Friday, 25 April 2014

IDA steps in over 4G 'add-on' confusion

Only new or re-contracting customers will be affected by service charges
By Irene Tham and Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2014

ALL three telcos have decided not to charge customers on contracts for their 4G "add-on" services after the industry regulator intervened.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is also looking to introduce new regulations to tighten the process of information disclosure by telcos when signing up customers.

This is after recent confusion over and complaints about the way telcos package 4G services, which offer two to four times the speed of 3G.

Unlike in most other countries, telcos here are choosing to package 4G services as an "add-on" to 3G plans, and many customers were unaware that the price of their 4G service could change even before their contracts ended.

Many were thus taken by surprise when StarHub announced plans on April 15 to charge for the 4G add-on, which it has been offering for free, as do SingTel and M1.

But after IDA's intervention, only new or re-contracting StarHub SmartSurf users will have to pay the promotional price of $2.14 a month from June 1 for the 4G add-on service.

SingTel and M1 also said yesterday any change in price plans or 4G promotions would apply to new or re-contracting customers.

In a statement late yesterday, the IDA said there was "significant consumer confusion" over the plans.

An online poll of almost 1,000 people by The Straits Times last Friday revealed that close to 90 per cent thought they had already bought a 4G mobile plan and did not know the service was merely an extra with a 3G plan.

The IDA noted that telcos "could have done more" at points-of-sale and customer interface channels to communicate their 4G pricing.

"Operators should not change prices mid-way that affect customers (on) contracts if they were not clear to customers upfront what those price changes might be," said the IDA.

The regulator noted it had clarified the matter with the three telcos, which "have since decided not to change 4G service prices for existing customers (on) contracts".

When contacted, StarHub said it has been "upfront with customers" since its 4G service launch in September 2012. Pricing and promotion expiry details have been made available in sales and marketing materials, as well as on its website, the telco said.

On a television talk show last night, Mr Leong Keng Thai, IDA deputy chief executive and director-general (telecoms and post), said: "We will be working on improving and tightening procedures at point of sale to ensure consumers are fully aware, and we will make it a regulatory requirement."

Specifically, the IDA wants telcos to highlight or provide a simple summary of the key conditions that may change halfway, and ensure consumers know what they are signing up for. This could include making consumers sign off on aspects of the contract that may change.

Mr Leong also defended the way telcos have been packaging 4G, saying since 4G networks do not carry voice today, with voice carried over 3G networks, 4G is "clearly an add-on".

Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon said not changing the prices mid-way "is a fairer way to deal with customers on contracts".

4G service: StarHub has been upfront with users

WE THANK Mr Albert Wong Kwan Wei ("Consider opening up telco market"), Mr Douglas Chow ("Can mobile users go back to 3G plans without breaching contracts?"; Forum Online) and Mr Foo Der Ho ("Telco's 'bait and switch' tactic?") for their letters on Tuesday.

We value our customers' feedback and understand their concerns about the new promotional rate for "4G Speed Boost". After careful consideration, we are further extending the free promotion to existing customers of our SmartSurf Lite/Value/Premium/Elite price plans till the end of their contracts.

With regard to this promotion, we have been upfront with customers. Details of the service, including pricing and promotion expiry, have been made available in our sales and marketing materials as well as on our website since its introduction in September 2012.

StarHub is committed to providing excellent customer service. We appreciate all feedback, which will help us improve our ability to serve customers better.

Philemon Foo
Corporate Communications Executive
ST Forum, 25 Apr 2014

StarHub first to announce end to free 4G promotion
By Joyce Hooi, The Business Times, Apr 17, 2014

StarHub has become the first telco to bite the 4G bullet, saying on Tuesday that it will start charging mobile subscribers $2.14 per month for using its 4G service in June this year.

Currently, all three telcos - StarHub, SingTel and M1 - offer 4G access as a free value-added service (VAS) to their mobile subscribers.

StarHub, for example, had been doing so since September 2012, giving its 3G customers access to 4G services for free as a promotion that was originally to run until year-end. It was then extended until end-May 2014.

From June 1, StarHub customers on the SmartSurf Lite, SmartSurf Value, SmartSurf Premium and SmartSurf Elite 3G plans will pay an additional $2.14 a month for 4G access.

Existing users can opt out of the service by responding to an SMS notification.

Customers on its SmartSurf HD plan will continue to have free 4G service.

A higher "usual price" of $10.70 per month also looms, as the monthly $2.14 fee is pegged as a "promotional rate" on StarHub's website. SingTel and M1 also cite a monthly subscription of $10.70 as their usual price.

StarHub's promotional rate of $2.14 will hold "until further notice", it said.

Over at M1, a spokesman said: "We waived our 4G VAS charge as a launch promotion of our 4G network in September 2012. We are currently reviewing our charges with the upgrade of our nationwide 4G network to support speeds of up to 150 megabits per second (Mbps) and the introduction of high-quality voice calls over our 4G network in the coming months."

According to M1's website, the monthly subscription for the 4G VAS is "waived until Dec 31, 2014".

At SingTel, the telco "regularly" reviews its price plans, it said yesterday.

"Our focus is on enhancing the mobile data experience for our customers by rolling out network upgrades, such as doubling the maximum speed of our 4G service to 300 Mbps later this year," its spokesman said. The SingTel website has the 4G service offered for free "till a date SingTel determines".

Competition in telco market set for a boost
IDA wants to woo more operators here and offer more airwaves
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2014

MOBILE consumers can look forward to more choices and faster mobile surfing, if plans to introduce more telco operators into Singapore's market come to pass.

In a bid to woo more mobile operators to start up here, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) - Singapore's telecommunications regulator - is looking to lay down new rules.

It also wants to offer more airwaves to boost the capacity of mobile networks for faster surfing.

One way for a new operator to ease into the local market is to buy airtime in bulk from the existing dominant telcos SingTel, StarHub and M1.

Mobile operators who do this instead of building physical mobile networks are known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). They are prevalent in the United States and Europe and include players like Britain's Tesco Mobile.

For instance, wholesale airtime prices, which are unregulated at present, could be regulated to prevent overcharging. The IDA could also offer discounts on airwaves to SingTel, StarHub and M1 if they are willing to sell airtime wholesale to MVNOs.

To date, there are six small MVNOs here serving niche markets. One is Philippines' PLTD, which bought airtime in bulk from M1 to launch Smart Pinoy prepaid card services, offering cheaper calls to the Philippines.

Together, MVNOs currently account for some 80,000 customers - less than 1 per cent of the 8.4 million mobile lines here.

An IDA spokesman said it wants to "inject more competition in the mobile market, which could lead to lower prices and more innovative services".

"Niche markets could also be better served," she added.

The MVNO model was first introduced here by British entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Group when it launched Virgin Mobile in 2001. It closed down barely a year into operations, citing weak market conditions.

But a lot has changed since then, said the IDA spokesman. "There are more business opportunities now with many people using mobile data."

Fibre broadband service provider SuperInternet has said it is interested in bundling broadband plans with mobile data and mobile talktime. Managing director Benjamin Tan says mobile plans available today are "too similar".

The IDA is also looking to allocate up to 450MHz of airwaves that could become available in the next six years to meet the growing demand for mobile data services.

IDA estimates that Singapore may require more than 1GHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2025. The regulator has allocated 270MHz, or a quarter of the 1GHz Singapore will need, to date.

SingTel, StarHub and M1 are reviewing the recommendations.

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