Singapore readies 5G rollout with potential for two additional licences

Government expects to have two full-fledged standalone 5G networks covering more than half of Singapore by end-2022 and, if there is interest from the industry, it will release another two lots of 800MHz of mmWave spectrum to be used for smaller non-standalone networks.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore is expected to have two full-fledged standalone 5G networks covering more than half the island by end-2022, with deployments to begin next year. Two additional licences will also be available, should there be interest from the industry, to enable telcos to run localised 5G services on existing 4G networks.

Industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Thursday said all four mobile operators -- M1StarHubSingtel, and TPG Telecom -- had been asked to submit their proposals for two spectrum packages put up for bidding. 

When awarded, the two mobile network operators would have to deploy the 3.5GHz spectrum band as standalone 5G networks, supporting capabilities such as network slicing and ultra-reliable low latency communications. These would be critical for the development of new applications such as smart factories, massive Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and autonomous vehicles. 

All bids must be submitted by January 21, IMDA said, adding that it would make its selection by mid-2020 based on a set of criteria that included network security design and resilience, network performance and rollout, and spectrum offer price. It said the base price of one 100MHz lot has been set at SG$55 million. 

Full islandwide coverage was expected by 2025 and operators of the two nationwide networks would have to provide wholesale services to other operators, including mobile virtual network operators such as Circles.Life

The government agency added that it would also release two 800MHz lots of mmWave spectrum to the remaining mobile operators, who would then have the option to deploy the spectrum to offer localised 5G services running on their existing 4G networks. Unlike the full-fledged standalone 5G networks, these smaller networks would offer primarily higher broadband speeds. 

With initial plans to allocate spectrum to support two nationwide 5G networks, the Singapore government's current proposal came after two public consultation exercises.

Commenting on the proposed 5G spectrum allocation, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information, S. Iswaran, said local market demand could support two additional localised 5G networks, hence, enabling all four telcos to provide services. 

Iswaran added: "With the participation of more mobile network operators, IMDA expects the greater competition to benefit consumers and businesses, and bring about greater choices, competitive prices, and service innovation."

The industry regulator said 5G has the potential to drive transformation within industry sectors as well as the overall Singaporean economy. IMDA noted that international deployments have focused on delivering higher speed connectivity, but have provided "limited demonstration" of industrial and enterprise applications that leverage the full capabilities of 5G.  

"Thus, there is an opportunity to position Singapore as a frontrunner for innovation in secure and resilient 5G applications and services," it said. 

In a statement released Thursday, StarHub said it would be submitting a proposal and was "working to discover what works and what does not for the unique Singaporean market". The local telco added that some parts of its network were already "5G-ready" to run trials in the lead up to service commercialisation. 

IMDA said it would be supporting three use cases, including two enterprise initiatives, to help drive the development of the local 5G ecosystem. 

Testbed for smart city services

Among these is a 5G trial site at Singapore Science Park to develop and test cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technologies, serving as a testbed for smart mobility services in a commercial space. These will run under a new Smart Urban Co-Innovation Lab that will be set up by local real estate group CapitaLand. The lab will see TPG Telecom deploy a 5G trial network, with a least 99% 3.5GHz outdoor coverage across Singapore Science Park 1 and 2, by 2020. 

The network will be based on the latest 5G standard, 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 15 and later Release 16, which is expected to be finalised next year. Touted to support higher speeds and data capacity transmissions, at lower network latency, the new release is expected to be able to support industrial IoT and advanced automative connectivity, among other technologies. 

When operational, the new lab aims to be a platform on which to develop, test, and deploy sustainable smart city products and services.

Singapore-based NaInfo DataTech also will take part in the C-V2X trials, providing the necessary infrastructure and domain expertise including setting up its proprietary high-definition global navigation satellite system and autonomous driving maps for the test site. The trials would encompass smart mobility components such as autonomous vehicles and in-car experience applications. 

Industry players and companies keen to tap the 5G testbed to develop and trial new tools can submit their pitch through the Smart Urban Co-Innovation Lab. These can include drones or augmented reality and virtual reality applications.

IMDA also is supporting a case study involving game peripherals maker Razer and Singtel, which will trial 5G networks for cloud games in an urban setting. Expected to commence in the fourth quarter of 2019, the tests will assess the ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency capabilities of 5G networks for supporting cloud games. 

IMDA in June unveiled plans to set aside SG$40 million to build up the supporting ecosystem to fuel 5G innovation, focusing on six key verticals including smart estates, urban mobility, and maritime. To be managed alongside the National Research Foundation, the SG$40 million fund would facilitate 5G trials for enterprise deployment, create new testbeds, and support research and development efforts in 5G, such as cybersecurity. These would be deployed, refined, and exported to other markets. 

The move to potentially release two additional licences could drive competition as well as an early implementation of 5G next year, according to Fitch Ratings. It added that the localised deployment in the initial period and "reasonably priced" spectrum would help contain investment risks in the next 18 months. 

The credit ratings company said in a statement Friday that "sufficient and affordable spectrum" was crucial to extract potential benefits of 5G and IMDA's base price of SG$55 million for 100MHz of the 3.5GHz frequency--translating to $0.07 per MHz per capita--was below Hong Kong's 5G spectrum auction of $0.09. It noted that markets such as China and Japan had assigned 5G spectrum to operators at a token fee instead of an auction to drive the nations' 5G commercial launches in early-2020.

With the deployment of standalone 5G networks on 3.5GHz costly since they required an entirely new core infrastructure, Fitch said the ecosystem likely would take a few more years to mature as the current business case for 5G was inadequate to justify the need for such standalone networks. It noted that early deployments in South Korea, Australia, and Europe had been based on non-standalone specifications. 

Fitch said: "A shared network model enhances the feasibility of 5G by providing scale advantages and capacity for leverage for telcos. Successful spectrum holders of the 3.5GHz will be required to provide 5G wholesale services, enabling mobile virtual network operators to lease network space without significant cost outlays."


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