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No deal with telcos for Sports Hub yet

Walkie-talkie operator might join the fray with stopgap solution

[SINGAPORE] With weeks to go before the start of the Singapore Sports Hub's soft launch in mid-April, none of the three telcos have a deal with systems integrator Consistel for mobile coverage at the sporting arena, yet. Even so, a walkie-talkie operator might step into the breach, providing a stopgap solution.

Currently, the telcos - SingTel, M1 and StarHub - "remain in commercial discussions" with Consistel, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) told The Business Times yesterday.

BT understands that the operators have been negotiating with Consistel on a separate, one-on-one basis. While the S$1.33 billion Sports Hub has mobile coverage in some parts - probably spillover coverage from base stations elsewhere - full coverage might elude it unless a resolution or workaround is reached.

Consistel, a firm based here, was commissioned to build and host the Sports Hub's wireless systems, including 3G and 4G equipment. Use of the equipment was supposed to be leased to the three mobile operators.

Instead, a stalemate between the telcos and Consistel occurred, and in January, the telcos implied in a joint statement that they were unable to agree on costs and terms with Consistel. IDA had to intervene, ordering the mobile operators to make sure that mobile services will be available by the time the Sports Hub opens to the public.

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"IDA understands that the mobile operators are implementing measures to ensure that mobile services will be made available by such time," it said yesterday.

When contacted yesterday, the telcos and Consistel declined to comment. An M1 spokesman said: "We are unable to comment on this matter due to confidentiality obligations."

Masoud Bassiri, Consistel's chief executive, did say, however, that Consistel's own system - the final mile network - is "live" and "transmitting". The network is "ready to provide coverage for any service provider with compatible frequencies", he said.

Now, another operator that would otherwise have been supplementary to proceedings might play a leading role. Grid Communications, a walkie-talkie communications firm, has signed a "full neutral hosting agreement with Consistel", for the Sports Hub, according to Mr Bassiri.

While Grid had originally intended for its services to run parallel to that of the telcos', it might now get to plug gaps in communication thanks to the prolonged telco-Consistel negotiations. Ongoing work at the Sports Hub is being carried out without full mobile coverage.

With Grid, users have the option of subscribing to the firm's Phone Connect service on top of the conventional walkie-talkie function so that they can make and receive calls from other normal phone numbers, using the walkie-talkie.

According to Grid's CEO, Lim Meng Poo, some walkie-talkie sets were loaned to Sports Hub management on Monday as part of a trial which he hopes will result in a subscription deal with them. Grid moved its equipment into the Sports Hub last Friday, and its service now covers 70-80 per cent of the premises, he said.

Before Grid's involvement, the people working on the Sports Hub had communicated on short-range walkie-talkies. "They didn't have a full wireless communication system to help them in their construction," Grid's Mr Lim said.

In response to BT's queries, Philippe Collin Delavaud, the CEO of SportsHub Pte Ltd (SPHL) - the group contracted to build and operate the Sports Hub - said yesterday that it will make a joint announcement with Consistel today about mobile coverage. BT understands that this announcement could be related to Grid's involvement.

"I can confirm that SHPL is currently working closely with mobile operators to finalise plans on providing mobile coverage at the Sports Hub in time for opening," Mr Delavaud said.

While Grid's service will most likely be used for the Sports Hub's coordination purposes, Mr Lim conceded that the walkie-talkies could, theoretically, double up as mobile phones for anyone subscribing to Grid's Phone Connect service until full mobile coverage is achieved. "But it was not my principal intention... we sell (the service) to operations, seldom to individuals," he said.

Grid is a 50-50 joint venture between ST Telemedia and SingTel.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks very audibly for the Sports Hub. Even though its full launch has been pushed to June, Sports Hub's first of three opening phases is slated for mid-April - during which some community groups will be invited to a preview of some of the Sports Hub's venues - just over two weeks from now.

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