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IMDA to issue 5G spectrum to Singtel and StarHub-M1 venture

Singapore’s telco regulator will award 5G spectrum to major operators whose proposals have exceeded its requirements in some cases

Singapore’s largest telco Singtel and a joint-venture consortium formed by the next two biggest players StarHub and M1 will be allocated spectrum by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to operate the country’s first 5G networks.

Announcing its decision on 29 April 2020, the industry regulator said the telcos will be required to deploy standalone 5G networks with a full suite of capabilities, including network slicing, from January 2021, keeping pace with first-mover cities in other countries.

Their networks, also accessible by other operators through wholesale agreements, will have to cover at least half of Singapore by the end of 2022, with nationwide coverage to be ready by the end of 2025.

Meanwhile, the telcos will have to complete regulatory processes, such as selecting spectrum lots and confirming technical and legal matters. IMDA will issue 5G licences to the respective telcos once they have completed these processes, after which network deployments can begin.

Additionally, IMDA will allocate millimetre wave spectrum to mobile network operators to deploy localised high-capacity 5G hotspots. With this, it said M1, StarHub, Singtel, TPG Telecom and mobile virtual network operators would be able to offer retail 5G services.

IMDA chief executive Tan Kiat How noted that the telcos’ proposals were compelling, and in some cases exceeded the regulator’s requirements.

“The winners were selected based on a comprehensive assessment of how their proposals would deliver the best outcomes for businesses and consumers in Singapore,” said Tan. “Beyond connectivity infrastructure, we believe 5G networks will spur innovation, create exciting business and job opportunities, and position Singapore as a leading digital economy.”

Singapore’s minister for communications and information S. Iswaran noted that the investments in the country’s 5G networks amid the Covid-19 outbreak “will ready us for the eventual recovery to build a thriving digital future for our people, businesses and industries”.

To ensure Singapore’s 5G networks are secure, a security testbed programme will be launched to guard against potential cyber threats.

IMDA said while operators can choose 5G technology suppliers based on commercial grounds, they are subject to the commitments made in their proposals, and must meet its resilience and cyber security requirements.

In allocating 5G spectrum, the IMDA took the “beauty contest” way, rather than an auction that could lead to a bidding war and drive up costs.

The base price of one 100MHz lot of 3.5GHz spectrum that will be used by Singapore’s standalone networks was set at S$55m – a sum derived from international and local benchmarks, as well as IMDA’s own “econometric assessment” of Singapore’s mobile market.

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