Singtel, StarHub-M1 joint venture win bids for 5G network licences

Singtel, StarHub-M1 joint venture win bids for 5G network licences

Singtel and a joint venture by StarHub and M1 have won bids to operate 5G networks across Singapore, announced the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Wednesday (Apr 29). Michelle Teo reports.

SINGAPORE: Singtel and a joint venture by StarHub and M1 have won bids to operate 5G networks across Singapore, announced the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Wednesday (Apr 29).

They will be required to provide 5G coverage for at least half of Singapore by end-2022, before scaling up to nationwide coverage by the end of 2025.

The fifth generation of high-speed mobile Internet, 5G promises surfing speeds 20 times faster than what's offered by 4G networks. It will deliver not just faster phone and computer data, but is expected to deliver a huge leap in the speed and capacity to enhance connections between devices from smart fridges to driverless cars.

In its announcement, IMDA said Singtel and the StarHub-M1 joint venture will be allocated 100Mhz of the 3.5Ghz radio frequency spectrum each, to deploy nationwide 5G networks.

Other mobile operators can access these network services through a “wholesale arrangement”, it added.

IMDA also said it will allocate millimetre-wave spectrum (mmWave) to mobile network operators for the deployment of localised high-capacity 5G hotspots. Singtel, StarHub and M1 will each be assigned 800Mhz of the mmWave spectrum.

“With this, M1, StarHub, Singtel, TPG Telecom and mobile virtual network operators would be able to offer retail 5G services to end users,” the media statement said.

READ: 5G coverage across half of Singapore expected by end-2022

The authority had received three bids – Singtel and TPG Telecom each submitted a proposal, while StarHub joined hands with M1 to put in a joint submission – by the time its call for proposal ended in mid-February.

The proposals were evaluated based on network design and resilience, network rollout and performance, price offered for one lot of 3.5Ghz band, as well as financial capability.

IMDA chief executive Tan Kiat How said the three proposals had “met and in some cases, exceeded (its) requirements”.

“The winners were selected based on a comprehensive assessment of how their proposals would deliver the best outcomes for businesses and consumers in Singapore,” he added.

LICENCES TO BE ISSUED AFTER COMPLETING REGULATORY PROCESSES

The announcement of the two winners on Wednesday marks the first step in the eventual awarding of 5G network licences.

IMDA said both winners will be given “provisional awards” pending completion of regulatory processes, such as the selection of spectrum lots and confirmation of technical and legal matters.

The 5G licences will be issued to the respective winners once they have completed these processes, and they can start their 5G network deployments thereafter.

Winners will have to roll out "standalone" networks, meaning ones that do not piggyback on existing mobile networks, from January 2021, the authority added.

READ: Commentary: No, 5G radiation doesn’t cause or spread the coronavirus

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran said 5G networks are an important investment for the country’s digital infrastructure, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it “very apparent how important digital infrastructure is, and the kind of resilience and the kind of flexibility it affords” to people.

“This is an important part of our ongoing efforts to build the infrastructure that makes us future-ready, even as we build on what we already have today,” he told reporters at a virtual press conference.

He described the announcement as a “significant milestone” and that the country was “on track” to achieving nationwide 5G coverage on a “standalone basis” by 2025.

This will make Singapore among the first wave of countries which are able to offer full-fledged capabilities and services for 5G.

Mr Iswaran also noted that the telcos are making “substantial” investment commitments amid a challenging time due to the virus outbreak.

“It underscores the confidence … in the future of the economy, as well as in the potential and the value proposition of 5G for industries, businesses, and also people and workers at large,” he said.

Asked if there would be any Government assistance for the telcos amid a grim economic outlook, the minister said the companies would have taken the current situation into account when drafting up their proposals given that these were long-term commitments.

M1’s chief executive officer Manjot Singh Mann said the joint bid with StarHub will allow it to “share strategic resources”, and that the telco will have “significant investments” on the development of 5G infrastructure so as to be at “the leading edge”.

Echoing that, StarHub said in its press statement that the strategic co-operation will allow both companies to “optimise infrastructure and spectrum costs”.

READ: 5G is more than just faster download speeds, can make lives 'much better': Iswaran

Singtel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong said: “In view of COVID-19’s impact on the economy, we see this as a significant investment in the future – one that will create sustainable economic and social value as industries and business models transform, unlocking new careers and skills in the process."

Ms Chua added that Singtel has “always practiced vendor diversity” and will be looking to work with vendors who best meet its key considerations in technology, security, resilience and commercial value.

In response to queries from CNA, Mr Richard Tan, acting CEO of TPG Singapore, said the company respects the authority’s decision.

It remains committed to the long term development of the industry and will “continue to explore all options for the potential delivery of 5G services in the future”, added Mr Tan without elaborating.

When asked by a reporter if TPG Telecom was not selected because it had Chinese tech giant Huawei as its equipment vendor, Mr Iswaran replied: “You'll find that the vendors that you're referring to are also being used by others. It's not exclusively used by TPG.

“Secondly as we have emphasised from the start … our focus has not been about particular vendors. Our focus has been on overall network resilience and security, and ensuring vendor diversity.”

Making a similar point when answering another question about the diversity of vendors, Mr Iswaran said authorities believe that can be accomplished based on the commitments made by telcos thus far and the upcoming regulatory process before winners will be awarded their licences.

“Based on the provisional list of vendors that the telcos are considering as they have shared as part of the (call for proposal) process, our regulator is satisfied that there will be vendor diversity in our 5G ecosystem.”

Source: CNA/aa(gs)

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