IMDA calls on telcos to submit detailed 5G rollout plans; first next-gen services to be operational next year

7 May 2019

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in Singapore has called on interested telcos to submit detailed proposals on their 5G deployment plans, suggesting that by 2020 at least two networks will be rolled out in the city-state. The regulator intends to assign 5G-suitable spectrum to ‘two winning submissions’ through a Call For Proposal (CFP) regulatory instrument, rather than conducting an auction of spectrum, with telcos’ proposals assessed instead on the quality of their deployment schedules. It is understood that these include hitting 50% 5G network coverage by 2023, an agreement to allow MVNOs to access the new network to provide resell services and fulfilling the watchdog’s financial capability requirements to support the rollout. IMDA plans to allocate spectrum in the 3.5GHz, 26GHz and 28GHz bands for 5G in the initial tranche of spectrum allocation to telcos. This will be sufficient for at least two nationwide 5G networks, the authority confirmed.

IMDA has opened a public consultation on the CFP which lasts until 19 June 2019 and also seeks feedback from the public on its 5G spectrum assignment proposals and the annual fees to be paid by successful operators. IMDA chief executive officer Tan Kiat How said: ‘Insights [from the public consultation process] will guide our regulatory approach and industry development efforts in ensuring Singapore’s connectivity infrastructure remains globally competitive in support of our digital economy ambitions’. However, the CEO stopped short of ruling out involvement from the likes of Huawei Technologies, noting only that: ‘Singapore encourages vendor diversity in our telecommunication systems to mitigate risks from dependency on any one vendor’.

Singapore’s three incumbent mobile network operators, Singtel, StarHub and M1, have been actively testing 5G technology for a while now. For example, in January this year Singtel and Ericsson revealed plans to open a 5G test-bed facility – dubbed ‘5G Garage’ – using the 3.5GHz band to further the adoption of the next generation technology by enterprise and business. Previously, in November 2018, Nokia and StarHub completed the first outdoor pilot of 5G New Radio on the 3.5GHz frequency band in Singapore, demonstrating industrial and consumer applications to staff, industry partners and enterprise customers over ‘live’ Nokia 5G cells and core network technology at StarHub’s headquarters. These announcements were predated by M1 and Huawei’s June 2018 disclosure that they would continue joint tests of 5G technology for the remainder of the year, including working to complete an end-to-end live broadcast of virtual reality content over a next generation mobile network. The joint trial used the 28GHz millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum band, in what they claimed was the first live end-to-end 5G trial of Huawei’s equipment in the city-state in the 28GHz band. IMDA has said that with 5G-ready smartphones coming on sale this year, it will continue to waive the airwave fees for telcos that are keen to continue with 5G trials after this 2019.