Singapore among world's top adopters for speedy 4G data plans

The greater surfing speed and a subsidy are coaxing smartphone users to ditch their generous 3G data plans for new 4G handsets.

Their move has put Singapore among the global leaders in 4G adoption, behind South Korea, the United States and Japan, in that order.

With more than 881,000 4G customers as at end-March, Singapore's 4G penetration rate is 11 per cent.

"Most of Europe is still in the low single digits," noted senior manager James Ong, of telecommunications consultancy Delta Partners.

Singapore has more than eight million mobile subscribers as at end-March, according to latest figures from the Infocomm Development Authority.

This means one out of every nine mobile subscribers is surfing on 4G networks, which are about four times faster than 3G ones.

But South Korea leads, with almost half of its mobile subscribers on 4G plans.

The US is next, at 18 per cent, followed by Japan, at 16 per cent, said Mr Ong.

The Singapore penetration rate, however, is "accelerating" with the availability of more 4G handsets, all three telcos - SingTel, StarHub and M1 - told The Straits Times.

It has been the trend for the past six months, according to senior analyst Clement Teo from research company Forrester.

New 4G phones go beyond the premium models such as iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, each of which retails for more than $900 without subsidy.

They include mid-range handsets as well, such as Samsung Galaxy Express and Sony Xperia SP. Both sell for about $600 each without subsidy.

Since last September, the telcos have tied their subsidised phones to new contracts with data bundles capped at lower levels, starting from 1GB.

Previously, most mobile plans had a data cap of 12GB or allow unlimited data access.

But many smartphone users are like civil servant Koh Wei Ming. The 30-year-old gave up his 12GB 3G phone for a 4G plan with a 3GB data cap so that he could buy a new but subsidised iPhone 5.

"The downside is I have to monitor my usage to ensure I don't bust my limit," he said.

Researcher Solomon Chang, 36, however, noted: "Even if I bust my limit, $5 for an extra 1GB used is not expensive."

He owns a 4G phone with a data plan capped at 3GB.

But businessman Paddy Tan values his unlimited 3G mobile data bundle, which he needs for checking his e-mail and WhatsApp and making Skype calls.

He has been subscribing to the same $98 per month plan for the past six years.

Said the 38-year-old: "I don't see the need for 4G, which drains the phone's battery life and is not available in MRT tunnels and many places."