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Home Broadband in Singapore: The Ultimate Explainer Guide for Consumers

If you’re new to Singapore, new to getting broadband for your home or just want to learn how to choose a broadband plan and make sure the internet works in your home, you’ve come to the right article!

Let’s first get some background around the state of internet access in Singapore today and how we got here.

The Singapore Home Broadband Landscape

Fixed broadband (i.e. broadband that connects fixed locations such as homes and businesses) in Singapore today is among the fastest in the world, with the nation’s median broadband speeds topping Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index in 2018 and continuing to do so as of February 2023.

Singapore’s internet access is also one of the most affordable in the world, ranking an impressive second when factoring speed and local prices. All in all, if you’re a broadband consumer in Singapore, you’re in a great place.

But how did this island city-state get its state of internet connectivity where it is today? How did internet access in Singapore evolve over time? And what is OpenNet or NLT?

Early Years: ADSL and Cable Internet Access

Back in the 1990s, Singapore wasn’t too different from the rest of the developed world. Like many other countries, the two most popular types of broadband service in Singapore were ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) and cable.

The term “broadband” in fact refers to internet services that are always on and faster than dial-up internet access. The latter needed to “dial” or make a call on a traditional telephone line every time you wanted to connect to the internet.

In 1994, telecommunications operator Singtel had launched SingNet, the first internet access service for the Singapore public, which used ADSL technology. This type of internet access also used telephone lines, which are ordinarily made of copper wire. At this point of time, a connection speed on ADSL could deliver a maximum of 5.5Mbps.

The next popular type of cable internet service, launched by Singapore Cable Vision (SCV), used coaxial copper cables to transmit data. These cables usually ran underground and were originally intended for television use. SCV was later acquired by and merged with StarHub in 2002, who continued providing cable modem internet services.

A Game Changer: The Next Gen Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN)

In 2007, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA)–the government body at the time responsible for regulating and steering Singapore’s telecommunications sector–took a major step in developing and investing in the NGNBN, a high-speed optical fibre network that would reach all homes and businesses in Singapore.

The NGNBN was not only a significant feat of engineering, it was also transformative in its regulations. To encourage competition in Singapore’s broadband market, this network couldn’t be built or owned by a single company.

Rather, the NGNBN would involve a new industry structure with separate layers of ownership and responsibilities: a Network Company (NetCo) would own, design, build, and operate the fibre network’s passive infrastructure (e.g. the physical fibre cables, manholes, ducts) while an Operating Company (OpCo) would run the active infrastructure (e.g. the switches and transmission equipment).

The NetCo and OpCo would then offer their services to retail service providers at regulated, non-discriminatory wholesale prices and these providers would be the ones providing broadband service to consumers.

This essentially allowed internet service providers to have equal access to the NGNBN network infrastructure and this separation model that was among the first to be introduced and successfully implemented in the world.

In 2008, OpenNet was appointed by the IDA as Singapore’s NetCo while Nucleus Connect was appointed as the OpCo in 2009. OpenNet was later acquired by a company called NetLink Trust (NLT) and NLT is to this day Singapore’s NetCo.

So for example, if some accident caused the underground fibre cables supplying internet service to an area in Singapore to be cut, it would be NLT’s role to repair the cables and restore service.

Thanks to the NGNBN, new and smaller internet service providers have been able to enter the Singapore broadband market, access the fibre network infrastructure, and provide fibre broadband services. This accelerated the uptake of fibre broadband, which could deliver internet access at speeds several times faster than ADSL or cable.

In 2014, MyRepublic launched a 1Gbps fibre broadband plan at $49.95/month–a price point that made fibre internet service comparable in cost to that of ADSL and cable connections.

Singapore Broadband Providers Today

At present, there are six fixed broadband providers in Singapore: Singtel, StarHub, M1, MyRepublic, ViewQwest and WhizComms.

The Present and Future of Fibre Broadband

Today, fibre broadband is the norm for Singapore consumers: the older services of ADSL and cable were phased out in 2018 and 2019 respectively.  You can easily get a 1Gbps fibre broadband plan now for less than $40.

The NGNBN has also continued to be put to good use, with service providers continuing to roll out greater and more competitive value offerings: Multi-gig fibre broadband plans of 2Gbps and even 10Gbps  are available to consumers. That’s some of the fastest home internet consumers can get on the planet.

