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Anxious anticipation over fourth Singapore telco drives renewed competition

As the country awaits the possible entry of a fourth mobile operator, existing market players have begun slashing data fees in a heated price war triggered by a potential entrant that has yet to secure its bid.

The much-anticipated possible entry of a fourth mobile operator in Singapore has pushed market players into a price war, with one after another slashing their data charges and offering new service options.

And it all started with a contender for the fourth telco role that has yet to secure its bid or achieve the required network coverage. MyRepublic on Wednesday called for consumers to register their interest in data plans the service provider said it would introduce should it succeed in obtaining its telco license. Its proposed offerings include an S$8 a month 2GB data plan or S$80 a month package with unlimited local data access.

"These are the plans MyRepublic aims to deliver if we win the bid to become Singapore's fourth telco," it said on its website. It added that service plans that included call roaming and SMS would be unveiled later.

An auction has been scheduled to be held in the third quarter, which will see fresh spectrum released to support a new mobile network operator as well as allow existing players to boost their service offerings.

MyRepublic said it was working with investors to raise S$250 million and fund its network rollout, adding that its "preparations for the bid" would be finalised by next month.

Its announcement this week triggered a flurry of activities among Singapore's three existing operators, with one after another unveiling data packages at lower prices. Singtel said its new add-on service option, DataX2, enabled its subscribers to double their current monthly mobile data cap for an additional S$5.90, regardless of their service tiers.

M1 followed up with its own "Upsized Data" option, also allowing its subscribers to top up their monthly plan with S$5.90 to increase their data allowance. The extent of the increase would depend on their current service plan where i-Lite subscribers, for instance, would bump up their current 3GB data cap to 5GB, while i-Max subscribers would have theirs bumped up from 7GB to 13GB.

The mobile operator also added new options to its portfolio of SIM-only plans including the mySIM+ 20 package, which would include 4GB data, 150 minutes of call-time, and 800 SMS/MMS at S$20 a month.

StarHub was next to follow, offering its customers the option to increase their data allowance by 3GB for an additional S$3 a month.

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MyRepublic's campaign bid for fourth Singapore telco license

The slew of new service options should be welcomed news for Singapore consumers, many of whom cried foul in 2012 when all three operators slashed the then-standard 12GB mobile data cap to 2GB. There were more upset customers when StarHub said it would start charging for its 4G service, which it had initially offered as a free value-added service. The telco eventually decided against charging for the service.

Critics, however, noted that MyRepublic was jumping the gun, promising to deliver on service plans without detailing how it planned to do so and first securing its license. And it remained to be seen how much the fourth telco would have to pitch to snag the required spectrum at the upcoming auction.

Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong also voiced concerns the new market entrant would force a price war, noting: "The only way they can gain customers will be by way of reducing prices. The existing operators would look at how best to respond. Clearly just leading prices down, it's not good for the sustainability of the industry."

Chua is right, market competition shouldn't be led by price alone, but it serves as a good start to getting customers excited again in a market most had deemed to be stagnant, and non-innovative.

While it remains to be seen if MyRepublic will succeed in its bid or be able to roll out a robust mobile network, at the very least, its announcement this week helped provide a glimpse of what existing market players can come up with when push comes to shove.

And who knows, down the road, it may even fire off enough innovation in the market to sustain four viable players, without the need for a price war.