Singapore approaches 90% 4G availability

Image credit: Ronnie Chua | shutterstock.com

In Opensignal’s analysis of 4G Availability in Singapore, measurements have shown an upward trend in the past 12 months for all three national operators, but the greatest improvement was experienced by users on StarHub’s network. 

From the beginning of June, 2018 until the beginning of November, 2018, the operator enhanced its 4G Availability from 82.6% to 87.1% — an outstanding boost of over 4 percentage points. In the same period, M1’s 4G Availability score grew by 1.6 percentage points, while the leader in this metric, Singtel, managed to reach the 90% milestone following an improvement of 1.1 percentage points. The 4G Availability metric has a user-centric approach: it shows the proportion of time users with a 4G device and subscription have a 4G connection, something that is often missed by traditional coverage metrics.

Analysis of mobile network experience in Singapore has often reflected its strong position among the world’s elite countries in nearly every metric we report on. While Singapore’s three operators — M1, Singtel and StarHub — have been successful in delivering phenomenal download and upload speeds, a very strong Video Experience and super-fast network responsiveness, they have struggled to take a global lead in 4G Availability. But we saw this beginning to change in the latest Mobile Network Experience report as Singtel crossed the 90% mark in our 4G Availability metric and its competitors edged towards the same milestone.

These noteworthy improvements on the networks of each of the operators are responses to defend their position and differentiate against an aggressive entrant like TPG, as well as to facilitate a smoother transition to the fifth generation technologies. And these improvements can aid Singapore in joining its East-Asian counterparts — South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong — among the global leaders in providing 4G access to smartphone users.

Looking into the next 6-month period, from the start of November 2018 to the beginning of May 2019 we saw this upward trend starting to flatten. Singtel retained its leadership by increasing its 4G Availability score to 91.2% — an improvement of 1.2 percentage points — while M1 also improved by 1.3 percentage points, bringing its score to 89.4%. But again we saw the biggest improvement for StarHub’s users. Our users on its network were able to access a 4G connection 89.2% of the time, an increase of just over 2 percentage points over a period of 6 months — almost double the increase we measured on Singtel. Although StarHub did not win any of the awards in our last national Mobile Network Experience report, this rapid improvement makes it a strong player in the Singaporean mobile market and a likely contender for future awards.

Strategic Investments

This portentous growth in our 4G Availability metric is a strong indicator of the strategic investments Singapore’s operators have been pursuing to strengthen their existing 4G infrastructure as they evolve towards 5G. In the past year the monthly data traffic on Singapore’s mobile networks has increased to more than 20 Petabytes, and in response to this growing traffic the operators are investing in upgrading their network in the areas with the highest demands. 

In the second quarter of 2018, StarHub upgraded its mobile network to deliver 4G speeds of 1 Gbps and expanded its gigabit network to cover Marina Bay, the Central Business District as well as key shopping areas, transport hubs and town centres, including Bedok, Bishan, Chinatown, Clarke Quay, Clementi, Orchard Road and Tampines. Immediately following which the operator completed its first outdoor pilot of 5G on the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

M1 has been making similar moves to increase its 4G network capacity with integrated small cells to leverage its existing investment, address the rising user demand for data and simplify network rollouts. The operator claimed successful completion of the small cell trials in December last year with download speeds approaching 1 Gbps. On the other hand, we saw Singtel place its bets on five-carrier aggregation technology using combination of two 1800 MHz frequencies, together with the 2100 MHz, 2600 MHz and TDD 2500 MHz spectrum bands. The operator is also enhancing its network with technologies like 256QAM and 4X4 MIMO. Singtel completed a successful trial and claimed to have achieved speeds of up to 1.5 Gbps in mid-September last year.

With operators strengthening their existing 4G network and the IMDA’s proposal to roll out standalone 5G specifications which will support the full suite of 5G capabilities, Singapore is set to take the global lead in leveraging the potential of 5G.

Written by Hardik Khatri, Analyst, Opensignal

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