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Weak phone signals in Tengah due to lack of infrastructure, distance from cell base towers


SINGAPORE: One home owner who wanted to visit his new flat in the up-and-coming Tengah town decided to cycle there on a rented bike.

But when Mr Sia reached his block, he realised he could not log into the bike-sharing app to lock the bicycle. His phone had no mobile signal.

The IT manager, who declined to give his full name, received the keys to his new flat in November last year. He visits the unit at Block 128A in Plantation Village occasionally while finalising renovation plans.

"The signal is so bad. I cannot get any StarHub or M1 signal in my home, at the void deck, at the corridor, at the car park, at open spaces," the 38-year-old said.

Other home owners in the area shared similar accounts, with the first-floor car park most commonly cited as a dead zone. Residents said their mobile signals returned only when they reached major roads. A TODAY article earlier this month highlighted that some residents were frustrated by the weak mobile signals.

Some residents at the 700ha Tengah town began collecting their keys from August last year.

As of end-January, two Build-to-Order (BTO) projects – Plantation Acres and Plantation Grange – have been completed. A third project, Plantation Village, is still under construction but residential blocks have been completed.

Out of the roughly 30,000 public housing units expected to be launched in Tengah, 2,908 households have collected their keys and began moving in, as of Jan 18.

Most of Tengah is still under construction, including another 20 BTO projects, a bus interchange at Tengah Boulevard and the Tengah MRT station. A neighbourhood centre is slated to open progressively from the second quarter of this year.

Home owners have complained of issues ranging from limited accessibility to a lack of shops.

In response, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) placed food and beverage vending machines in parts of the estate, deployed a mobile grocery truck service and expanded bus services for residents.

The housing authority noted in a factsheet issued last month that amenities and major transport facilities require time to build up in a new town, unlike BTO developments built within existing towns where developed infrastructure is already in place.

HDB will ramp up the number of flats by more than six times over the next four years, with another 19,100 units to be delivered to flat buyers in Tengah.



Poor mobile connectivity may stem from a lack of appropriate infrastructure, distance from existing cell base towers or congestion due to a rapid increase in users, experts said.

National University of Singapore's Professor Biplab Sikdar said the main reason was that infrastructure for the mobile phone network had yet to be fully deployed.

"In order to provide adequate coverage – coverage with good signal strength – base stations need to be put in appropriate places.

"With ongoing construction and buildings in progress, the telcos may not yet have access to the planned sites where their equipment needs to be installed," said the professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Base station antennas are generally placed on top of buildings, and in the case of Tengah, may mean rooftops of residential blocks.

Nanyang Technological University's Associate Professor A S Madhukumar said placement of base stations must be carefully planned to ensure optimal coverage and minimise interference, among other factors.

In a town still under construction, telcos could be prevented from placing base stations if buildings are not ready or if cables are not fully laid out, said Prof Sikdar.

Asked why existing infrastructure in neighbouring estates such as Bukit Batok is inadequate, the experts pointed to technical issues.

"The equipment in neighbouring estates may not have enough capacity to support the additional network traffic that is being generated from Tengah, said Prof Sikdar.

"The base stations also have a limit on their transmission power. Increasing the transmission power beyond that to increase coverage is not possible. Also, increasing the transmission power can create interference issues with other places."

Assoc Prof Madhukumar, who is from NTU's School of Computer Science and Engineering, said signal strength and coverage provided by nearby estates will weaken due to Tengah's distance, resulting in poor connectivity and unreliable services.

Terrain and physical obstructions between Tengah and existing towns may also hinder the transmission of signals, he added.


The rooftops of flats in Tengah and pedestrian pathways within the developing estate. (Photos: CNA/Koh Wan Ting)


Telecommunication companies told CNA that base stations have to be installed to improve mobile connectivity in Tengah. Access to rooftops, where base stations are located, is subject to HDB's approval.

A Singtel spokesperson said: "We understand the critical role that mobile connectivity plays and have been on standby and ready to install the necessary infrastructure to support the residents of Tengah.

"However, this is subject to approvals from HDB with whom we have been working closely with to obtain the necessary permits so we can better serve our customers there."

Starhub said it was coordinating with HDB's schedule for the installation of base stations in Tengah, aligning with the completion of housing estates.

"As these base stations are located on rooftops, such installation works can only be done when the construction of the roof is completed and HDB is able to facilitate access to the rooftops for such works," said a spokesperson.

"Our rollout plans are closely synchronised with HDB's schedule, to guarantee consistent and reliable connectivity for customers in Tengah as more housing developments are completed progressively."

M1 also said it was working with the Housing Board to install base stations to enhance mobile signals in Tengah.

CNA contacted fourth telco SIMBA but did not receive a reply.


Asked if there could be possible solutions to improve mobile signals in the interim, experts cited the deployment of temporary infrastructure.

A mobile cell-on-wheels, a portable unit which typically consists of a trailer or truck with cellular antennas, can act as a temporary mini cell site to improve connectivity, said Assoc Prof Madhukumar.

But these can be expensive and have limited coverage.

Meanwhile, a 30-year-old software engineer who has moved into his flat at Block 133C in Plantation Grange said the limited mobile connectivity is a small inconvenience for him as he has Wi-Fi at home.

The home owner, who declined to be named, has no mobile signal when he steps out of his home.

"Sometimes (we) need to text when going out of the home or walking to the bus stop, (but there is) no signal," he said.

"(We) will need to walk to the main road a bit, then can already."

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