(Almost) Free broadband for some in Singapore


Singapore-based telecom company StarHub recently announced that it will be offering one year of free broadband access to selected web sites and online services.

In an effort to “encourage dial-up Internet users to discover the benefits of unlimited broadband access,” StarHub is now offering a free 4 Mbps broadband connection to anyone who purchases a $50 cable modem from them. (So technically the service is not free.)

But as they say, you get what you pay for, and the free service has its own restrictions.

The promotion is just an attempt to convert people who feel they can stick with dial-up. According to the Straits Times, “The plan, according to StarHub at least, is to entice users to sign up later for its paid broadband services.” Once users come to taste the benefits of broadband, then they will feel like paying for a premium service.

A regular plan with unrestricted 4 Mbps service will cost S$58.80 (US$37.14) per month; 30 MBps service is S$121.80 (US$76.94). StarHub is the #2 broadband Internet provider in Singapore, with a 46% market share. Former government monopoly SingTel leads Singapore’s broadband market with a 53% market share.

SingTel’s nationwide Magix service, which debuted in 1997, was the first commercial ADSL deployment in the world. Since its company launch in 2000, StarHub has been providing them fierce competition. As the Straits Times points out, StarHub’s introduction of free restricted-access service is just the latest volley in Singapore’s broadband price wars.

The so called free service will restrict access to a limited number of popular web sites and services, including Windows Live Messenger, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail. Access to StarHub’s Games-on-Demand service and Play Music portals will allow access to broadband entertainment.
Users will also be able to play Maple Story (Southeast Asia edition). Maple Story, the world’s first side-scrolling MMORPG, is free to play and to download. Created by a Korean software developer, the Southeast Asian version of the game commands a following of 550,000 players in Singapore and Malaysia alone. 50 million users worldwide play the different regional versions of the game.

StarHub’s free connection will also allow access to ASKnLearn‘s free e-learning portal; all “.edu.sg” domains, including the Ministry of Education web site; and all government agency web sites hosted on “.gov.sg” domains.



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An interesting note about this ‘price-war’ on broadband and cellular service between SingTel and StarHub is that they are both state controlled companies. The market division between them is clear – StarHub focuses on the younger, IT-savy crowd and SingTel keeps the older part of the population. Net results are, like so often in Singapore, that the money ends up in government coffers.

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