[SINGAPORE] Singapore Telecommunications Ltd is downplaying the necessity for more competition in the city-state just as the regulator is gearing up to award a license to a fourth carrier.
"We don't believe there's a need for a fourth operator," Chua Sock Koong, chief executive officer of Singapore's biggest phone company, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday. "Even without a fourth operator, consumers in Singapore are already spoilt for choice," she added, pointing to the level of pricing and service among existing carriers.
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore proposed earlier this year to release additional spectrum to allow a fourth entrant. Fresh competition for Singtel, StarHub Ltd and M1 Ltd will bring down the cost of mobile Internet access and improve the service in the city-state, it said, without giving a specific timeline.
With half of the country's 5.6 million residents carrying at least two devices, download speeds at several shopping malls have slowed, according to a survey conducted by The Straits Times newspaper in June. The cost of wireless phone service is also higher in Singapore than a dozen other Asian markets including Hong Kong, South Korea and China, according to a 2014 World Economic Forum report.
Singapore's mobile-phone penetration rate was 149 per cent in August this year, compared with less than 100 per cent a decade earlier, according to the regulator's data, with some people holding multiple subscriptions. High-speed mobile data users on third- or fourth-generation and commercial Wi-Fi networks reached 10.3 million in the same month, almost double the city's population, according to the regulator.
Adding a fourth mobile-phone operator will give Singapore more carriers than China or Japan, which both have far greater populations. Still, with the nation that's smaller than the size of New York City, rolling out another network would be far cheaper than the billions of dollars needed in larger countries.
Shares of Singtel, which relies on Singapore for less than half of its pretax profit, fell by less than 1 per cent this year. StarHub declined 11 per cent and M1's slid 23 per cent, and both companies are largely single-market operator. The Singapore benchmark Straits Times Index has lost 12 per cent.
"We will take competition seriously," Chua said. "We will prepare ourselves for that."