News analysis

Singtel's new service could benefit niche users more

I do not need 10Gbps. That was my takeaway after spending a week with Singtel's new 10Gbps fibre broadband service.

The speed was indeed as good as Singtel promised. But despite my best efforts, I did not come close to fully utilising the 10Gbps bandwidth. And switching to 10Gbps would mean paying over three times the monthly fee of a typical 1Gbps plan for what amounts to a marginally better user experience.

But let's run through the numbers. To test the 10Gbps connection, I put it through various scenarios, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, gaming and video streaming.

For starters, speed test numbers on the computer screen were impressive: 8.2Gbps for downloads and 2.25Gbps for uploads.

Actual downloads were also exceedingly fast. A 4GB copy of Microsoft Windows 10 took just 15 seconds to download. The same file would have taken longer on a 1Gbps connection, but it would be under a minute, too.

  • Hardware used in the test

  • Singtel provides a Huawei optical network router for its 10Gbps subscribers.

    This router's 10Gbps Ethernet port should be connected directly to a 10Gbps-ready device or computer with a Cat 6 Ethernet cable.

    A second 802.11ac wireless router is included in Singtel's bundle, along with two Wi-Fi Mesh devices that improve the home Wi-Fi coverage.

    For my test, Singtel also provided me with an Apple Mac Pro and a Promise SANLink2 Thunderbolt 2 to 10Gbp Ethernet adapter ($869 on the Apple Store). The adapter converts the Ethernet signal to the Thunderbolt 2 interface used by the Mac Pro.

    PC users can upgrade their computers to support these high speeds with a 10GbE adapter (around $400).

  • Vincent Chang

The biggest challenge I faced in my testing was how I could fully utilise the 10Gbps speed.

Downloading a game from Steam seemed like a good gauge. To ensure the fastest possible speeds, I picked Singapore for the download region. Presumably, the game files would be hosted on a local server, resulting in faster download speeds than with an overseas server.

But it was still not fast enough to fill the 10Gbps pipe. The 15GB game was completed in around two minutes, with the speed peaking at 1.6Gbps.

Ultra-high-definition (HD) 4K videos on YouTube play almost instantly on the Singtel connection. It sounds good, but this can be achieved with a 1Gbps line, too.

Next up was downloading multiple files using the BitTorrent protocol. Again, I found that I was underutilising the 10Gbps line.

With over 30 simultaneous BitTorrent downloads, the computer showed an aggregate download speed of around 58MBps - not even close to using the full bandwidth of a 1Gbps connection.

I could increase the number of simultaneous downloads, but doing so highlighted another bottleneck: the computer's solid-state drive (SSD). A 10Gbps fibre service provides a data transfer rate of over 1,000MBps, which means the computer must have the latest SSD with fast write speeds to keep up with the download speed.

However, these SSDs are expensive and have limited capacity. My downloaded files quickly filled up the SSD. I had to transfer the files to a conventional hard drive, which took time, too.

Gamers who play online games seem like a perfect fit for a 10Gbps plan. Faster downloads for game updates would certainly benefit them. But if the game servers are located overseas, gamers may still suffer from latency issues, or the lag that one complains about in online games. This is because latency is also affected by geographical distances, which cannot be overcome by a 10Gbps line.

In fact, the latency of a United States-based game server was measured at around 250ms on the Singtel 10Gbps line, similar to what I got on a 1Gbps connection.

In short, 10Gbps is not for me, at least for now. But there are probably niche users, especially those who work with ultra-HD videos and photos, who could benefit from a 10Gbps service.

Those who have always wanted to host a private game or media server will surely find these 10Gbps plans attractive, especially with ViewQwest and SuperInternet offering 10Gbps uploads and static IP addresses.

Mr Ng Teng Siong, 40, is one such niche user. The Singtel product development manager has been testing the 10Gbps connection at home for about a month.

He said: "I'm using the 10Gbps fibre primarily for fast transfers of large HD videos and raw images for my freelance videography and photography work."

He plans to buy a 10GbE network attached storage device to share his files with clients and free up space on his Mac Pro computer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Singtel's new service could benefit niche users more Hardware used in the test'. Print Edition | Subscribe