In a press release dated 23 January, Singapore’s second and third largest cellcos – StarHub and M1 – have confirmed the signing of an exclusive agreement to cooperate and submit a joint bid for one of the four 5G licences due to be allocated by the city-state. While the communique did not provide specific details on what type of licence they intend to go for – national or regional/local – it did confirm that both sides are working towards the 17 February 2020 closing date for 5G proposals.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, earlier this month local telecoms regulator the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) pushed back the deadline for 5G licence applications to give domestic operators more time to submit their proposals. Citing cellcos’ requests for ‘more time’, the IMDA announced on 9 January that it had extended the initial Call for Proposal deadline that opened on 17 October 2019 and was originally set to close on 21 January 2020. With the authorities keen to assign frequencies to support four fifth-generation networks, the extension is not expected to affect the timeline for Singapore’s rollout. The IMDA has said that the rollout of new networks can begin this year, but notes that nationwide coverage may take much longer and be initially limited to only two networks – due to the current scarcity of suitable 5G airwaves for island-wide coverage. Wider coverage will start being provided in 2022.
Previously, in May 2019, the IMDA 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. The 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 of the city-state covered by a standalone network by 2022 to ‘maintain competitiveness in developing technology’. As such, it said it would look to select two network operators to deploy 5G using the 3.5GHz band, while the other two MNOs would be assigned additional bandwidth to upgrade their existing 4G LTE infrastructure to 5G.
Local industry watchers are expecting Singtel will likely secure one of the two nationwide licences on offer, with the other now seemingly headed towards the StarHub-M1 joint bid unless TPG opts to compete for a nationwide concession rather than secure additional bandwidth in due course.