1 in 6 users on line-only mobile plans: IMDA survey

Poll also shows rise in satisfaction over price and quality, but hotline wait times a bugbear

One in six mobile phone users in Singapore is opting for a line-only plan, an official consumer awareness and satisfaction survey shows.

This is the first time the popularity of these plans, which were introduced in 2015, has been made public. The plans do not come with a subsidised mobile phone and are thus cheaper.

Telcos have hitherto kept under wraps the number of their post-paid subscribers on line-only plans, owing to the commercial sensitivity of the information.

Between March and May this year, regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) surveyed about 1,500 households. The last such survey was done in 2014.

The new survey shows an overall increase in consumers' satisfaction with the quality, price competitiveness and customer care services of Singapore telcos in the past four years. But consumers also highlighted the need to reduce hotline waiting times and proper follow-up to settle complaints, among other issues, the IMDA said yesterday.

Ms Aileen Chia, IMDA's deputy chief executive and director-general of telecoms and post, said these are "encouraging signs pointing to a positive attitude towards a digital future". The findings also reflect "a willingness of our service providers to meet consumers' rising service quality expectation", she added.

M1 was the first to roll out line-only mobile plans, in July 2015.

It offered a 5GB mobile data bundle, 300 minutes of talk time and 1,000 SMSes and MMSes for $30 a month. The package was less than half the prevailing price for a similar plan at that time.

Rivals Singtel and StarHub followed suit later that year, offering more discounts for line-only plans.

The telcos' moves came at a time when Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi, Huawei and OnePlus were rolling out low-cost models so that consumers need not sign expensive two-year mobile service contracts in exchange for massive subsidies for their smartphones.

After new virtual mobile telco Circles.Life launched in Singapore in 2016, competition intensified further, as all the telcos slugged it out to retain customers.

For instance, one key improvement was the return of unlimited mobile data features and plans to cater to data-heavy users.

The move reversed a trend which saw telcos offering smaller data bundles; this started in 2012 when 4G services were launched.

This could have contributed to mobile data services showing the biggest jump in consumer satisfaction compared with other services - such as fixed-line telephone, mobile telephone, fixed broadband, and international roaming services - in the latest IMDA survey.

Respondents were also more satisfied with the price competitiveness of most telecommunication services this year compared with 2014.

Close to one in five respondents said they could not replace traditional mobile voice call services with similar Internet voice services provided by apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger - although most said they could make do with Internet calls.

Even more people, nine in 10, said they could replace SMS with text messaging services provided by messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 1 in 6 users on line-only mobile plans: IMDA survey. Subscribe