressive burst of speed — its score rose by a remarkable 6.8 Mbps (22.2%) to hit 37.5 Mbps. However, much of this increase is making up for lost ground in our previous report, when its score dipped by 4.5 Mbps (12.7%). The combination of M1’s resurgence and the dip seen by our TPG users means that the gap between Singapore’s third and fourth placed operators for Download Speed Experience has risen from 5.6 Mbps to 16 Mbps.

Upload Speed Experience

Singtel is the sole winner of the Upload Speed Experience award with a score of 14 Mbps and a lead of at least 0.7 Mbps. The operator was a joint winner with StarHub in our previous report, but while both operators’ scores have fallen since then Singtel’s proved to be more resilient. Our Singtel users saw their average upload speeds decline by 1.3 Mbps while their StarHub counterparts reported a drop of 1.5 Mbps. This change coupled with a small 0.5 Mbps fall in M1’s score means that StarHub and M1 are statistically tied for second place, with scores of 13.3 Mbps and 13.1 Mbps, respectively.

Meanwhile, TPG’s score fell by 1.2 Mbps (20.6%) — the largest decline seen across all four operators in percentage terms. Singtel’s winning score was more than three times faster than TPG’s score of 4.6 Mbps.

4G Availability

TPG is the outright winner of the 4G Availability Award and was the only operator to see its score rise since our last report. The proportion of time that our TPG users spent connected to 4G services rose by 1.5 percentage points to 98%, while their counterparts on other operators’ networks saw declines of 0.3-0.9 percentage points. This allowed TPG to win the award outright after it was forced to share the victory with M1 in our last report. TPG was also the sole winner back in our June 2020 report when we first included this operator in our mobile network experience reports for Singapore. TPG wins with a lead of at least 3.3 percentage points, while M1 and StarHub are statistically tied for second place with scores of 94.7% and 94%, respectively.

4G Coverage Experience

M1’s 4G Coverage Experience score has risen to a perfect 10 out of 10 points, putting it in line with Singtel and StarHub. The three operators remain joint winners for the award, while TPG’s score has ticked up very slightly from 9.5 to 9.6 since our last report.

Opensignal’s 4G Coverage Experience metric is a measure of how mobile subscribers experience 4G coverage on an operator’s network. Measured on a scale of 0-10, it analyzes the locations where customers of a network operator received a 4G signal relative to the locations visited by users of all network operators. In simple terms, 4G Coverage Experience measures the mobile coverage experience in all the locations that matter most to everyday users — i.e.all the places where they live, work and travel. It considers all the areas that Opensignal users visit, the portion of locations that 4G is available to them, and locations that more users visit have higher importance to them.

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