If you’re thinking about the next step, optical fibre-based internet access still looks to be the broadband technology for the foreseeable future and the NGNBN will continue to be relevant. We are still exploring the potential of delivering broadband through fibre optics, with future network upgrades possibly offering speeds of 1,000Gbps or  1 terabit per second.

Understanding Your Home Internet Setup

understanding your Home Internet Setup

Before you start shopping and sign up for a broadband plan, let’s consider whether you have everything you need at home.

The Termination Point (TP)

Every home in Singapore should have a Termination Point (TP). This point typically looks like a mounted white plastic box and has an optical fibre cable emerging from it (a thin cable usually coloured yellow). This is the fibre cable that will transmit all your internet data.

Your home’s TP may have the OpenNet or NLT logo on its casing. That’s because the company is Singapore’s appointed NetCo and is responsible for installing and maintaining the TP for homes across the country as part of the NGNBN’s passive infrastructure.

It’s vital that your home has a TP installed and you know where it is as that’s the origin point of your home’s internet connectivity. If your TP is damaged or missing, you can contact NLT directly or you could inform your Internet Service Provider (ISP) of your issue when signing up for a broadband plan and your ISP can coordinate with NLT to fix it.

If your TP has been installed and your home is fibre ready, NLT would classify your home as “Home Reached”. If your TP hasn’t been installed or your home isn’t linked up to the NGNBN infrastructure yet, your status is described as “Home Passed”. Perhaps not the most intuitive terms to use but good to know if you ever need to work with NLT!

Now to get internet service into your home, the yellow fibre cable from the TP will need to be connected to a modem. In Singapore, your modem for fibre broadband is commonly known as the Optical Network Terminal (ONT).

If your TP is in an inconvenient or inaccessible location, it is possible to get NLT to physically relocate it at a cost to you. A cheaper alternative would be to run a longer optical fibre cable from the TP to the ONT and reposition the ONT to where you want it.

The Optical Network Terminal (ONT)

A modem is an essential part of every home internet setup. It acts like a two-way translator, converting data from a digital format (like what comes out from your computer) into another format that can be transmitted over cables and vice versa.

Traditionally, modems would convert information into analogue signals that could be transmitted over copper wires. For fibre broadband in Singapore, the ONT converts digital data into optical signals, which are basically light pulses that travel through optical fibre cables.

When you sign up for a fibre broadband service, your ISP will provide you with an ONT. To get your service activated, your ONT will need to be connected to your TP, which is why you need to know where it is and access to it shouldn’t be blocked.

If you ever have internet connectivity issues, you may also need to look at or restart your ONT when troubleshooting. When properly connected and working, your ONT should have a series of blinking green lights. A red light would indicate some sort of network issue.

In other words, keep the location of your ONT accessible. Should you change fibre broadband providers in the future, you may need to replace your ONT with that of your new provider’s.

Depending on your Singapore ISP, your ONT may have the Nucleus Connect logo on it. As mentioned earlier, Nucleus Connect is an OpCo in Singapore that manages the NGNBN active infrastructure. They would also provide the ONT device.

In your home network setup, your ONT will need to be connected via an Ethernet cable (also known to some as a LAN cable) to a router. As you’ll see, a modem and a router are two different devices that serve different functions. Some ISPs may combine the modem and router into a single device that they provide but these are commonly two different things.

The Wi-Fi Router

With the TP and ONT basically bringing internet connectivity into your home, it’s the role of the router (sometimes known as a “residential gateway”) to manage and direct it across all your household’s devices. As its name implies, a router essentially “routes” all the network data between your devices and the internet.

You could still access the internet by connecting a computer directly to your modem or ONT but then only that one computer in your household would be able to access the internet.

Contrary to what some people think, it’s not the primary role of a router to provide Wi-Fi, although consumer-grade routers are also usually wireless access points, providing the Wi-Fi network for your home.
So to get internet access, you can either plug your computer with an Ethernet cable physically to the router (the router should have several Ethernet ports) or access the router over Wi-Fi.
If you don’t have a Wi-Fi router, not to worry: most fibre broadband plans in the market will come bundled with a new Wi-Fi router.

