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Singapore Power faces incumbent competition in bid to provide more than fibre dumb pipes

The utility company's telecommunications arm, SPTel, has readied its national fibre network and is aiming to be more than just an alternative to the country's incumbent provider.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Having spent the last 15 years building up its fibre network across the country, Singapore Power's network communications business says it is now ready to be "the alternative option" and will explore potential of offering other services on top of its network.

SP Telecom (SPTel) last month officially launched its OpticNet dark fibre network and SmartConnect service that taps DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing) to enhance connections between two points, specifically, data centres and interconnection hubs. With the launch, SPTel said several data centres now were connected via its network including Keppel DigiHub, Equinix SG1, Kingsland and 1-net North, and it was targeting to have 16 data centres connected by year-end, including NTT and Pacnet.

Singapore Power had established the network communications unit 15 years earlier, but only now was ready to begin taking its services to the market, which it could not do until it had built out its fibre network.

Singapore Power was a major shareholder in local telco, StarHub, when the latter launched its services in April 2000 following the liberalisation of the country's telecommunications market. In 2001, the utility company divested and sold off its StarHub shares.

According to SPTel CEO Poh Mui Hoon, fibre lines were laid alongside its parent company's national power grid, providing much "synergy" and cost efficiencies from sharing such resources.

"With all the fibre we've established on the ground, we're now starting to think about how to monetise this and change the ICT landscape in Singapore," Poh said in an interview with ZDNet. "We want to be the alternative option for enterprises and carriers."

Pointing to NetLink Trust, which owned and operated Singapore's national fibre network, she noted that the service provider's heritage traced back to incumbent Singtel.

"What we have today in Singapore, a lot of the fibre is by Singtel [since] NetLink is part of Singtel in many ways. For true diversity, you need different paths," she said. In this aspect, she added, SPTel was offering choice with a separate fibre fabric as well as providing options for enterprises that need backup or redundancies.

With Singapore aiming to be data centre hub, establishing robust connections between data centres also would be crucial to minimise latency, especially as workloads moved constantly from one data centre to another, she said.

Increased adoption of cloud services and emergence of the federated cloud concept further underscored the need for seamless connectivity between data centres and enterprise networks. This, Poh said, would ensure businesses could run both public and public cloud models and choose the cloud providers and data centres they preferred, without having to worry about connectivity issues.

"The way we link data centres is true point-to-point connection, rather than having to go through [multiple] exchanges before routing back to the data centre. [So] we may offer a better route option than [competitors]," she said, noting the ability to transfer at lowest latency possible would be a key criteria for most data centres.

Asked about the extent of SPTel's fibre coverage, she would say only that it was "very pervasive" and for most instances, was likely less than 1 kilometre from the nearest connected building. The company also was continuing to invest and establish coverage in areas it had yet to reach, she said, adding that its network was available in areas where most data centres in Singapore were located.

SPTel also had extended its network to Malaysia through the Woodlands Causeway as well as Tuas Link, the latter of which would go live later this year.

Poh further revealed that it had just inked a partnership with the telco subsidiary of Indonesian utility group, Perusahaan Gas Negara (PGas), to connect its network with the latter's subsea cables. She said both companies were now working through the details of the partnership.

SPTel would continue to establish such alliances with key providers across the region including Hong Kong, which could then pave the way to the China market, she said, adding that the company was already speaking with various partners, but declined to provide more details until such plans were firmed up.

Asked if it also had plans to be more than a provider of "dumb pipes" and offer managed services, Poh said it would explore areas in which it could provide more value. Its focus for now, however, was to "intensify efforts" and explain its market position now that its fibre infrastructure was in place.

"With this fibre bed, we can definitely put other services on top and we're definitely looking along those lines," she said. "These things will take some time to execute."

She added that SPTel would be looking at partners that could provide such managed, over-the-top (OTT) services, such as expanding on its existing relationships with data centres that have co-location and hosting services. It also would be looking to sign up cloud providers, the likes of Google and Amazon Web Services, to connect to its network, she said.

SPTel had just linked a deal with "a major OTT player", Poh revealed, but declined to provide further details.

The Singapore Power unit faces stiff competition from Singtel, which already has an expansive network locally and across the region through its subsidiaries as well as joint ventures and partnerships.

Singtel operates a network of 12 data centres in Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong, and offers access to another 20 facilities worldwide including China, Indonesia, India, and Europe. The Singapore telco also offers a range of cloud and managed services including security and application.

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