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Singapore telco regulator proposes standalone 5G networks

Standalone networks will deliver the full suite of enterprise 5G capabilities, including network slicing and low latency connections for internet of things applications

Singapore’s telecoms regulator is proposing that mobile operators deploy standalone 5G networks, paving the way for enterprises in the city-state to tap the full potential of 5G connectivity.

In a public consultation document released last week to seek industry feedback on 5G regulatory policies, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said it will support the adoption of standalone 5G specifications, which are expected to be harmonised internationally in early 2020.

The 5G deployments in many countries today are based on non-standalone specifications, which support enhanced mobile broadband services by using large bandwidths and hardware improvements, but still rely on existing 4G networks for connectivity.

Such deployments are limited to higher speeds and will not support the full suite of 5G capabilities.

Standalone 5G networks, on the other hand, are independent networks and will offer more advanced capabilities, such as ultra-low latency and higher density of connections to support the internet of things (IoT).

These networks will be based on a new architecture that includes a virtualised core network to fully realise the capabilities of 5G, including network slicing which will allow telcos to offer critical service providers their own private 5G networks for secure and real-time connectivity to the cloud.

Network slicing will also enable operators to carve out segments of their 5G infrastructure for customers with differing quality-of-service (QoS) requirements. For example, they could offer a “hospital slice” with the bandwidth and QoS needed to conduct remote surgeries and charge more for it.

Quah Mei Lee, industry principal for ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, said that although many early 5G deployments are likely to be non-standalone, telcos that launch standalone networks will still need to test the technology using non-standalone deployments.

For Singapore, which has a residential wired broadband penetration rate of more than 90%, the IMDA noted that 5G’s value lies in helping the industry and enterprises to exploit market opportunities and to develop innovative applications and services in a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, transport, media and healthcare.

“Singapore seeks to leverage 5G to spearhead innovation, and develop differentiated offerings in 5G applications,” said the IMDA. “Globally, as the business case and economics of 5G are still nascent, IMDA will nurture the 5G ecosystem by focusing our development efforts in selected areas.

“These include enabling the deployment of 5G networks, partnering industry to build sustainable business use cases, and developing strong human capabilities to exploit the technology to spur innovation and adoption.”

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For a start, the IMDA is looking to enable the deployment of at least two nationwide 5G networks, and will encourage network sharing and services-based competition among Singapore’s mobile network operators, which include Singtel, StarHub, M1 and the latest market entrant, TPG Telecom.

In June 2018, M1 and Huawei tested the use of 5G connectivity to transmit virtual reality content at M1’s headquarters, while Singtel and its Australian subsidiary, Optus, successfully made one of the first 5G video calls in the Asia-Pacific region earlier this year.

The IMDA expects the first commercial networks to be introduced in or after 2020. Some industry players have noted that later deployments after 2020 would allow “Singapore to reap the economies of scale from commercially available 5G equipment, learn from the experiences of overseas markets and take advantage of the increasingly mature 5G mobile ecosystem”.

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