Singapore reveals 4G auction plans

Country's ICT regulator seeking public opinion on reallocation of spectrum for long-term evolution (LTE) technology and plans to encourage new operators to enter local market.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) plans to auction the 1800MHz, 2.3GHz, and 2.5GHz spectrum bands in the upcoming 4G airwaves auction, with winning bidders expected to set up coverage as early as mid-2016.

In a consultation paper issued on Tuesday, IDA said it has decided to open the three spectrum bands for bidding due to their suitability for urban deployment to provide mobile data capacity and are the most commonly used spectrum for 4G rollout currently. The regulator did not specify when the auction will take place, although an earlier ZDNet Asia report noted that bidding could take place as early as 2012.

Currently, QMax Communications has been assigned the 2.3GHz bandwidth, while the 2.5GHz band is shared between M1, PacketOne, SingTel Mobile and StarHub. As the 10-year licenses were granted on Jul. 1, 2005, the rights will be expiring on Jun. 30, 2015. The 1800MHz bandwidth currently belongs to SingTel Mobile, StarHub Mobile, and M1, and will expire on Mar. 31, 2017.

For 4G services in the 1800MHz band, IDA plans to allocate 140MHz--which comprises of two 70 MHz of paired spectrum for FDD (frequency division duplex) LTE. For the 2.3GHz band, IDA said 30 MHz will be allocated and will likely be for the deployment of TDD (time division duplex) LTE. With regard to the 2.5GHz spectrum, IDA plans to allocate 150MHz, including two 60MHz of paired spectrum and 30MHz of unpaired spectrum.

It also stated that winning bidders that successfully bidded for at least 30MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 2.5GHz bands will be required to provide nationwide 4G systems and service coverage by Jun. 30, 2016--one year after the existing licenses expire in 2015.

The coverage should include the whole island of Singapore, including offshore islands and the territorial waters up to 15 kilometers (km) from the shores of Singapore, but excluding coverage in underground stations and lines as well as road tunnels. Coverage in underground tunnels must be set up by Jun. 30, 2018,  36 months after the commencement of the 4G spectrum rights, it noted.

The other winning bidders, which are those that have been allocated spectrum in the 1800MHz band and less than 30 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 2.5 GHz band, will have to meet a different deadline, the IDA pointed out. These operators are expected to provide islandwide coverage by by Mar. 31, 2018--12 months after the commencement of 4G spectrum rights in the 1800GHz band. Underground coverage in MRT tunnels and road tunnels should be operational by Jun. 30, 2020, it said.

IDA encouraging new mobile entrant
The regulator is also keen on attracting new entrants into the mobile market as it will increase competition in the delivery of 4G services. IDA defined new entrants as providers that are currently not serving nationwide mobile services.

IDA plans to set aside two 20MHz of paired spectrum from the two 60MHz capacity in the 2.5 GHz band solely for new entrants to bid on. The new entrant will also be given a longer time period to set up the required network coverage--by Jun. 30, 2018--two years later than the deadline given to existing operators, the regulator said.

Analysts ZDNet Asia spoke to earlier pointed out that 4G fragmentation is expected to be most keenly felt in Asia-Pacific, with Vikas Chanani, analyst for ICT Practice at Frost & Sullivan, for one, urging the region's regulators to work together to coordinate the reallocation of 4G spectrum licenses.

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