IMDA Singapore to ensure ‘competitive edge’ by allowing four 5G networks

17 Oct 2019

Singapore’s telecoms regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has revised its plans for the allocation of 5G-suitable spectrum, saying it now intends all four mobile network operators (MNOs) to roll out fifth-generation networks starting from next year, up from its original plan to have just two.

As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in May 2019 IMDA called on interested telcos to submit detailed proposals on their 5G deployment plans, suggesting that by 2020 at least two networks would be rolled out in the city-state. At the time the regulator said it intended 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. Its CFP included a number of stipulations, including: 50% 5G network coverage by end-2022; wholesale MVNO 5G access; and specific financial capability requirements to support the rollout. IMDA also revealed its plans to allocate spectrum in the 3.5GHz, 26GHz and 28GHz bands for 5G in the initial tranche of spectrum allocation to telcos, saying it would be sufficient for at least two nationwide 5G networks.

However, the regulator now wants all four of its carriers – Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG (Singapore) – to introduce 5G services, with half the city-state covered by a standalone network by 2022 to ‘maintain competitiveness in developing technology’. As such, it now aims to select two network operators to deploy 5G using the 3.5GHz band, while the other two MNOs will be assigned additional bandwidth to upgrade their existing 4G LTE infrastructure to 5G. The plans suggest a reserve of SGD55 million (USD40 million) for each bandwidth allocation (for a standalone network), with a view to awarding the spectrum by the middle of 2020. The operators will also be given the millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum in the 26GHz and 28GHz bands (free of any licence fees), although an annual utilisation fee of SGD1.232 million will apply for each operator. Meanwhile, operators of the two smaller 5G networks will only be given the mmWave spectrum (but will be subject to the same utilisation fees). The spectrum licences will have a minimum duration of 16 years, according to the regulator’s presentation.

Commenting, IMDA communications manager Mr S Iswaran said the decision to opt for all four MNOs having 5G capability is driven by a need to ‘secure Singapore’s competitive edge’, adding that he believes the pricing strategy is in the ‘mid-range’ of those in other countries.