Telcos install new devices for faster indoor surfing

Consumers can look forward to faster 4G surfing indoors as telcos here invest in new in-building technologies, which have become available only in the past year.

Unlike traditional 4G base stations for sending signals to mobile devices, new ones - dubbed small cells - are smaller and can be quickly installed without having to add cables. Therefore, landlords are more easily convinced to let telcos install more equipment, the companies said.

As early as January, M1, StarHub and Singtel started rolling out 4G small cells to boost network capacity, effectively doubling the speed of surfing in some buildings.

For instance, at the Basement One level of Paragon mall in Orchard Road, where M1 last month installed three small cells, 4G speeds for its customers have doubled to around 100Mbps.

"We need to bring up surfing speeds indoor to the same level as outdoor as people tend to congregate in foodcourts and cafes, resulting in high demand for mobile data there," said M1 chief operating officer Patrick Scodeller.

Over the next two years, busy buildings such as nex and Clementi Mall, as well as train platforms in Orchard Road, Raffles Place and Jurong East, among others, will also get a 4G speed boost, Mr Scodeller said.

The investment is part of M1's yearly $120 million allocated for network upgrades.

Specifically, 4G small cells are less than one-tenth the size of a traditional base station, which looks like a refrigerator, and can be mounted on the ceiling to save space. They can be installed in two to three days, compared with the three to four weeks required for a traditional base station.

StarHub in January fitted Marina Bay Sands with small cells, doubling typical 4G surfing speeds to 230Mbps.

Some 40 high-traffic commercial buildings and malls, including VivoCity, nex, Ion Orchard and Tampines 1, will also be getting a 4G speed boost by the end of next year.

"The range of radio transmission is often limited indoors, thus data speeds are lower than outdoors," said StarHub chief technology officer Mock Pak Lum.

Last month, Singtel installed additional 4G capacity at The Seletar Mall, VivoCity and Marina Bay Sands' foodcourt area. It said it will continue to roll out 4G small cells in high-traffic locations, including in nex, but would not reveal typical surfing speeds.

Senior analyst Clement Teo of US-based market research firm Forrester said telcos are investing to boost 4G surfing speeds indoors for better video streaming, for instance, as there are commercial incentives to do so.

"The more mobile data users download, the more they pay," he said, adding that 4G small-cell technologies have also matured significantly to convince telcos to make the investment.

Events project consultant Roy Nahar, 35, said he looks forward to the upgrade. "I hope surfing slowdowns due to network congestion will no longer happen," he said.

This article was first published on June 1, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.