Thursday 10 March 2022

Singapore is a 5G leader in Southeast Asia

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on Singapore’s telecom sector in 2020, pushing down penetration rates and delaying several major infrastructure projects due to production and supply chain disruptions. The good news, at least, is that the overall effect on the sector has been relatively modest compared to other industries that effectively collapsed under the shutdown. Telecommunications remained an essential service during the period, with many people even needing to upgrade their services and plans to enable a shift to working and schooling from home. Singapore’s modern infrastructure and capacity weathered the storm well.

Most telecom operators suffered financially, with declines in revenue and profit as subscribers tightened their belts and reduced discretionary spending. The downturn was roughly in line with the retraction in the Singapore economy. All the major players continued to provide services, and to proceed with their investment programs, particularly in 5G networks (with a focus on standalone). The operators are voicing strong optimism for the coming months as travel restrictions are reduced and economic activity starts to bounce back. While forecasting should be viewed as a very risky activity in such uncertain times, there is a high degree of confidence across the industry that penetration rates in Singapore will quickly return to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Singapore continues to push ahead with its 5G rollout. 5G networks and services are expected to form the backbone of growth in the telco sector over the coming years as service providers seek new ways to engage customers in a market that is otherwise already saturated.

Singapore currently has 4 mobile operators, Singtel Mobile, StarHub, M1 and TPG Telecom (4G-only).

Singtel is the market leader, Starhub is in second position, M1 is in third and TPG is in fourth. Coverage and speed is excellent in the city on the three major networks. No 2G is available, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz, and 4G/LTE has started on all three providers on 1800 MHz (band 3) and 2600 MHz (band 7). 900 MHz (band 8) and 2500 MHz (band 41) were later added, and from 2019 spectrum on 700 MHz (band 28) is added for 4G/LTE.

5G trials were started by Starhub in August 2020 on 2100 MHz (n1) and by Singtel in September 2020 on both 2100 MHz (n1) and 3500 MHz (n78), and quietly commenced commercial operations on the three major operators in early-2021 when 3500 MHz (n78) was also added for 5G for Starhub and M1, but is currently not open for prepaid.

The coverage and speeds in this city state are superb by all three providers. 4G/LTE covers all of the city outdoors and the MRT (= metro, subway). Note that for Singapore you'll need to bring a 3G/4G device as 2G is switched off. 2G/GSM networks of all three providers were shut down on April 1, 2017. There is no 2G coverage anymore. So bring a 3G or 4G/LTE capable device. The sale of 2G-only mobile devices has been banned from January 2017 or retailers could be given a penalty. 

Singtel Mobile by the Singtel Group is the biggest provider in town and has a market share of about 45%. The Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. is one of the largest mobile network operators in Southeast Asia. It has a coverage of 99% for 3G and 4G/LTE: Singtel 3G 4G. 4G/LTE is on 900, 1800 and 2600 MHz, bands 3, 7 and 8.

Singtel is ramping up its 5G standalone (SA) deployment in Singapore, by expanding the network and developing new 5G use cases in partnership with Ericsson. In a press release the Swedish vendor said it is powering Singtel’s 5G SA network with 5G radio access products and cloud-native dual-mode 5G Core network solutions. The pair hope to deliver high-quality connectivity for outdoor coverage in densely populated areas and help drive strong indoor-mall coverage across the city-state. Ericsson went on to say ‘the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled the need for better connectivity indoors, due to the numerous travel and lock-down restrictions’. The deployment builds on a long-standing relationship between the two companies, including with Singtel’s initial wave of 5G rollouts.

In September 2021 Singtel confirmed that its 5G network now covers over two-thirds of Singapore, with new 5G sites added in densely populated areas like Choa Chu Kang, Punggol, Sembawang and Tampines. In addition, the mobile operator has expanded its 5G indoor coverage to more major shopping malls island-wide such as Funan, West Mall, Tampines Mall, Northpoint City and Waterway Point. In April 2021 Singtel revealed that as part of its 5G ‘push’, it had deployed hundreds of 5G SA sites across the city-state, in areas such as Orchard Road, the Central Business District, Harbourfront and Sentosa. With work ongoing to boost in-building coverage in Ngee Ann City and selected Singtel Shops across Singapore (having already begun the process at VivoCity), Singtel confirmed that in readiness for commercial launch, it had begun offering 5G SA compatible SIM cards. The cellco’s 5G SA sites run on 3.5GHz spectrum, enabling it to deliver ultra-fast speeds and swifter response times.

StarHub by local StarHub Ltd. is the 2nd provider in Singapore giving good speeds and coverage in 3G and 4G/LTE reaching a nationwide coverage. StarHub is the local partner of Vodafone and is the only provider to offer VoLTE (branded as HD Voice+) on prepaid. 4G/LTE is on 1800, 2100, 2500 and 2600 MHz, bands 1, 3, 7 and 41.  StarHub's 5G standalone network has also been very successful: 

 M1 (previously known as MobileOne) is the 3rd largest national provider in Singapore. Coverage on 3G and 4G is on par with the other two providers. 4G/LTE is on 1800 and 2600 MHz, bands 3 and 7.

 M1 launched its 5G Standalone network in July 2021 via what it terms ‘an exclusive market trial, allowing both its existing and new mobile customers to enjoy the enhanced benefits of the … technology’. In a press release the operator confirmed that customers can experience ‘true’ 5G by signing-up for a ‘5Go Plus Booster’ plan both online or in-store. As part of this, the carrier is running an exclusive launch promotion giving users ‘at least three months of free access to the True 5G experience, following which they can continue to enjoy the service at a discounted price starting at SGD5 per month, until the end of 2021’.

The operator’s new 5G SA network currently covers about 50% of the city-state including the Central Business District (CBD), Marina Bay Financial Centre, key town centres and high data usage areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Chinatown, Clementi, Orchard Road, Pasir Ris, Paya Lebar, Sengkang, Tampines and Woodlands. Going forward, M1 plans to extend coverage to 75% of Singapore by the end of 2021 with full coverage completed by the end of 2022 – eclipsing the regulator’s requirements of 50% coverage by that date.

In 2016 the bidding auction for a 4th operator was started. The winner was named with TPG Telecom from Australia, founded by Malaysian billionaire David Teoh. It was allocated spectrum in the unusual 900 MHz and 2300 MHz bands (8 and 40) to provide only 4G/LTE services which started in 2020.

According to Mobile World Live TPG Telecom has two years to reach 50 per cent coverage with an SA 5G network and five years for nationwide. It holds spectrum in the 900MHz and 2.3GHz bands won as part of its market entry in 2016. It has also been provisionally awarded 2 (two) 5MHz paired lots of spectrum in the 2.1 GHz band for a price of S$31m. 

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