IDA to auction 235MHz of spectrum in Q3; 60MHz ring-fenced for fourth telco

19 Feb 2016

Singapore’s telecoms industry watchdog the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has set the stage for an auction of mobile airwaves in the third quarter of this year, in a move that could see the arrival of a fourth operator in the city-state. In a press release yesterday, the regulator confirmed its plan to sell off 235MHz of spectrum and has set aside 60MHz of bandwidth in the 900MHz and 2300MHz bands for a new entrant, ahead of a general sale for the incumbents Singapore Telecommunications, M1 and StarHub. To entice a would-be newcomer, the IDA is setting a lower reserve of SGD35 million (USD24.9 million) on the fourth-telco spectrum, representing a 45% discount on the standard reserve price. Two local firms have already expressed interest in the auction, fibre broadband services provider MyRepublic and OMGTel, a unit of wireless systems firm Consistel.

Jacqueline Poh, managing director of the IDA, said: ‘The spectrum made available will allow all mobile operators to roll out or enhance their high speed networks as early as 2017,’ adding that: ‘Having more players in the market will give consumers a greater choice in selecting an offering that best suits their needs.’ As well as facilitating the launch of new competition, the IDA’s plan is to give existing players more spectrum to cope with rising demand for mobile data. The frequency bands on the table can be used to provide 3G, 4G and 5G services.

Whilst MyRepublic has expressed its enthusiastic support for the auction and confirmed it is seeking to secure SGD250 million to help fund its fourth-telco ambitions, TeleGeography notes that in a market with a cellular penetration rate of over 148%, and where the incumbents are struggling to shore up revenues in a relatively small city-state market, any new player faces an uphill challenge – and a costly one at that – to secure a toehold. To ease its passage, the IDA has laid down relatively relaxed rollout requirements for the fourth player, giving it a ‘reasonable period’ to roll out its network; it is required to achieve nationwide outdoor service coverage by October 2018. Fleshing out its mobile ambitions, the fibre broadband provider – which has around 50,000 subscribers up from 30,000 at the start of 2015 – said that along with the recently announced funding round, MyRepublic plans to roll out a next generation ‘pre-5G network’ that will make implementing new technologies and adapting to future 5G standards easier. ‘Our planned network infrastructure will have a next generation, fully virtualised core network. This is in contrast to older telco networks, which are hardware-based and where every function would require a specialised piece of hardware,’ said MyRepublic communications manager Fabian Lau.

The IDA’s plans have, however, been met coolly by the three mobile incumbents. Singtel, StarHub and M1 are reportedly ‘up in arms’ over the plans, noting that with their respective shares in the 900MHz band set to expire in April 2017, they need to keep their current holdings or else the quality of their mobile services will suffer.

Singapore, M1, MyRepublic (Singapore), OMGTel, StarHub