State of LTE in Singapore

Singapore continues to have one of the fastest 4G LTE speeds in the world, by narrowly beating South Korea with an average download speed of 45.9Mbps. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore continues to have one of the fastest 4G LTE speeds in the world. It narrowly beat South Korea with an average download speed of 45.9Mbps, according to tech start-up OpenSignal's latest global LTE report, based on measurements from last July to September.

The city-state has consistently topped the table in LTE speeds measured by OpenSignal, which crowdsources its figures on telco signal quality and data speed from users who have installed its app on their Apple or Android smartphones.

But Singapore ranked sixth in 4G availability, with users getting an LTE signal 82 per cent of the time, against South Korea's 95 per cent.

OpenSignal predicts that countries will push past the 50Mbps mark because telcos are upgrading their networks with the latest LTE-Advanced technologies.

One such technology is 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, which has been used by Singtel in its LTE network to provide speeds of up to 450Mbps, from 300Mbps previously. This peak speed would let users download a full-length HD movie in less than two minutes.

The telco announced the upgrade earlier this year, noting that "it is a step closer to 5G".

However, only those with a compatible smartphone can enjoy the speed boost. At the moment, only the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are supported, though the LG V20 is expected to get a software update to enable this feature by the end of next month.

According to the phone makers, this speed boost requires a combination of hardware and software factors. The hardware component is present on many smartphones that use the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor as the LG V20, but they probably need software tweaks before they can benefit from the upgraded LTE network.

However, having a compatible device is no guarantee that you will get higher speeds.

After all, LTE speeds are also affected by how congested the networks are. Your device should show the 4G+ icon if it is within range of an LTE-Advanced network.

In my testing (by swopping the same Singtel SIM card between the unpatched LG V20 and the Samsung S7 edge), there was practically no difference between the two models during peak periods. I did the test in two locations.

Using the OpenSignal app, the Samsung S7 edge managed a peak download speed of 129Mbps at the Junction 8 food court at lunch hour, while the LG V20 managed 118Mbps. However, the average download speed of three readings was 99Mbps for the S7 edge and 97Mbps for the V20.

At the Westgate shopping mall in the evening, I managed to get an average download speed of 48Mbps and a peak reading of 67Mbps on the Samsung S7 edge. But the V20 managed an average of 108Mbps and a peak of 135Mbps.

In other words, like all networking technologies, you won't come close to the top speeds advertised. As the aggregated OpenSignal data showed, the average LTE download speed in Singapore was under 50Mbps, even though all three telcos have been operating 300Mbps-capable LTE networks since 2015.

All the telcos plan to improve their networks to 1Gbps by the end of the year. Singtel and StarHub have said they will offer such speeds at crowded places like the Central Business District, though the latter also added that the upgrade is dependent on the availability of spectrum and compatible phone models.

M1 says that with its heterogeneous network - that lets users hop between LTE and Wi-Fi networks - users will be able to enjoy up to 1Gbps speeds.

StarHub is also focusing on upload speeds, because mobile customers increasingly share high-definition videos and photos on the go.

According to its Head of Network Engineering, Mr Chong Siew Loong, StarHub is the first telco to triple 4G upload bandwidth to 150Mbps. This upgrade, which is available in Marina Bay and Orchard Road, will be rolled out to the rest of Singapore within the first half of this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline State of LTE in Singapore. Subscribe