There has been numerous blogs, articles and discussion on the forum over ‘who is the best’. In recent weeks, I found my own answer to the question. A practical perspective for practical life.
While I have been a Starhub broadband customer for more than 8 years, I didn’t had the urge to change provider until recently. I signed up for SingTel broadband while keeping the Starhub’s one. Now I have both Internet service in my home.
Cable, DSL Pros and Cons
I always liked Internet connection via cable because it’s easy and transparent. Bring any cable modem around Singapore and you could access the internet as long you have a cable point. No user name and password to remember, no disconnections, no channels or ISP settings to remembers. It is easy and portable. SingTel’s is based on DSL (Digital Symmetric Line) technology which tie the service to a fixed telephone line. It is not portable, cost money when you move to other address, disruption for few days during service move period, and with user name/password to remember. This basically summarized the fundamental benefit of Cable vs DSL technology.
To DSL defense, it is easier to implement for telco companies by using existing phone network and some upgrades on the Central Office/Exchange (CO). Establishing cable service would need laying a cable around the city. In some countries/city where city planning is complex or over-populated, cable coverage is limited and not available to part of the population. A good example would be Jakarta. Telkom has been able to provide its Speedy ADSL service through out the country in short-term, while KabelVision has limited coverage and slow to expand. For many part of the population, DSL seems to be the obvious choice.
Singapore is unique as it has a good coverage for both cable and DSL-based Internet service. Still some landed properties (read: normal houses) needs thousands of dollars to have their cable connection activated. In that case, unless Cable TV service is important, DSL is again a choice.
Starhub has been the frontrunner when it comes to raw speed. It offered network connection measured in Mbit/s when SingTel still in Kbit/s. (1 Mbit/s = 1000 Kbits/s) many years back. The charges for its services was quite affordable and it was a logical choice for existing CableTV customer. One bill and account for both services. Customer was not required to have a fixed line as a pre-requisite.
In 8 years being MaxOnline customer, I admire Starhub at times as they are able to deliver a really fast download speed up to 900 KB/s. (Note KB=KiloBytes, Kb=Kilobits. 1 KB = 8 Kb). In this case, it delivers close to 7.2 Mbit/s of speed. Services seems fast, and it keeps upgrading the raw speed. A lower tier plan has the maximum speed of 2 Mbit/s 6 years ago and now it is 8 Mbit/s.
The main problems with Starhub’s Maxonline are:
- It is a shared bandwidth from your home to Starhub’s backbone. This means if within an area there are more subscriber and heavy users, you’d be likely competing with other users in the area before it gets into the backbone.
- Fast download speed is largely due to content that has been cached in the proxy servers. Unique content remains slow and nowhere near the maximum speed in most of the cases. Downloading commons files using browser e.g. Windows Service Pack is very fast, while downloading Ahead Nero or Linux distribution that less commonly downloaded will take significantly slower.
- With regard to point 2 above, it is clear that selecting a higher plan e.g. 12 Mbps or 100 Mbps would not provide significant improvement over network performance for those who accesses Internet content most of the time compared to local content. Higher plans fulfill certain niche user requirements (e.g. Local gamers, access to local universities, etc), but not to average joe like myself.
Starhub has been promoting its ‘Fat green pipe’, which makes logical sense. My real life experience for the past years still hold that Starhub is slow for unique content and fast for local/cached content. Recently, I downgraded my plan from MaxOnline Premium (12 Mbit/s) to MaxOnline Express (8Mbit/s). I saved around S$ 20/month and has not experienced any slowness from my previous faster plan.
Starhub may have the widest shared bandwidth, but it can be really narrow if there are plenty of users contenting on the pipe. Let’s imaging a fixed shared bandwidth of 100 Mbps shared between 10 and 1000 users, this mean the effective average bandwidth will be 10 Mbps/user and 0.1 Mbps/user. So this is the fine print that consumer should have in mind.
In Singtel case, each customer has a dedicated connection to Exchanges or Central Office (CO). This means a dedicated and deterministic bandwidth allocation for each user. If the technology allows a bandwidth of 100 Mbps for a user, it’ll be the same for all users. From home to the central office, there is no contention for bandwidth yet.
Up to this point, it leads to the same path which is the company’s backbone. It depends on the capacity of the overall bandwidth to the Internet cloud. In short, Starhub customers have to compete in each area for bandwidth before going out the internet, while SingTel customer skips the first competition in going to the Internet.
My two weeks experience with SingNet so far has been very positive. It is fast and problem-free so far. I have not experience any issues as I had in the past when I was in Australia. Username and password need only to be entered once at the router and I do get a similar speed on all day long. This is different from MaxOnline where I can have varied network performance during the day.
The upload speed offered by SingTel is also significantly higher than Maxonline’s. A 10 Mbps plan (S$ 88/month) offered 1 Mbps upload speed while MaxOnline’s 12 Mbps plan (S$ 81.32/month) offers 0.384 Mbps). That’s a 3 times faster upload speed. Upload speed matters, as uploading attachment to web-based email or uploading photos to Flickr can take a very long time with Maxonline.
SingNet illustrations on consistency can be read here.
I haven’t been a fond of youtube service as I never get a smooth video clip play from MaxOnline. When a clip played, the download speed is slower than the playing speed, thus frequent pauses. SingNet on the other hand has consistently faster download speed to play, thus no delay at all when playing a clip.
Starhub provides one of the best customer service I ever experienced. It has one customer care for Phone, Cable, Internet and other broadband product operating 24/7 365 days a year. I can call them any time and generally satisfied with the support provided.
Update (12/05/2008): I changed my cable modem device to a newer version. It took a couple of phone calls but were executed on the same day within an hour. That was a Sunday evening.
SingTel has two separate customer service. The first is for account-related issues that are handled by Sales team (1610). It open 08.00-18.00 Monday-Friday. The second is for technical support which open 24/7 similar like Starhub. Calling an incorrect customer service will have you referred to the other side. I find myself having to wait for the next working days to inquire some account-related issues. This would not happen with Starhub’s.
Apart from the limited time on Account-related customer service, Service activation with SingTel takes 9 working days! Any changes in the service e.g. changing username will take another 3 working days. This is exactly opposite with Starhub which virtually instantneously. I had a broken Cable modem before and called in the middle of the night, I am back online after providing a spare modem’s serial number which they configured right away.
Without considering the premiums given to obtain the services in contractual basis (which influences potential customer greatly), I say SingTel broadband service is a choice for those who demand performance. Given that one can benefits from what it can offers and be able to accept the shortcomings.
Starhub’s Maxonline would appeal mostly to those who need a fast speed, fuss-free in accessing local or cached content and local universities. Higher raw speed enables faster access to these networks within Singapore. Most users won’t need more than MaxOnline Express if they are accessing overseas content more than the local ones.
Opinions expressed in this article are mine and does not represent any affiliations to any organizations that I may have.