M1: New spectrum laying the grid for 5G services

M1 has said it will use its spectrum auction wins and its HetNet to lay the foundation for its 'future dense grid 5G architecture', along with new IoT and cloud services offerings.

Singaporean telecommunications provider M1 has said it will be using its new spectrum to improve network coverage and capacity across the island nation in preparation for 5G, while Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud services are also planned for the future, following the telco again reporting falling mobile revenues.

M1 earlier this month announced paying SG$208 million for its new spectrum: 2x 10MHz in the 700MHz spectrum band and 2x 5MHz in the 900MHz spectrum band.

"This will enable us to enhance our network coverage, deploy innovative technologies to augment our network capacity, and deliver superior customer experience cost effectively through optimal use of spectrum," M1 said in its Q1 results presentation on Tuesday.

"With the largest Wireless@SG network and our small cell/Wi-Fi HetNet deployment at targeted locations island-wide, we are delivering a superior data experience in places where it matters most to our customers and laying the foundation for future dense grid 5G architecture," M1 CEO Karen Kooi added.

M1 outlined its spectrum and network strategy as being to use spectrum to enhance its network cost efficiently; deploy its small cell/Wi-Fi heterogeneous network (HetNet) to improve capacity and speeds; refarm part of its 3G spectrum for 4G services; and "leapfrog to 5G".

According to M1's Q1 results presentation, it is planning to offer Wi-Fi, small cell, and HetNet services at MRT and LRT stations, bus interchanges, major shopping centres, hospitals, libraries, community centres, and public areas of government buildings to "lay [the] foundation for future dense grid 5G architecture".

M1 last year announced the commercial launch of its nationwide HetNet using Nokia's Flexi Zone Wi-Fi equipment and small cells, which enables users to switch between various types of wireless networks. It had trialled its HetNet for over a year prior to launching it, including in locations at MRT stations and along Orchard road, improving download speeds by around 60 percent. This will lead to 1Gbps download speeds by 2017 in combination with M1's 4G+ network and LTE-WiFi Aggregation (LWA) technology, it said.

M1 is also looking towards cloud, IoT, and the Singaporean government's smart nation initiative, which heavily features the use of IoT devices, to grow its brand.

"We are introducing improved cloud-based service offerings to drive growth in fixed services, and developing new Internet of Things and smart nation capabilities and solutions," Kooi said on Tuesday.

M1 in October announced that it would be deploying an NB-IoT network across Singapore with Nokia, after being the nation's first telco to conduct a live demonstration of narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and 5G network technology. M1's initial investments in both its NB-IoT and HetNet networks are tipped to total more than SG$50 million.

Cloud-based services will be targeted towards government and corporate customers, M1 said this week, with its workforce now being re-skilled in the technology.

"New and improved cloud-based service offerings are being developed and launched to drive growth in fixed services in the government and corporate segments," M1's results presentation said.

"Relevant skill sets are being acquired and developed internally to be ready for new opportunities in Internet of Things and smart nation initiatives in the digital economy."

During its financial results for the first quarter of calendar 2017, M1 reported a net profit of SG$36.3 million, down 14.6 percent year on year from SG$42.5 million, on operating revenue of SG$260.7 million, up by just 1.2 percent from SG$257.6 million.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) were SG$79 million, down 5.1 percent from SG$83.3 million.

While M1's mobile customer base increased by 27,000 during the quarter to a total of 1.27 million post-paid customers and 775,000 prepaid customers, revenue was down by 3.6 percent year on year for a total of SG$157.6 million.

M1 holds almost a quarter of the mobile market, with monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) dropping from SG$49.50 to SG$38.60 for post-paid services and SG$11.50 to SG$11 for prepaid services during the quarter.

In total, M1 brought in SG$142.2 million in post-paid revenue, down 1.7 percent year on year, and SG$15.3 million in prepaid revenue, down 17.8 percent year on year.

The money-making segment for M1 was its fixed services, which grew by 22.8 percent year on year for SG$30 million in revenue, driven by increased residential and corporate customer growth -- customers increased by 8,000 during the quarter -- while ARPU also grew from SG$43.10 to SG$43.40 per month during the quarter.

M1 in January reported a full-year net profit of SG$149.7 million for 2016, dragged down by lower revenue from international call and roaming services, as well as higher depreciation and amortisation expenses of its fixed assets including 4G network and the acquisition of spectrum.

Operating revenue also fell by 8.3 percent to SG$1.06 billion due to competition from over-the-top (OTT) mobile providers.

M1 will also face increased competition as Australian telecommunications provider TPG becomes the fourth provider in the Singaporean mobile market after being successful in procuring 2x 5MHz in the 900MHz spectrum band and 8x 5MHz in the 2.3GHz spectrum band for SG$105 million, and a further 2x 5MHz in the 2.5GHz band during the general spectrum auction this month for SG$23.8 million.

TPG has predicted a capital expenditure spend of between SG$200 million and SG$300 million for the rollout of its Singaporean mobile network.

During the general spectrum auction, Singapore's Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) also allocated 4x 10MHz in the 700MHz band, 2x 10MHz in the 900MHz band, and 3x 5MHz in the 2.5GHz band to Singtel for SG$563.7 million; and 3x 10MHz in the 700MHz band, 1x 10MHz in the 900MHz band, and 4x 5MHz in the 2.5GHz band to StarHub for SG$349.6 million.

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