StarHub, Nokia working on CA; Ooredoo pondering StarHub exit

26 Jul 2016

Mobile network operator (MNO) StarHub and Finland-based equipment maker Nokia have jointly announced trials to improve 4G upload speeds for end users by the end of this year, via the deployment of carrier aggregation (CA) technology, combining two blocks of 4G spectrum to double upload speeds. In the trials, the pair said they were able to boost signal output and in so doing achieve theoretical peak upload speeds of up to 150Mbps. Going forward, StarHub intends to roll out CA technology in the areas of Marina Bay and Orchard by the end of this year, with a full nationwide deployment expected to follow in 2017. Commenting on the upgrade plan, StarHub chief technology officer Mock Pak Lum, said: ‘The ability to upload quickly is fast becoming a necessity for our mobile customers. In fact, we saw a close to 50% increase in upload traffic year-on-year, as customers increasingly share high definition videos and photos instantly with the world.’

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that StarHub, which is 55.81%-owned by Asia Mobile Holdings – a venture which includes Ooredoo (formerly Qatar Telecom) and Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT) – reported net profits of SGD92.8 million (USD68.4 million) in Q1 2016, up 25.9% from SGD73.7 million in the year-earlier period, despite total revenue falling 4.4% to SGD590.9 million. Operationally, the company closed out 31 March 2016 with a total of 2.198 million mobile users, up 2.3% from 2.147 million a year earlier, of which 855,000 were pre-paid (846,000, 1Q15). The company noted that the percentage of customers on tiered data mobile subscription plans grew to 65.4% from 62.0%, helping drive up post-paid mobile ARPU which increased SGD1 per month to an average SGD69 – due to an increasing mix of customers on the 4G tiered data plans and excess data usage.

Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that Qatari-owned Ooredoo is considering divesting its stake in StarHub, with unnamed sources suggesting it is working with HSBC Holdings to measure the market’s appetite for a stake in Singapore’s second largest player. Ooredoo controls a roughly 25% equity interest in Asia Mobile Holdings, giving it an indirect 14% of StarHub. According to a report from Bloomberg, which cites people familiar with the situation, the Qatar-based telco is looking to concentrate its focus on its core assets in the Middle East and in faster growing markets. By contrast, the mature city-state is by and large stagnant in terms of growth, and the upcoming auction to determine a fourth operator is only likely to intensify competition and potentially squeeze profits.

Singapore, Nokia Networks (formerly NSN), Ooredoo Group, StarHub