The consortium awarded the tender to build Singapore's next generation optical fiber network has announced that it has achieved 90% coverage in the island state. OpenNet began construction in 2009, and said last week that it is on track to meet its obligations to reach 95% of all Singapore premises by July this year.
According to the organization, the speed at which it has rolled out its fiber-to-the-premise network is unparalleled anywhere around the world. Of course, this may be helped by the fact that the entire country has a small land area that is slightly less than that of Washington, D.C., within which a population of just over five million live, work and play.
The optical fiber strategy
The plan to wire up the entire nation was known the Next Generation Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN) and is essentially fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), but including schools, offices and other commercial buildings. An ultra-high-speed broadband network facilitating connection speeds of 1Gbps or higher is envisioned, with the infrastructure put in place by OpenNet operated by a neutral operating company.
This network capacity is then tapped upon by independent "Retail Service Providers" (RSPs) who will use it to roll out broadband services to households and businesses alike. At last count, there are nine RSPs listed as offering optical fiber broadband services.
To get an idea of the cost, telecommunication provider StarHub - one of the leading Internet service providers in Singapore, offers home Internet packages of up to 1Gbps (500Mbps upstream) at a monthly subscription of about US$320. Lower-end Internet access of up to 100Mbps (50Mbps upstream) can be obtained at a much more affordable US$56 per month.
Build them and they will come. Maybe.
On the downside, aside from the prospect of low-latency gaming and deployment of IP TV, I have yet to see any compelling work-centric applications that take full advantage of the high-speed Internet afforded by the optical fiber network.
And though the Next Gen NBN has created a new niche for high-speed Internet access, the price plans for mid-end optical fiber plans and alternative offerings such as Cable and ADSL Internet are similar. This effectively means that the typical household has no compelling reason to upgrade aside from special promotional bundles rolled out by Internet providers.
Despite that, the adoption rate has been great with 133,000 active Next Gen NBN subscribers in Singapore and 14k subscribers added in March 2012, according to OpenNet. In comparison, there are now 528k ADSL and 670k Cable Modem subscribers, according to February 2012 figures provided by the Infocomm Development Authority.
Part of the reason for the popularity of optical fiber could probably be attributed to aggressive marketing and its sheer appeal to early adopters. Of course, Singapore does have an amazing 104.2% household broadband penetration rate, and a mobile phone penetration rate of 148.9%. In case you're wondering, the latter means that every second person that you meet on the street owns two mobile devices.
Unrealistic price aside, the idea of Gigabit connectivity is a highly appealing to IT professionals, especially when working from home. Think about it, a 1Gbps connection is adequate to rectify or patch even the most troublesome server problems, or for quickly copying some VM images over.
Will the availability of ultra-high-speed broadband truly transform the way we work? It's impossible to tell at this point, but I'll be sure to bring you an update if there are any new developments on Singapore's Next Gen NBN front.
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.