Users in Singapore are getting a lower Internet access speed than they paid for, at least when accessing Internet locations outside of the country. This finding came to light with the publication of an independent test conducted by research firm SamKnows. Commissioned by Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and published as the Consumer Broadband Report on its website, the report essentially puts local Internet service providers (ISPs) together based on their price and download speed, and also offers useful information about latency, upload speeds, packet loss, and more.
Slow international speed
When I first saw the data in September, I was struck by the difference between the advertised offering and the international access speed. SingTel, for example, was pegged at an average of only 30.1Mbps for its 200Mbps exPlore Home plan in August. Similarly, StarHub's 100Mbps MaxInfinity Ultimate plan clocked just 15.1Mbps.
The outlier here was M1, which delivered 38.7Mbps with its 100Mbps HomePac Fiber. This represents a 200% additional international bandwidth over StarHub's 100Mbps offering, and handily beats SingTel's 200Mbps service in the same niche. Detractors will point out that even M1 did not offer the advertised bandwidth for overseas websites.
All Internet data plans above are delivered using Singapore's national fiber network, though cable networks and standard ADSL plans are also offered. It is worth noting that local access speeds are as advertised — hovering at about 90% of the theoretical cap.
The low international speed is pertinent here, as Singapore's relatively small population of just over five million means that the majority of Internet content is invariably located on servers outside the country. As such, users surfing the web are unlikely to get the full access speeds they are led to believe they will get.
"We believe in delivering a better experience for all our services, including fiber broadband. For that reason, we do not cap international access for all our fiber broadband plans," said an M1 spokesperson in an email message to me. "With the latest results from IDA's independent audit, it is clear that M1 delivers the best value and international bandwidth experience across our fiber plans."
What it means for businesses
Not everyone thinks that the lack of overseas bandwidth is a big deal though. Web engineer Lester Chan noted in a tweet that most downloads by users can be accessed from a local CDN, or content delivery network. By this, Chan is referring to the download of software, as well as software updates, which he considers make up the bulk of downloads. In addition, workers attempting to access company resources after office hours will find the average of 50Mbps to 100Mbps of bandwidth to be more than adequate.
On the other hand, employees who frequently access cloud storage services or other web services not located within the country will find the going slower; this could include online CMS or Web applications, which may not load as snappily from home broadband connections. The slower access also goes for users who spend the majority of their time on second- or third-tier websites, which are unlikely to employ the use of CDNs.
With this in mind, professionals who require fast overseas access may want to carefully weigh their options in terms of signing up for online services that are hosted overseas. An alternative would be to set up a VPN link back to the office, and rely on the Internet connectivity from business Internet lines, which usually offer the full advertised speeds for local and overseas sites.
Results of systems tweaksRegardless, M1 has had a field day touting the results of the study in the local media for the last couple of months. SingTel and StarHub have not taken it lying down either, and have evidently tweaked their systems to allow for higher overseas bandwidth on some of their higher-end plans. This increase can be seen for the months of September and October in Figure A. Figure A
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.