If you already have a router or prefer to use a different router model, Singapore ISPs generally allow you to use your own Wi-Fi router if you’re only subscribing to their internet service. If you’re also subscribing to a digital TV service on top of your broadband from the same provider, you may have to use their provided device.

There are also router-free options such as MyRepublic’s “No Frills” broadband plan if you really don’t need a router with your internet service plan.

How to Choose the Best Broadband Plan For You

So you’ve got your TP and you know where you’re going to place your ONT and Wi-Fi router, now it’s time to choose the best fibre broadband plan (and ISP) for you. But there are a lot of options out there: what should you look at when shopping for an internet plan for your home?

What Internet Speed or Bandwidth is Enough? What’s 200Mbps or 1Gbps?

One of the main features of a broadband plan is its bandwidth or its maximum internet speed. It’s sometimes helpful to imagine internet connectivity like a water supply: a plan with bigger bandwidth is like having a larger pipe to your home, allowing you to download and upload volumes of data more quickly.

When you see terms like 200Mbps or 1Gbps, it basically refers to the amount of data per second your broadband connection can go up to. Like how you may measure water in terms of litres per second, your broadband is rated in terms of megabits (Mb) per second.

A bit is basically the smallest unit of computer information available. As an internet connection is about transferring volumes of data, it makes sense to measure its speed in how many bits it can deliver. Measuring internet speed in bytes has been done since the days of dial-up modems.

Now here’s where folks tend to get mistaken: one megabit is not the same as one megabyte (MB), a unit of storing data we’re more familiar with. For example, a minute of an MP3 song for example is usually about one MBs. And if you transfer a file from one computer to another, on the screen you’ll usually see that it’s transferring in bytes.

A byte contains 8 bits so an internet plan that’s 1Gbps or 1,000Mbps is actually equivalent to 125MB/s (not 1GB/s or 1000MB/s).

1Gbps fibre broadband plans are the standard in Singapore today and are suited for most homes and families. For example, Netflix recommends at least 5Mbps to stream full HD video and 25Mbps for 4K HDR video. Four people streaming 4K video simultaneously would mean you’d need at least 100Mbps total, plus any additional bandwidth you’d need for other internet applications

How often you or people in your household expect to download large files, such as movies, video footage or video game files, is a key consideration whether you’ll need a connection faster than 1Gbps.

If you’re a content creator, manage a media library or do a lot of data-intensive work from home, investing in a 2Gbps or the fastest 10Gbps plan may be a great choice.

Why Are Internet Plans in Bits and Not Bytes?

You may think it’s just an ISP marketing gimmick because the use of bits shows bigger numbers but the fact is that bits are a universal unit of data measurement. A bit basically tells a computer whether it’s a one or a zero.

Bytes actually came a bit later: under ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Exchange), eight bits of data were historically used to encode a single character of text, which is why a byte is eight bits.

Using bytes makes sense when it comes to data storage or memory units as you’d want to know how many characters you can put on a disk or a hard drive.

For internet speeds though, information is being transmitted in the form of many many bytes of data, sometimes out of order, before being assembled into byte units when it gets to your computer. As such, using bits when talking about internet data transfer speeds makes sense.

Should I Get a New Wi-Fi Router?

As mentioned earlier, your home router plays a key role in how internet connectivity is managed across your household’s devices and in providing your Wi-Fi. With most fibre broadband plans in Singapore today come bundled with a new Wi-Fi router, you won’t have to worry if you don’t have a router on hand.

If you do already have a Wi-Fi router, perhaps from an older broadband plan, you’d then need to compare certain Wi-Fi router features to see which model is better. If your wireless router is quite a few years old, it’s probably time to get a new one.

According to Consumer Reports, consumers tend to hold onto routers for as long as possible, with a fifth of consumers waiting more than four years to replace their router. That’s towards the end of the time window that router manufacturers recommend. Routers can also break down or reach the end of their life cycle, and models that are too old will stop receiving firmware updates and support.

Advancements in Wi-Fi technology also mean that wireless routers are constantly improving over time, with each new generation capable of delivering faster Wi-Fi speeds and better coverage. For example, if you have a Wi-Fi router that uses the older Wi-Fi 5 standard (also known as 802.11ac) instead of the latest Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax), it’s a good idea to upgrade to a newer model.

