S'pore WiMax beckons foreign operators

S'pore WiMax beckons foreign operators

Summary: With local operators focusing on 3G cellular mobile broadband, Malaysia's Packet One in good position to move into Singapore's WiMax space, says analyst.

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SINGAPORE--The country's WiMax market holds little draw for local mobile broadband providers, most of which have sunk heavy investments in 3G cellular broadband instead, according to an industry analyst.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in an interview, IDC Asia-Pacific's Patrick Chan, chief technology advisor of emerging technologies, said WiMax has not been attractive to local players because of their investments in 3G, seen as a competing mobile broadband technology.

WiMax also holds technical limitations that have proven unsuitable for some parts of Singapore, said Chan. Like Wi-Fi, WiMax transmission requires line of sight to be effective and this may be prohibitive in central areas within the island-state that are populated by high-rise buildings, he explained.

The country's three local cellular operators--SingTel, Mobile One (M1) and StarHub--have WBA (wireless broadband access) spectrum rights to allow them to operate WiMax services, but none has yet done so.

In response to an e-mail query from ZDNet Asia, a SingTel representative cited the lack of devices as a barrier.

"SingTel has conducted WiMax trials but we feel that WiMax has not reached mass adoption due to limited device availability," she said, adding that as such, the telco is not confident WiMax will provide satisfactory "end-to-end customer experience".

However, Chan noted that there is opportunity for WiMax to fill a QoS (quality of service) void left by 3G.

"[3G] bandwidth is not optimal yet," the analyst said. To that end, Green Packet's announcement last week to provide WiMax services in Singapore "makes sense", marking a step forward for the Malaysian WiMax operator's aspirations to expand in the region.

Green Packet's subsidiary, Packet One (P1), will be able to build on its experience in WiMax and providing last-mile coverage in Malaysia, he said. Chan noted that Singapore, as a neighboring country with no dominant WiMax provider, is a logical point of expansion for the Malaysian operator.

Limited WiMax commercialization
So far, Singapore's commercial WiMax deployments have been limited to a network deployment along the country's southern coastline, which is part a government initiative.

P1 last week said its WiMax push in the island-state will be committed to providing supplementary bandwidth to ease existing network congestion.

According to Chan, having nationwide WiMax coverage in Singapore will help provide bandwidth for the myriad of mobile services "waiting to be connected" such as location-based services (LBS).

He noted that P1's plans in the country may serve to jolt M1 into action. The mobile operator last month acquired local WiMax player, Qala.

In an e-mail interview Monday, a P1 spokesperson said it expects to launch commercial WiMax services in Singapore "within the second half of 2010" and intends to open its offerings to both corporate and consumer segments.

P1 also anticipates the upcoming availability of WiMax devices such as "embedded netbooks, notebooks and mobile Internet devices (MIDs)" to encourage takeup of its services, he said.

Pacnet out of wholesale game
P1's takeover of Pacnet's WBA spectrum rights, which is still pending regulatory approval, effectively ends Pacnet's former plans to provide wholesale WiMax access in Singapore.

While the service provider has sold one of its three Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licenses to P1, the transfer of its WBA rights means Pacnet can no longer operate as a WiMax provider here.

FBO licenses are required by the local infocomm regulator, Infocomm Development Authority, for an operator to deploy any telecommunications services in the country.

According to a Pacific Internet filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacnet owns 30MHz of spectrum in Singapore. P1 confirmed its acquisition of a total of 30MHz of Pacnet's spectrum.

M1 could not respond at press time.

Topics: Networking, Mobility, Software, Wi-Fi

Victoria Ho

About Victoria Ho

Victoria Ho is a tech journalist based in Singapore, whose writing has appeared in publications such as ZDNet, TechCrunch, and The Business Times. When she's not obsessing about IT, you can find her tinkering with music and daydreaming about which guitar to buy next.

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