The Business Times

Singapore could get more than two 5G standalone networks

Annabeth Leow
Published Mon, Jul 26, 2021 · 06:33 PM

A FRESH band of fifth-generation (5G) wireless spectrum could go up for auction in Singapore late this year, with all four telcos eligible to bid for the frequency, if the Singapore regulator has its way.

The latest auction is a new lifeline for Australian newcomer TPG Telecom, which last year missed out on bagging either of the two nationwide 5G licences that were then up for grabs. Incumbents StarHub and M1, which are rolling out a jointly-owned 5G network, could now also get the chance to build and run networks of their own if they make new bids as separate players.

Depending on the winners, mobile users here could then get a choice of more than the two 5G standalone networks.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said on Monday, as it announced a public consultation on the matter: "The availability of the 2.1 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum will help provide opportunities for growth for all mobile network operators (MNOs)."

Winning MNOs must deploy a new 5G standalone network that covers at least half the island by 2024 and achieves nation-wide coverage by 2027, under the terms proposed by the IMDA in its latest consultation paper.

The IMDA noted that the 2.1 GHz spectrum, now used for 3G wireless services, could also be used to enhance coverage and capacity for 3.5 GHz networks, such as in buildings and tunnels.


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The regulator had earlier awarded the 3.5 GHz spectrum to Singtel and a StarHub-M1 tie-up, with these two entities licensed to run Singapore's two nationwide 5G networks, which must offer full-fledged standalone coverage of at least half the island by end-2022, and nationwide coverage by end-2025. They can use the extra frequency to achieve this target.

Meanwhile, TPG Telecom was last year granted millimetre-wave spectrum, which is meant for smaller-scale hot spots, after failing to clinch any 3.5 GHz spectrum.

The upcoming 2.1 GHz spectrum would be awarded in what the IMDA dubbed a "market-based approach" for 12 paired lots of spectrum, unlike the first call for proposals for 3.5 GHz spectrum, which was likened at the time to a "beauty contest" that took into account not just bid size, but also factors such as bidders' financial capabilities.

Under the planned auction, bidders have flexibility to decide how much spectrum they need.

But the IMDA added that awardees "must meet baseline regulatory requirements, consistent with the requirements on holders of the first tranche of 5G spectrum". This includes the requirement to make 5G services available on a wholesale basis to other MNOs, or mobile virtual network operators that lease spectrum from MNOs.

While the 2.1 GHz allocation for 3G services is set to expire in end-2021, the IMDA plans to set aside some spectrum for the roughly 700,000 subscribers still on the older network, such as seniors, foreign workers, and inbound travellers. Still, it called the 4G network now in use "the 'anchor' mobile technology and service in Singapore for some years to come" and "well supported by multiple spectrum bands".

Ian Fogg, vice-president of analysis at industry research firm Opensignal, told The Business Times: "As 5G is much more efficient in its use of spectrum than 3G, reusing the current 2.1 GHz band from 3G to 5G will boost the capacity of mobile networks. As a result, Singapore's operators should be able to support more mobile data usage, improve speeds, and boost the overall mobile experience."

The IMDA is inviting comments from industry and the public until Aug 16 at noon.


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