For a breakdown of how and why Wi-Fi 6 routers are better than previous generations, we have an helpful article here.

It’s generally a good idea to invest in a quality Wi-Fi router considering all your internet data traffic will be going through this device constantly and your household’s wireless connectivity depends on its performance.

Is a More Expensive Wi-Fi Router Better?

Routers are basically computers and like any piece of technology a more expensive model typically means better hardware components, better performance, and more features. 

For example, a Wi-Fi router that supports Wi-Fi 6 or the latest Wi-Fi 6E would be more expensive than an older generation router that is only compatible with Wi-Fi 5.

Like a PC, a router has hardware components like a CPU (Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random Access Memory) as it processes and manages the data in your home network. A higher priced router generally means more powerful or faster components. For some models, this can also mean more antennas to maximise your Wi-Fi connectivity or faster Ethernet ports.

A higher price point can also mean additional or more advanced software features such as better security standards, the ability to set up guest networks, parental controls and Virtual Private Network (VPN) support.

That said, it’s important to look at the exact specifications of a router to know what you’re paying for. For example, Wi-Fi routers of more reputable brands can command a higher price point even if their hardware and software features are quite similar to that of a less established brand.

Should I Get a Wi-Fi Router or a Wi-Fi Mesh?

For a more detailed explanation of how Wi-Fi mesh systems work and whether you should get one, you can read more here.

Generally speaking, a Wi-Fi mesh system is a great alternative to a Wi-Fi router if Wi-Fi coverage is your top priority. Compared to Wi-Fi routers that consist of only a single wireless access point, a Wi-Fi mesh system consists of a few satellites or nodes you can place around your home.

If there’s a location in your home that’s a Wi-Fi dead spot, you’d be able to add a Wi-Fi mesh node in that area or close to it to expand your Wi-Fi network to that specific area. This is more effective than adding a Wi-Fi repeater to a Wi-Fi router as the nodes of a Wi-Fi mesh are designed to support and reinforce each other’s Wi-Fi signals.

While Wi-Fi mesh systems can be more expensive than a single Wi-Fi router they often provide more reliable and better Wi-Fi coverage for larger homes or homes with more obstacles blocking Wi-Fi signals.

If you’re someone who hates how ugly some Wi-Fi routers are and wants your wireless access points to blend in with your house decor, you may be glad that Wi-Fi mesh systems are typically smaller than routers and are designed to be inconspicuous.

Should I Get a Bundled Item with My Broadband Plan?

Besides a new Wi-Fi router, broadband plans in Singapore sometimes come bundled with a digital lifestyle product or tech gadget. These can range from computer tablets to gaming chairs to smart home appliances.

If you’ve been meaning to get one of these items anyway, or know someone who could use one, this makes a convenient two-in-one package.

Just be sure to look at what monthly subscription price you’ll end up paying every month. Some bundles have a monthly cost much higher than the individual broadband plan’s usual price to absorb the cost of the item while others don’t, and some just a little more.

In other words, whether you should go with a bundle or not really depends on your personal preference and budget: Some of you may appreciate paying in what are effectively instalments for a device you want; others may prefer to purchase the item separately at a lower total cost but higher upfront payment.

Does My Broadband Plan Include a Phone Line?

Many broadband plans in Singapore today come with a free digital home phone line, although it’s best to check the exact details of the promotion with the ISP you’re signing up with.

Unlike older technologies like ADSL, a digital phone line or home voice service runs on top of your fibre broadband service, and your phone will be connected to your ONT. This technology allowing you to make calls using your internet connection is also known as Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP

VoIP home lines can support many features such as number porting, Caller ID, Call Forwarding and international calls (also known as IDD or International Direct Dialing) and are generally more cost-effective than traditional phone lines.

How Long is a Singapore Broadband Contract?

The most common length of a consumer Singapore broadband contract is two years i.e. 24 months. That’s the longest length of a contract any consumer is able to sign at one time per local regulations. A two-year broadband plan usually means the lowest monthly subscription.

Depending on the ISP, there are also broadband plans with shorter contract lengths like 12 months and even “Contract-Free” or “No Contract” plans which are essentially the most flexible plans, allowing you to cancel after 3 months. These would be ideal if you’re temporarily renting a place or may be moving house soon.

