Not ready for 3G

With the cessation of the 2G network next month and the termination of analog broadcasting by year end, some people have to force themselves to upgrade

Retiree Evelyn Lee, 80, does not know when her new smartphone is switched off and when it is just in sleep mode. She even has problems locking and unlocking the device.

Confused by the many apps and features, she adds: "I wish I could just use my old phone. But the network is being terminated, so I have no choice but to upgrade."

She switched from a 2G mobile phone to a smartphone three months ago in anticipation of the cessation of the 2G network here next month.

Hers was among the 136,300 or 1.6 per cent of Singapore's mobile phone subscriptions that were still on the 2G network as of November last year.

2G mobile phones are generally used only to make calls and send and receive SMSes. They are not practical for accessing the Internet or social media, as they take too long to load webpages.

Another 2G phone user is Madam W.L. Wong, 76, whose Nokia 5220 is so old that two of its buttons have fallen out.

  • Making the switch

  • 1. What to do if you are still using analog TV signals

    Analog TV channels in Singapore will be switched off at the end of this year.

    If you do not have a digital set-top box or a digital-ready TV, and are not a pay-TV subscriber, you will not be able to watch free-to-air TV channels after that.

    If you are a StarHub TV or Singtel TV subscriber, you do not need to do anything as you are already watching digital TV.

    If you are not a subscriber, existing TV sets can still be used to watch free-to-air digital TV channels, but you will need to buy and connect a digital set-top box and an indoor ultra-high frequency antenna to the existing TV set.

    For instance, a Draco DVB-T2 digital receiver, which comes with a built-in digital antenna, costs $99 at Courts.

    If you have a TV set with a built-in digital tuner, all you need to buy is an indoor antenna, which costs around $39.

    The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has a help scheme for low-income families to make the transition from analog to digital TV.

    Each eligible household will receive a free digital set-top box, an indoor antenna and installation service. Application forms are available at community centres or clubs and HDB branch offices.

    Singaporeans are automatically included in this scheme, if they meet the scheme's eligibility criteria, and live in a one- or two-room HDB rental flat or receive assistance from the IMDA-Home Access Programme, Comcare, Community Health Assist Scheme, Singapore Indian Development Association, Mendaki or Chinese Development Assistance Council.

    These people would have received notification letters from IMDA and are advised to contact the appointed vendor, M1 Limited, for the installation of the digital TV equipment.

    2. What to do if you are still using a 2G mobile phone

    All three telcos - Singtel, M1 and StarHub - will pull the plug on 2G services from April 1. After that, all mobile phone users have to use the 3G and 4G networks to make calls and send and receive SMSes.

    To access the more advanced networks, you have to retire your 2G handset and use a 3G- or 4G-ready handset.

    Singtel, M1 and StarHub are offering 3G and 4G handsets that cost little or even nothing to their post-paid customers, even those on lower-tier plans.

She says in Mandarin: "One of my relatives gave me a Xiaomi phone to use once April comes around. I don't really know how to use this new phone. But what can I do? I have to learn how to use it."

People such as Ms Lee and Madam Wong could, unkindly, be called technology laggards. In fact, they have few tech needs; Facebook, YouTube and selfies mean nothing to them.

Mostly retirees, they are also perfectly happy to not watch their television programmes in high-definition digital images because their old analog TV sets continue to serve them well.

But two impending developments in Singapore's relentless technological march forward are forcing this group to make the difficult switch to newer technologies, however unwillingly.

Next month marks the end of 2G mobile services here. By the end of the year, analog TV will go too.

It is bad news for this technology-unsavvy bunch. But the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and other organisations are trying to reach out to and help the technologically backward.

IMDA has required that mobile operators M1, Singtel and StarHub ensure their 2G phone users will not be worse off in the transition to 3G and 4G networks.

All existing 2G subscribers, for example, can continue on their monthly 2G subscription plans on the 3G network with no increase in cost and no requirement to re-contract, says the authority's spokesman.

And mobile operators are offering a range of inexpensive 3G and 4G handsets, adds the spokesman.

The authority has also instructed mobile operators to reach out to all 2G subscribers to inform and help them with the transition, such as through direct calls, media advertisements and roadshows.

For the rest of this month, consumer education will also be ramped up to include broadcast infomercials over TV and radio, says the IMDA spokesman.

Regarding the termination of analogue broadcasting, the authority has a digital TV assistance scheme which has benefited 52,212 low-income households so far, providing each of them with a free digital set-top box and indoor antenna.

Since last month, the authority has also conducted door-to-door visits to these households.

One of the scheme's beneficiaries is retiree Ong Ah Tee, 76, who lives in a two-room HDB flat in Sengkang.

Since receiving a free set-top box and antenna last month under the assistance scheme, she has had no problems watching her usual TV shows such as Chinese TV series Sound Of The Desert and local drama Dream Coder.

That is because her son, businessman Danny Toh, 45, helped her connect the devices to her TV set. Now she needs only to switch on the TV the same way as she has always done.

Switching over to a 3G phone has been harder for her.

Her son bought her an Ino CP100 phone - a 3G phone - and taught her how to use it.

She says in Hokkien: "I prefer my old 2G phone, but I have to use this new one or I won't be able to call anyone at all.

"To be honest, new technology scares me. But my son spent a lot of time teaching me how to use this phone, so I slowly learnt to use it."

Digital can wait

Analog free-to-air television broadcasting will cease by the end of this year.

Until then, retiree Tommy Chua, 72, intends to keep watching TV news, travel and variety shows the only way he knows how - via his four-year-old TV set that is plugged into an indoor cable point on his wall to receive free-to-air channels.

"I don't know much about digital TV," says the Singaporean. "I will worry about what to do when the time comes. For now, I am still getting the programmes perfectly."

His neighbours have suggested he could buy and connect a digital TV set-top box and indoor antenna to his TV set in order to receive digital TV signals, but he refuses.

"I still don't see the need to do it," he says. "My TV is working."

The grandfather of one lives in a four-room HDB flat in Bukit Merah with his wife, 68, an assistant at a pharmacy, as well as a daughter, 40, and son, 39.

Why do I want to take photos of myself all the time?

RETIREE TOMMY CHUA,on not using the camera function of his smartphone for selfies

Mr Chua and his wife are also slow to pick up the latest technology in other areas - she uses a Nokia 105, a 2G phone with no camera.

They do not know how to use a computer or surf the Internet and do not want to learn. Their children have also noted their resistance to learning to use technology and do not force them to change.

Acknowledging that his wife will have to get a new phone by next month, when 2G networks will cease operation, Mr Chua says: "I don't think she wants a new phone. But we have no choice, we have to adapt."

He owns a four-year-old Nokia 208, which can connect to 3G networks, but he uses it only to call relatives, friends and ex-colleagues.

"I can read SMSes, but I don't know how to reply to them. Whenever someone sends me an SMS, I call the person back."

Although his phone is equipped with a camera, Mr Chua does not use it. The word "selfie" is entirely foreign to him.

"Why do I want to take photos of myself all the time?" he asks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Not ready for 3G'. Print Edition | Subscribe