Staying Connected
By Lim Yan Wen

You may be miles away from home, but in a telecommunications hub like Singapore, you can stay in touch with loved ones and remain connected to the rest of the world effortlessly.

The variety of telecommunications services in Singapore comes in handy when you suffer from those bouts of homesickness. There are so many ways to stay in touch with family and friends back home that the challenge is not with having a lack of options but with having too many choices.

Telecommunications
Most rented apartments should come with a phone line. If not, you should negotiate with your landlord to have a fixed line installed. In the event that you need to apply for a fixed line, you can do so with SingTel, which is the service provider that most residential owners use in Singapore.

All you need is your employment pass/work permit and passport to register at any of the SingTel Hello! shops or at SingPost branches located throughout the country. It takes about four working days to get the line activated. There is a one-time activation charge of $53.50 and quarterly subscription of $26.75. Work permit holders also need to pay a $200 deposit at the time of registration. You can also subscribe for phone services such as call waiting and call transfer. Visit SingTel's website (www.SingTel.com.sg) for more details.

However, a mobile phone is possibly the best way to stay contactable in Singapore. The three local mobile service providers are SingTel, M1 and StarHub. Each provider offers a wide range of service plans to suit your particular needs, so the best thing to do is check their websites for more information, or to consult their customer service representatives at the nearest available branch office.

Monthly subscription fees start from about $20 up to around $200, excluding a one-time SIM card and/or registration charge.

Some common terms and conditions apply:

  • For those just subscribing to a mobile plan, there will be a minimum subscription period of three months.
  • You will usually be required to sign a two-year service contract if you intend to get a new mobile phone at a promotional price together with your new mobile plan. You may incur a penalty charge for early termination of the contract, so be sure to check with the provider before making your purchase.

As usual, to apply for a mobile plan, you will need to bring along your employment pass/work permit, passport and proof of a billing address (such as a tenancy agreement or your latest utility bill).

Work Permit and Student Pass holders will need to pay a deposit of $200 and there will be no auto-roam service provided, regardless of which mobile plan you subscribe to. However, the deposit does not apply to P1, P2, PEP, Diplomat Pass, Non-Diplomat, TVP, Q1, and S Pass holders.

At this point, M1 and StarHub provide service plans that include free IDD service for calls to specific countries. This means that you will not incur IDD charges when you call these destinations. You only pay for local airtime.

For example, M1's SunSaver Plus and SunMax plans allow you to call 19 countries – including Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the UK, USA, and Vietnam – when you top up $5.35 per month.

StarHub provides the PowerCall, PowerPlay II, PowerTalk II and PowerTalk Ultimate plans, which all come with free IDD services to 14 countries, including Bangladesh, Brunei, Macau and Russia.

If you choose not to get such plans, you will have to pay the IDD charges, which can range from high quality to budget services. The rates will vary depending on which operator you use.

Besides mobile plans, you can also opt for prepaid cards where you "pay as you use". All you need is a mobile phone, your employment pass/work permit and passport to register with one of the providers at their official shops, eg, Hello! shops or M1 shops. You can purchase top-up cards at convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Cheers, which are opened 24 hours daily, or by topping up at bank ATMs, Self-service Automated Machines (SAM) or AXS stations (multi-application transactional terminals that come with debit cards, stored value cards and credit card payment facilities).

What's more, almost all prepaid plans are bundled with free IDD calls to specific countries, plus auto-roaming services.

Internet services
The internet service providers (ISP) in Singapore are Pacific Internet, StarHub, SingNet and M1.

Pacific Internet (www.pacific.net.sg)
Dial-up plans start as low as $5.30/month for 13 hours usage to $32.05/month for premium dial-up with unlimited access.

Cable broadband plans start at $25.58/month (6Mbps) for 20 hours usage to $124.12/month (30Mbps) for unlimited access.

StarHub (www.starhub.com.sg)
Dial-up plans start at $16.05/month for unlimited access.

Cable broadband plans (with unlimited access) starting at $59.92/month (8Mbps) to $124.12/month (100Mbps).

Pay-as-you-surf plans for light users i.e. MaxOnline FlexiSurf (by day or hour): 6,000Kbps for $2.50 per day of unlimited access or 1,500Kbps at $1.61 for each 3-hour block.

SingNet (www.singnet.com.sg)
Dial-up plans start at $10.17/month for 13 hours usage to $107 for unlimited access.

ADSL broadband plans (with unlimited access) start at $59.95/month (8Mbps) to $69.29/month (10Mbps), assuming 24-month plans.

M1 (www.m1.com.sg)
M1 customers are connected to the Internet by using plug-and-play devices that tap on 3G networks. Choose from three broadband plans, starting at $22.42/month (512Kbps) to $69.30/month (3,600Kbps).

Bear in mind that these prices are subject to changes due to stiff competition among the service providers. Look out for promotional prices from time to time from the websites or visit the shops, and be sure to take note of fine print in the terms and conditions!

Wireless@SG
As part of long-term plans to turn Singapore into an "intelligent island", free wireless broadband access was made available in public areas like the Central Business District and Orchard Road. Called the Wireless@SG programme, anyone can log into the wireless network with a WiFi-enabled device. You will need to register an account with one of the three providers (iCell, QMax, SingTel) and you can start using the free Internet service at designated locations. This service is available until December 2009. For details on registration and the hotspots, visit IDA website at www.ida.gov.sg.

Postal services
It may seem antiquated today, but there is still something immensely alluring about receiving a handwritten card or letter from someone far away. Postal services are available at all SingPost branches, and there are postboxes located at every MRT station. Alternatively, you can use SAM to weigh the mail or package (up to 2kg) and purchase the stamps. To find out the rates, visit www.singpost.com.sg.

Pay-TV
At the moment, only pay-TV offers regular programmes from other countries such as India, Germany and Japan in their native language. Free-to-air TV caters more to Singaporeans and as a result, generally broadcasts and produces programmes that reflect local cultures and interests more.

StarHub Cable Vision Limited (SCV) is the only cable television operator at the moment. It offers more than 100 channels for subscribers, including popular and well-known channels such as National Geographic Channel, Discovery Travel & Living, Bloomberg Television, Cartoon Network and MTV. In March this year, SingTel successfully clinched the deal to broadcast all UEFA Champions League matches next year. Prior to that, SCV was the only broadcaster of sports channels such as ESPN, Football Channel and Golf Channel. Some of the foreign channels that are available on SCV include TV5 Monde (France), NHK World Premium (Japan), and Sony Entertainment Television (India).

Subscription to StarHub's cable channels starts from $25.68 onwards. The various channels have been bundled as groups; you need to subscribe to a minimum of three basic groups before you can add other groups. Go to www.starhub.com for more details.

Mio TV by SingTel was launched in July 2007, and is a 24-hour pay-tv transmitted by SingNet's broadband network. At the time of writing, mio TV features 34 channels, including Asian channels such as Shanghai Channel, and international ones such as Deutsche Welle from Germany. You can mix channels based on preferences, as there is no bundling of channels. Prices start as low as $4.28 per channel for a month's subscription. Go to http://mio.SingTel.com/miotv/ for more details.

With these myriad options available for your entertainment and communication needs, technology has virtually shortened your distance with your loved ones at home.