Singtel readies 5G standalone network access with SIM cards

Singapore telco has begun issuing SIM cards that are compatible with 5G standalone networks, which it is currently rolling out in locations across the island including a couple of indoor sites--though current 5G handsets cannot access these networks just yet.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor on

Singtel has begun issuing SIM cards that are compatible with 5G standalone networks, which the telco currently is rolling out in Singapore. Its next-generation mobile network has been deployed for testing in "hundreds" of locations across the island including a couple of indoor sites, though, customers still will need to wait until their handsets are ready to access such networks. 

Singtel's said Tuesday its new customers or those renewing their service contracts could opt for the new 5G SIM card, if they signed up for the telco's 5G Now add-on service or 5G XO Plus 68 plans and above. The SIM card would be issued for free, with the SG$37.45 registration fee waived until May 31, 2021. Existing customers on XO Plus 68 plans and above also could swop for the new 5G SIM cards for free. 

However, customers with these SIM cards still would not be able to access services via the 5G standalone network, even if they owned 5G-ready smartphones. Such handsets would require software updates from their manufacturers to allow users to access 5G standalone networks. 

Singtel said it was choosing to issue the SIM cards now to "future-proof" its customers' mobile experience. 

The telco's 5G standalone network had been rolled out in "hundreds" of locations, though, it declined to reveal the exact number. These sites currently included the Central Business District and Sentosa as well as a handful indoor locations, such as Vivocity, Ngee Ann City, and some Singtel retail outlets. 

The Singapore telco was working with Ericsson to deploy its local 5G standalone network, running on 3.5GHz spectrum. 

The cloud-native network would have slicing capabilities, which it said enabled "dynamic distribution and optimisation of network resources" to support a range of applications. 

Pitched as a prominent feature of 5G, network slicing was touted to enable connectivity and data processing customised to the customer's specific requirements. Network equipment vendors such as Nokia offered automation network slicing features that were pitched to slash costs associated with boosting networking capacity. 

Singtel said it would launch more handset models that were compatible with 5G standalone networks later this year, as manufacturers released software updates for their existing 5G smartphones.

Singtel's consumer CEO Anna Yip said the telco's engineers were working with "top" handset manufacturers to test and prepare for its 5G commercial launch. 

Earlier this month, it launched "5G in a box" to provide enterprise customers the ability to deploy and test their apps on-site. Tucked inside a suitcase-sized container, the "portable 5G platform" was touted to eliminate the need for these organisations to access an actual 5G network to do so. 

In February, Singtel also began offering its 5G edge computing infrastructure on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, which the telco said would enable businesses to run applications such as autonomous guided vehicles, drones, robots, and virtual/augmented reality, in closer proximity to users. The partnership would allow Azure customers to tap Singtel's Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) services.

Singapore's other two 5G licensees StarHub and M1 also launched their respective consumer services, running these on 5G non-standalone architectures. Both operators, which are joint licence bidders, currently are deploying 5G standalone networks with Nokia.

StarHub told ZDNet that it was "on track" to launch its 5G standalone network services later this year, having commenced its rollout in the fourth quarter of 2020. 

Full nationwide 5G standalone networks are expected to be up and running in Singapore by 2025.


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