Singtel, StarHub prepare 5G standalone networks for launch in Singapore

Consumers still will not be able to access full-fledged 5G services via the networks until compatible handsets in the market have been updated, though, selected Singtel users can do so by end of this week with Samsung's 5G-ready Galaxy S21 Ultra test units.

Singtel and StarHub are gearing up to offer consumer services on their respective 5G standalone networks in Singapore, but consumers still will not be able to access services via the networks until compatible handsets receive the necessary software updates. Some Singtel users, however, will be offered test units of Samsung's Galaxy S21 5G Ultra to try out the telco's network. 

Singtel said in a statement Tuesday it was ready to launch its 5G standalone network and inked a partnership with Samsung to provide selected customers access to the network. These users would be provided with the South Korean handset manufacturer's Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G test units, running a beta release of Samsung's 5G standalone software. 

Currently, 5G-ready smartphones available in the market would not be able to access services on 5G standalone networks, requiring software updates from their manufacturers before they were able to do so. While some handsets could provide such access via beta or test software, none had been made commercially available yet. 

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Singtel customers keen to try out the new 5G standalone network services can register their interest on the telco's website. Those selected for this trial will be given a setup kit that comprises a 5G standalone SIM card as well as a Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G handset and accessories. They will be able to exchange the test handset for a new equivalent Galaxy model at a later stage, according to the Singapore telco. 

When asked, Singtel declined to say how many users would be given test handsets or how long the trial would last, but told ZDNet these selected customers would receive the devices by the end of this week. 

The telco said 5G standalone networks could facilitate uploads 30% faster than 4G and provided more robust encryption. It kicked off a pilot last September, offering speeds of 1.2Gbps, and rolled out more than 1,000 5G sites across the city-state. These included business and residential areas including Central Business District, Sentosa, Punggol, and Pasir Ris, as well as indoor locations such as VivoCity and Ngee Ann City. 

StarHub on Tuesday also launched its 5G standalone network and would issue 5G SIM cards "imminently". 

The telco said customers who were recontracting or signing up for its Mobile+ and Biz+ service plans would be provided the SIM cards free, from the middle of next month. The usual registration fee of SG$37.45 would be waived. It said these SIM cards would automatically switch customers' access to StarHub's 5G standalone network when the service was commercially available. 

The telco said it currently was working with all handset manufacturers to enable their users to access the StarHub 5G network when their respective devices were updated, including 5G-ready smartphones. More details about such software updates would be released "in due course" alongside its device partners, StarHub said.

It added that its 5G standalone services had been deployed across "hundreds of locations" including residential and business sites, such as Bishan, Chinatown, Sengkang, and Marina Bay Financial Centre. 

Singapore last year issued two two nationwide 5G licences to Singtel and joint bidders M1 and StarHub, with standalone networks expected to be up and running by 2025. All three telcos have launched their respective consumer services, running these on 5G non-standalone architectures.

GSMA had projected Asia-Pacific to be the world's largest 5G region by 2025, hitting 675 million connections--or more than half of the global volume. The industry group, though, later revised its 2020 projection of 5G connections to be 20% lower than its previous forecast, due to the global pandemic. 

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