Saturday, April 08, 2006

StarHub gets dissed in Straits Times

An article appeared in the Friday, April 7, 2006 Straits Times headlined "Gamers upset about StarHub's sluggish broadband speeds".

As a long time subscriber, I can attest to the problem. I can also attest to the lack of any meaningful discussion of the problem. Networks are not mysterious beasts that defy management or description. They are collections of equipment, wires, and configuration instructions. When managed properly, they deliver excellent service in a reliable way.

There seems to be a confusion about the terms speed (capacity), reliability (packet loss), and latency (lag). The discussion with Starhub has degenerated to the "It's slow, no it isn't" level instead of focusing on the very real and measurable problem.

Let's look at the facts. Starhub offers various plans, supposedly with higher speeds for higher prices. However, they do not guarantee any additional bandwidth for traffic after it leaves the local loop connection at a subscriber's home. You may have a high speed circuit, but it is only high speed to the first router within Starhub's network. What happens after that is very much a matter of how badly they oversubscribe their equipment. There is no way that the aggregate bandwidth sold to subscribers is matched one for one in the backbone network of Starhub.

The situation gets even worse when considering overseas sites. Starhub purchases a certain amount of international bandwidth to connect subscribers in Singapore to overseas networks. Again, this bandwidth is oversubscribed at a certain rate, which results in the performance seen by subscribers. There are simple and free tools available on the net such as PingPlotter to graphically show how all these factors come into play to deliver the Internet experience.

What is particularly frustrating is that Starhub refuses to acknowledge subscriber complaints, even when backed up with evidence, and continues to insist that the problem must be at the subscriber end. When that excuse is proven false, they fall back on the minimum service standards published by the IDA.

The bad news for gamers is that the standard is so low for local connections, real time gaming will be barely be acceptable even if StarHub is meeting the standard. The international latency standard of 300msec makes gaming pointless.

One can assess StarHub's approach to the market by looking at how they sell their service. It is not by focusing on the quality, or latency, or reliability. It is by packaging "freebies" with 2 year contracts to lock subscribers in, regardless of the level of service provided. Once you sign the contract or accept the "freebies", you can complain all you want, but you no longer have a choice.

To tell a customer like Mr. Tan, who is already a MaxOnline 6500 subscriber, that he needs a faster service is just ignorant. What he needs is a better network service provider. As do we all.

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