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Outage outrage as M1, NetLink fibre issues add to lockdown pain

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Thousands of home broadband users have been left without a connection as they attempt to work from home during the "circuit breaker". Their difficulties highlight extra risks for the locally listed telcos, some of which have been outperforming the benchmark Straits Times Index (STI).

Singapore

THOUSANDS of home broadband users have been left without a connection as they attempt to work from home during the "circuit breaker". Their difficulties highlight extra risks for the locally listed telcos, some of which have been outperforming the benchmark Straits Times Index (STI).

Singapore on Tuesday saw its third major fibre service disruption since it imposed movement controls in early April. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has opened a probe into the prolonged outage at M1, as the Keppel Corp-owned telco's broadband services went down for at least a day and a half.

M1 did not reply to BT queries by press time. Its disruption, which was fixed only on Wednesday afternoon, came almost a month after StarHub users were plagued by spotty connections for more than eight hours.

Meanwhile, fibre provider NetLink Trust, which is grappling with a drastic fall in its ability to hook customers up to the nationwide broadband network, told The Business Times that it does not know when it will clear its order backlog.

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NetLink's ability to fulfil orders is still hobbled by restrictions on its foreign workforce, who are classified as construction workers and have been on stay-home notice since April 20.

NetLink's telco clients Singtel, StarHub and M1 have been contributing help from their own manpower pools.

The backlog of requests for StarHub broadband connections is decreasing and it is "working hard to fulfil all of these orders by the middle of next week", the mainboard-listed telco told BT: "Our engineers are filling the temporary gap and easing the fibre installation delays."

But, while NetLink has arranged to bring more foreign workers and other staff on board, it is now handling fewer than 200 orders a day. It had been handling an average of 600 a day before curbs kicked in. "NetLink does not have an estimated timeframe to complete service orders on hand," a spokesperson told BT.

The lack of Web access has been frustrating for telecommuting employees such as BT reader Yannick Foing, who has been bereft of connectivity since he and his wife moved into a new apartment at the end of April.

Although their Internet service provider provided the couple with unlimited mobile data, Mr Foing, who works in public health nutrition at a multinational firm, said "that does not cut it" for working from home.

"Using one only for a couple of working professionals with frequent video calls just does not work and we end up most of the time having to use our own data plan," he said.

As for the M1 disruption, an IMDA spokesperson told the press on Wednesday morning that the telecoms regulator "takes a serious view of any service disruption to public telecommunications, especially during the circuit-breaker period, where many are working and studying from home".

M1 did not specify the "network issue" behind its outage, nor did it give details on how many users were affected. It had about 224,000 fibre customers as at March 31, according to Keppel's financial statements. These would make up less than one-fifth of Singapore's 1.5 million residential and corporate wired broadband lines, based on the latest IMDA numbers.

"IMDA has commenced investigations into the disruption to M1's Internet services, and will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action should there be any lapses on M1's part," the agency added.

The country's longest fibre outage was in October 2013. Some 270,000 broadband, mobile and voice subscriptions in northern and western Singapore were affected for days, after a fire at a Singtel facility.

The regulator later levied a S$6 million fine over that incident, which took into account the alternative services and compensation offers that Singtel provided to affected users.

NetLink units are up 5.8 per cent this year, outperforming the 20.2 per cent decline in the STI. StarHub shares are down 0.7 per cent, while Singtel is down 19.9 per cent.

Read more: M1 broadband complaints continue despite telco saying services restored

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