Business customers fed up with waiting for network builder OpenNet to connect them to fibre broadband are turning to SingTel - angering some Internet service providers (ISPs) in the process.
The ISPs, which buy fibre broadband from OpenNet and then retail its use to customers, say customers are switching to SingTel's hook-up for wholesale fibre links, which takes just 15 days - twice as fast as the time needed by OpenNet.
SingTel can be faster as it has its own fibre links to commercial buildings, and does not depend on OpenNet to make the connections.
One of the disgruntled ISPs, ViewQwest, said about 50 customers have cancelled orders with it so far this year, saying SingTel could deliver the service much quicker. ViewQwest chief executive Vignesa Moorthy told The Straits Times: "Customers will not accept the unknown waiting time. They feel it is safer to go with SingTel, which they have said can deliver in 15 days."
This is at least twice as fast as what OpenNet could, and is required to, deliver.
New regulatory standards that began in January last year state that OpenNet must connect 80 per cent of new business sign-ups within four weeks of the order date and the remaining 20 per cent, within eight weeks.
ViewQwest said 30 per cent of its business orders take longer than four weeks to complete.
Another ISP, SuperInternet, said the opportunity costs of the delays have been great although OpenNet was set up to promote broadband competition.
"One out of three potential customers cannot wait and has turned to SingTel," said managing director Benjamin Tan yesterday.
Just under half of its orders are fulfilled within four weeks, he said, adding: "We're not competing on a level playing field."
Mr Yew Hock Meng, chief operating officer of LGA Telecom, said there is "a lot of room for improvement" but because OpenNet is cheaper than SingTel for wholesale fibre links, some customers have chosen to wait.
Exact savings are difficult to calculate as installation sizes vary, but some industry players have put the OpenNet deal at about 20 per cent cheaper.
Meanwhile, StarHub and M1 said yesterday that installations have been faster this year compared with the significant delays encountered last year.
Those had led to OpenNet being fined $240,000 by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) on May 9. In the second and third quarters of last year, it connected only about half of all business orders - short of the required 80 per cent - within four weeks. It also fulfilled less than 75 per cent - instead of all - within eight weeks.
OpenNet said order fulfilment delays have largely been due to the refusal of the building managements to grant access to in-house fibre links but it is using the ISPs' existing relationship with building managers and owners for faster access approval.
M1 said there are still some customer cancellations "due to residual issues from building management" although the number has dropped this year. It declined to provide details.
Mr Teh Chong Mien, StarHub's vice-president of enterprise sales, said: "We are optimistic that the situation will further improve for customers in the near future."
StarHub is less reliant than other ISPs on OpenNet as it too has deployed its own fibre links to key commercial buildings in the business district.
Local IT project firm Bridges Integrity Services, which helps clients buy fibre broadband services from ISPs, said it had to cancel two orders on behalf of clients last year as they could not get connections for nearly two months. It has since advised all its clients to sign up for SingTel fibre broadband. Ms Dianna Ng, project manager at Bridges Integrity Services, had told The Straits Times the wait with SingTel is less than four weeks for 80 per cent of sign-ups.
An IDA spokesman said the fine imposed on OpenNet on May 9 was for failing to meet the regulator's Quality of Service (QoS) standards - before OpenNet was acquired by NetLink Trust, a business trust owned by SingTel.
He said: "The QoS framework is not a measurement of whether OpenNet has engaged in any anticompetitive conduct."
He added that "there is no monopoly enjoyed by OpenNet or, by extension, SingTel", as StarHub, M1, Verizon and BlueTel have also deployed their own fibre links in some commercial buildings.
"Business end users can decide which service provider they wish to take services from," he said.