A row is brewing in Singapore over contentious proposals to ring-fence 900MHz band spectrum for a new market entrant. Two firms, MyRepublic and OMGTel, have reportedly challenged the city-state’s existing cellcos – Singtel, StarHub and M1 – for raising objections to the Infocomm Development Authority’s (IDA’s) plan to set aside ‘premium’ 900MHz blocks for the would-be fourth telco in an auction set to take place in early 2016. In July this year IDA issued a consultation on its proposal to reserve one-third of the 900MHz band on offer to a new player, at a substantially discounted price. The move, however, prompted widespread criticism from the trio which noted that with their own 900MHz spectrum rights set to expire in March 2017, their 3G mobile customers would see a degradation in services if they were stripped of some of their spectrum allowance.
OMGTel has now hit back, with director Sallim Abdul Kadir quoted as saying: ‘It is disingenuous, if not self-serving, for the three telcos to say that the networks which they have designed and rolled out over the years now cannot meet consumer expectations without further extension of the 900MHz spectrum.’ The official went on to point out that all three cellcos were awarded significant 2100MHz spectrum in the 2001 auction and provide nationwide services using that, with rights on its usage until at least 2021. ‘If the 900MHz spectrum is reallocated to the telcos for their 3G services, it would be effectively rewarding them for a lack of planning,’ he said in a forum letter. Meanwhile, MyRepublic’s outspoken CEO Malcolm Rodrigues e-mailed The Straits Times to point out that in his opinion the incumbents ‘waste spectrum’ on old technologies and are trying to ‘minimise spectrum availability to new players’. Rodrigues believes that the setting up of a fourth telco is the best way to ensure that precious frequency resources are used efficiently for 4G rollouts. ‘There is grossly insufficient mobile data capacity to meet the rising demand for mobile data,’ he said.
Number three player M1 has responded to the newcomers’ criticism though, saying its 900MHz allocation is crucial to meet IDA-imposed requirements on service standards for 3G; since April 2013 the watchdog has required cellcos to cover at least 99% of outdoor areas and 85% indoors or face fines of up to SGD50,000 (USD35,760) per month. Although Singtel declined to comment, M1’s position has been echoed by StarHub. ‘As we build new and better networks to meet the ever-growing demand for ultra-fast speeds and data-hungry applications, we are mindful that there are customers who are still connected on the older networks,’ a spokeswoman said.