Singapore Thursday unveiled concrete steps to have a fourth mobile phone company, offering significant concessions to potential players interested in launching telephony services, and taking on its incumbent operators.
Brushing aside stiff opposition from the existing mobile phone companies – Singtel, StarHub and – the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore said it will put up 60 MHz of spectrum (or units of airwaves) in the 900 MHz and 2.3 GHz bands for auctions, for the new entrant.
The reserve price for spectrum, the airwaves on which voice and data signals travel, for the new entrant, has been set at heavily discounted price of S$35 million.
The spectrum auctions will begin in Q3 this year.
The emergence of a totally independent fourth operator could potentially set off a price war in both voice and data tariffs, a move that is bound to have a significant impact on not just the bottomline of incumbents, but also on their share prices.
Interestingly, Singapore’s existing incumbent telcos, though listed, have indirect linkages to each other.
For instance, Starhub’s main shareholders are Asia Mobile Holdings Pte. Ltd, a subsidiary of Singapore Technologies Telemedia Pte. Ltd (which is owned by Temasek Holdings – the investing arm of the Singapore government). Incidentally, Temasek is also the largest shareholder in Singpore’s largest mobile phone company SingTel.
Similarly, M1’s major shareholders are Axiata Investments (Singapore) Limited, Keppel Telecoms Pte Ltd and SPH Multimedia Private Limited. Keppel Telecoms, is part of the Keppel Corporation, in which Temasek holds more than 20% stake.
In layman’s terms, the deal for the new entrant is as follows. Interested companies can bid bid for a total of 60 units of airwaves, from the two frequency bands – 900 MHz and 2.3 GHz. Both these bands, especially 900 MHz, is considered very efficient for data services. These frequency bands can be used to provide third, fourth and fifth generation mobile services, also called 3G, 4G and 5G offerings.
The 900 MHz is also considered more efficient because of the propagation characteristics of these signals, especially for indoor coverage. It is estimated that telcos that have this frequency require about 40% lesser equipment and other related infrastructure, including cellular towers because this band offers superior coverage. This cuts down the capex for the new entrant.
The IDA said the auction will be held in two stages, and the first phase will be open only to new entrants bidding to become the fourth operator in the city state.
In the second stage, the airwaves auction will be open to both existing players (M1, Singtel Mobile and StarHub Mobile), as well as the new entrant who bagged frequencies in the earlier bidding process.
The IDA has also laid down rules of the new entrant, and said this company, would be given a ‘reasonable period’ to build up its network, and added that the fourth operator must achieve achieve nationwide outdoor service coverage by October 2018.
Prior to unveiling these guidelines, the IDA had held consultations with all stakeholders between in April 2014 and July 2015.
It also pointed that several industry players had supported the allocation of more spectrum in view of the increasing consumer demand for mobile data services and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The IDA further added that several potential new players had indicated strong interest to enter the mobile market.
“The entry of a new MNO will increase competition in the mobile services market. It is likely to bring about a wider variety of innovative services and more competitive offerings to benefit consumers. A new MNO is expected to bring about increased investments in the infocomm sector, leading to more advanced technologies and improved service quality,” the IDA added, justifying its move to allow another operator.
Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, IDA, said: “The spectrum made available will allow all mobile operators to roll out or enhance their high speed networks as early as 2017. Having more players in the market will give consumers a greater choice in selecting an offering that best suits their needs.”