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TPG gets green light to run localised 5G network; Singtel, StarHub-M1 confirmed as nationwide operators

TPG TELECOM, the fourth and newest mobile network operator in Singapore, will be able to deploy small-scale 5G networks when the fifth-generation wireless technology goes live here.

Although the Australian telco earlier lost its bid for one of Singapore’s two nationwide 5G licences, it has successfully applied for the millimetre-wave spectrum needed for localised networks, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said in an update on Wednesday.

TPG, which also has the option of leasing the nationwide network on a wholesale basis, added in a separate statement that it now expects to “roll out next-generation 5G services in support of new consumer and enterprise use cases”.

With this development, Singapore remains on track for nationwide 5G standalone deployment by 2025, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran confirmed in a statement. 

The IMDA will also open a 5G testbed at its 26,000 sq ft innovation space in one-north in September, , to help industry players develop new 5G solutions and build up technical capabilities.

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Virtual and augmented reality has been identified as an area of focus for the so-called “5G Living Lab@PIXEL”, with the IMDA citing the coronavirus pandemic-fuelled need for remote activities in sectors such as retail and construction as a driver for the technology.

Businesses taking part in the 5G trials at Pixel can build and test 5G-enabled devices and applications there, and get access to the space’s ecosystem of infocomm media startups.

Meanwhile, Singtel and a joint venture between StarHub and M1 have received final confirmation as the licence holders for the two nationwide 5G networks.

Singtel and StarHub-M1 bagged provisional licences in April to build and run the networks, which must roll out from early 2021 and cover the island by end-2025. They have since picked frequency spectrum lots and vendor partners, among the other required regulatory processes.

Singtel is in talks with Ericsson as the key vendor for both its 5G and localised networks, “with a view to finalising the contractual terms as soon as practicable”; StarHub-M1 is tapping Nokia as its preferred partner for the radio access network of the joint 5G network, subject to final contract.

StarHub is also working with Nokia on its localised network - which will be managed separately from the joint venture - and is looking at Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and others for other network elements.

Meanwhile, M1’s own localised network - again separate from the joint venture - will involve multiple vendors, such as Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei, “based on specific use case requirements”.

Separately, TPG said it will use Huawei’s network equipment to deploy 5G services.

New IMDA chief executive Lew Chuen Hong, who was promoted on June 20 after predecessor Tan Kiat How stepped down, said: “Our operators’ firm interest in deploying 5G is a robust signal of their confidence in the technology. ...

“I look forward to the innovative applications that will ride on our 5G networks, to bring enhanced consumer experiences, as well as seed new business models.”

The IMDA is also working on partnerships to train telecom professionals, fresh graduates and those switching careers for tech industry roles, ranging from 5G telco engineers to network consultants and drone operators. More details are expected to be released by the fourth quarter.

The final award brings to a close “a robust and rigorous” call for proposals, said Mr Iswaran. “We will build upon this infrastructure to create a vibrant 5G ecosystem, offering exciting opportunities and benefits for individuals, workers and businesses in Singapore’s digital future.”

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