Singtel and joint bidders StarHub and M1 have secured licences to deploy nationwide 5G networks in Singapore, while TPG Telecom has failed in its bid to do so. Instead, the Australian telco will have to access these network services through a wholesale arrangement.
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Wednesday said Singtel and the joint-venture consortium between M1 and StarHub will be allocated 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum each to roll out 5G networks across the city-state. The three local mobile operators will also be given 800MHz of mmWave spectrum each.
According to the industry regulator, the StarHub-M1 consortium would need to deploy and own key parts of the 5G network that would then be leased to M1 and StarHub, each of which would continue to operate separately and offer retail services to their respective customers.
IMDA will also allocate mmWave spectrum to mobile network operators to deploy localised high-capacity 5G hotspots, which would enable the country’s four mobile operators — including TPG — as well as mobile virtual network operators to offer retail 5G services to end-users.
All four mobile operators in February submitted their bids for 5G licences in Singapore, including the joint bid from M1 and StarHub, and TPG then had said it had roped in ST Engineering and the latter’s joint-venture company with SP Group, called SPTel, to develop 5G use cases for several key verticals, namely, airports, maritime, smart estates, and the public sector.
With the 5G licences now issued, Singapore is expected to have two “full-fledged” nationwide 5G networks by 2025, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.
“Amid today’s COVID-19 challenges, the investments in Singapore’s 5G infrastructure underscore long-term business confidence in our economy, and will ready us for the eventual recovery to build a thriving digital future for our people, businesses, and industries,” the minster said.
These networks should include 5G capabilities such as network slicing, ultra-reliable and low latency communications, and massive machine type communications.
StarHub in a statement Wednesday said its joint bid and partnership with M1 would enable both companies to “optimise infrastructure and spectrum costs”.
The telco said it would deploy its 5G services via a standalone architecture using the 3.5GHz spectrum as well as non-standalone architecture using the 800 MHz of mmWave spectrum. This would “fast track” the rollout of services, StarHub added.
Its chief executive Peter Kaliaropoulos said: “5G is not about a new wireless technology. It’s about a smarter, more innovative, and interconnected society as a result of combining 5G, devices, applications, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.”
The operator said it has been broadcasting “live” 5G signals from its headquarters and conducting trials and proof of concepts, including with institutes of higher learning and public agency partners, to jointly create 5G use cases.
According to IMDA, the two winning bidders would begin rolling out 5G standalone networks from January next year and will be required to provide coverage for at least half of Singapore by end-2022, before scaling up to nationwide coverage by end-2025.
IMDA’s chief executive Tan Kiat How said the winning bids were determined based on how their proposals would deliver the best outcomes for businesses and consumers in Singapore.
Specifically, IMDA said it had looked at the security and resilience requirements for 5G network operators. It added that it would establish a 5G security testbed program “for technology exploration” and to better safeguard the country against 5G network cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
IMDA said: “While mobile operators’ choice of vendors is a commercial decision, they are subject to the commitments made in the 5G call-for-proposal (CFP) and must satisfy IMDA’s resilience and cybersecurity requirements.”
TPG did not lose out due to Huawei
During a virtual media Q&A, Iswaran reiterated these considerations when the telcos commence their processes to select 5G equipment vendors. “This is obviously a commercial process, but having said that, it is quite important to emphasise that overall, IMDA has made it very clear that our considerations will particularly look at the overall resilience and security of the network,” the minister said.
“This would be a key consideration for IMDA when the final award is made. So once we know the selection…and the final choices are conveyed to IMDA, IMDA will be able to make a full assessment.”
He said the final process of awarding the licence was dependant on the telcos’ compliance of what they had put into the CFP proposal as well as whether they satisfied the regulatory requirements in terms of resilience and security.
The minister’s comments were in response to questions on whether TPG had lost out on the nationwide 5G licence because it had opted to run completely on Huawei equipment. He further noted that the other telcos, too, have been using Huawei’s products.
Iswaran said: “As we have emphasised from the start, and I would reiterate here — our focus has not been about particular vendors. Our focus has been on overall network resilience and security, and ensuring vendor diversity. We believe that based on the CFP process, the kind of commitments that have been made by the telcos, and in terms of what else is required of them before the final award, we think that that would be accomplished.”
He also stressed that TPG would still be able to deploy localised 5G hotspots as well as ink wholesale agreements to access 5G network capacity.
Asked about the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on 5G deployment timeline, the minister said IMDA had been working with the telcos and there were currently no indications that the outbreak would materially affect their implementation timeframes.
“However, if they are to signal that at some point down the road, maybe because of supply chain disruptions, that there may be a need to review this, I think at that point, they can then obviously take it up with the regulator, and the regulator will have to assess the request in the context of the situation,” he said. “But, as of now, there is no indication that there is a need to revisit that.”
He noted that the pandemic, instead, had underscored the importance of robust networks such as 5G, which were essential in supporting the economy, society, and education. “So I would actually argue that, in fact, it might push in favour of doing more and quicker, rather than less. Because that will be, for whichever network you are talking about, a differentiating factor and a competitive advantage,” Iswaran said.
IMDA last June announced several initiatives aimed at driving innovation and adoption of 5G technology in Singapore, which included a SG$40 million ($29.53 million) pot to build up the supporting ecosystem such as 5G technology trials and R&D efforts. These initiatives would also encompass focused efforts on six key verticals such as smart estates, urban mobility, and maritime, which had been earmarked for their potential to showcase 5G use cases that could be championed globally.