Telcos' NBN strategies go beyond mobile apps

As Singapore's next-generation national broadband network deployment continues afoot, the three local telcos share with ZDNet Asia their plans to tap the fast-speed fiber to differentiate their offerings.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Singapore's three telcos will use the country's next-generation national broadband network (NBN) as a stepping stone to not only boost its mobile apps strategy but also develop other growth areas, revealed company executives.

The NBN, which is part of the Singapore government's Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) master plan, is expected to bring broadband speeds of over 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) to users. It is targeted to be available across the island by 2012, according to local ICT regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

Once the network is operational, key beneficiaries of this infrastructure include Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), M1 and StarHub. Representatives of the three telcos shared with ZDNet Asia their plans to tap the NBN as well as their mobile apps strategy.

SingTel targets multilevel NBN gains
SingTel, for one, is looking to safeguard its mobile market leadership by participating at different levels of the NBN deployment chain, said a company spokesperson in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

As at Mar. 31, 2010, the company had a mobile customer base of 3.1 million, which represents 45.2 percent of the domestic market, according to a company statement in May.

At the retail service provider (RSP) level, SingTel is looking to launch "new, faster speed and higher value services" which include feature-rich apps, he noted. At speeds of up to 1Gbps, these services for both home and work will enrich users' lives by enabling them to be more productive in "the way they learn, work and play".

The operator last month launched three mobile apps--Go! Shopping, Price Pal and Property Buddy--which it hopes will bring customers into "the future of buying", it said at that time.

Allen Lew, CEO of SingTel Singapore, also noted in July that the company was not content with being a pure-play telecoms operator as growth margins are shrinking. The company is now looking to establish itself as a multimedia player, he said.

As part of this shift toward being a multimedia player, SingTel will offer "compelling" bundled services such as its Mio broadband and Internet Protocol television (IPTV) services as well as offerings such as music and mobile advertising, the spokesperson said.

But SingTel is not just a RSP selling niche, customized services, he noted. The telco is also a shareholder of OpenNet, the NBN's network company (NetCo) responsible for building the passive dark fiber infrastructure of the NBN. The NetCo had earlier proposed wholesale prices of S$15 (US$11.08) per month per residential fiber connection and S$50 (US$36.92) per month per non-residential connection, and SingTel stands to gain from these sales, he added.

Furthermore, once the NBN is deployed, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that currently subscribe to SingTel's Meg@POP eLite broadband service will enjoy a speed boost of up to 10 times at no price increase, the spokesperson added.

"Through these arrangements, SingTel is well-placed to capture the growth potential from successful adoption of fiber services while mitigating the impact of competition on its carriage business," he said.

M1 eyes level playing field
As for rival telco M1, its spokesperson said the company's NBN strategy include offering a "more comprehensive" suite of fixed and mobile services to both retail and corporate customers. These offerings include the flexible bundling of fixed and mobile voice and data services to meet the "diverse needs" of its customers, she added.

With the increased bandwidth and speed afforded by the NBN, M1 will also be looking at services such as fixed broadband and fixed voice as well as managed services for the corporate sector, she noted in her e-mail to ZDNet Asia.

When asked to elaborate more on these offerings, the spokesperson declined further comment. She added, however, that the NBN will "level the playing field and create growth opportunities for M1".

In an interview in January, M1 CEO Karen Kooi told ZDNet Asia the NBN would provide opportunities to offer fixed voice services and IPTV services, although the company would not be keen to compete for exclusive premium content.

Kooi also said the telco has been upgrading its infrastructure in preparation to support the LTE (long term evolution) mobile network trial, which took place in February this year.

In the mobile apps arena, the M1 spokesperson said the telco had recently launched its M1 AppStore, which offers a "wide range" of apps that run on operating systems (OSes) including Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Symbian.

Through this platform, the company hopes to meet the needs of customers and developers, she said, adding that the telco is already engaging local content developers to commercialize their apps by giving them "cash incentives and revenue share arrangements".

She was, however, unable to specify whether the telco is looking to develop more consumer or enterprise apps.

StarHub to reel in enterprise customers
Meanwhile, StarHub is hedging on the increased reach that the NBN will provide to attract more enterprise customers, an executive revealed.

Chan Kin Hung, head of product and solutions at StarHub, said in an e-mail that the company currently provides fixed line broadband access to 1,000 commercial buildings but it hopes to increase this to 20,000 locations around Singapore once the NBN is up and running.

The NBN, according to him, offers "good opportunities" for StarHub as it will mean that many businesses, especially SMBs, have access to a wider range of service providers due to competition among more infrastructure players.

Furthermore, Chan said that StarHub is looking at delivering "next-generation" enterprise applications via the new optical fiber-based network. These applications and services include software-as-a-service (SaaS), telepresence, e-education and e-government services, he noted.

Cloud computing and SaaS, in particular, are being heavily looked into, he added. As these technologies allow companies to rapidly deploy new applications and resources while greatly reducing capital expenditure and being more scalable, more companies are looking to adopt such solutions, he noted.

"The concept is not new, but with the ultra-high speed network available, it makes the delivery of such services more commercially viable for businesses," said Chan.

StarHub CEO Neil Montefiore indicated earlier this year that the telco would also leverage its position as the NBN operating company, or OpCo, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Nucleus Connect.

Noting that the OpCo will sell wholesale broadband connectivity to the RSPs such as SingTel and M1, the executive said StarHub stands to gain from these other operators that have expressed interest in providing commercial broadband services as they have to first buy broadband connectivity from Nucleus Connect.

NBN's limitless potential
When quizzed about how it sees the Singapore benefitting from the NBN, the IDA referred ZDNet Asia to a speech made in June by Lui Tuck Yew, acting minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, which illustrated the types of services consumers and businesses can expect once the NBN is operational.

For instance, Lui said IPTV will allow services such as personalized healthcare and immersive e-learning to be delivered straight to users' homes via their television sets.

In the enterprise arena, businesses can look to cut down cost and better connect with their local and overseas clients through "real-time, face-to-face communication", the minister added.

"The potential that the next-generation NBN offers is only going to be limited by our imagination...this is but [the] start of a very exciting journey that will transform the way Singaporeans interact, live and play in the years to come," Lui said.

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