What’s a Gaming Broadband Plan?

A few Singapore ISPs do offer gaming-focused broadband plans. Designed for online gamers, these plans typically feature certain network optimisations or added services that offer lower latency to overseas gaming servers and come with higher performance Wi-Fi routers.

These gamer-centric broadband plans may also come bundled with gaming equipment or accessories suited for PC gamers.

While a regular fibre broadband service is perfectly fine and can perform well for online gaming, these plans are great for gamers looking for an extra competitive edge or those who are looking to upgrade their gaming setup.

Are There “Hidden Fees” To Look Out For?

Singapore ISPs are expected to be transparent regarding what fees you’ll need to pay when you sign up, especially when you’re signing up online directly through their website.

For all Singapore ISPs, there is generally a standard one-time “NLT service activation” fee of $57.24. NLT, as mentioned earlier, is the company that operates the NGNBN passive infrastructure and is responsible for ensuring things on the backend operate properly. All Singapore ISPs basically rely on NLT to activate the service line to your home before the ISP can provide their service, which is what the charge is for.

Additionally, there’s usually a one-time service installation fee required to cover the costs of a service technician going to your home to set up your ONT and any Wi-Fi router you purchased.

These two fees are the most common and standard across all Singapore ISPs, assuming you’re only signing up for home broadband and no additional Value Added Services (VAS), which may have their own setup charges.

Can I Use My Home Broadband for Business?

If you’re a freelancer or running your own business from your home i.e. a residential address, you could use your home broadband service for your business needs.

For example, if you’re using a room in your home for your business office, there should be no issues using a consumer broadband plan in terms of bandwidth or in signing up for the service.

It would however not be possible to use a consumer or home broadband plan for your office or commercial address. NLT has a database of which Singapore addresses are residential and which are businesses. Depending on your address classification, NLT has different charges when it comes to activating the service line.

As all Singapore ISPs rely on NLT to activate the fibre line to an address before the ISP can provide their broadband service, the ISP would only be able to provide business services to that address.

Getting Your Home Broadband

Let’s say you have an ISP and fibre broadband plan in mind, how do you order it and get your internet service activated?

Sign Up Online, In-Store or at an Event Booth

Today, all Singapore home broadband providers offer some kind of online sign-up option, allowing you to sign up through their website. This includes uploading all of the necessary documents and scheduling your service installation date.

If you prefer in-person support or want someone to walk you through the sign-up process, most Singapore ISPs have their own brick-and-mortar stores as well as authorised retailers. You should be able to find a store locator directory on an ISP’s website, this is MyRepublic’s for example.

Another option is to sign up at an event such as a roadshow or a consumer tech exhibition. While roadshows can be hard to predict, there are a few regular large-scale exhibitions in Singapore that are centred around IT and the digital lifestyle such as such as the IT Show, the PC Show, COMEX and SITEX. ISPs usually have a booth at these events with limited-time offers.

What Do I Need to Sign Up for Fibre Broadband?

First off, you’ll need to make sure that your home is connected to the NGNBN infrastructure and your TP is working. To check that your address is fibre-ready, you can use the NLT coverage checker here.

In Singapore, the person signing up for the broadband service also has to be at least 18 years old. This will be the person that the service account will be registered under.

To sign up, you should also prepare a few documents such as valid identification (for example, your NRIC or employment pass with at least 6 months validity) and proof of your billing address (for example, your legal tenancy agreement, power bill statement or bank statement).

It’s best to double-check with the ISP you’re signing up with what documents they are able to accept. Here’s an example of the documents MyRepublic accepts.  

When Can I Get My Broadband Service Activated?

The exact time can vary depending on which ISP you signed up with and how soon they are able to process your order.

Generally speaking, if your TP is working, your documents are accepted, and there are no backend or technical issues that NLT needs to resolve, you could get your fibre broadband service activated within 2 weeks.

If you have an existing broadband service running in your home, it’s advisable to keep it on until the new service comes on just in case there are any unexpected issues. While the chances of a delay are relatively small, you wouldn’t want to be left without any internet service.

Once the ISP’s technician arrives at your home and sets up your ONT and Wi-Fi router (if your ordered plan includes a router), you’re good to go!