Early rollout of 5G in Singapore expected, says Fitch Ratings

Localized network deployment and reasonably priced spectrum will be the main drivers.

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Singapore will increase the number of 5G networks from two to four and this will spur competition, thus facilitating an early rollout in 2020, according to Fitch Ratings.

The global ratings agency said that the decision to increase the number of licenses will intensify competition, spurring product innovation, particularly in the enterprise segment. This will drive timely 5G network services execution in Singapore, it highlighted in a statement today.

Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced the 5G regulatory framework yesterday to “drive a timely, cost-effective and robust 5G network rollout” by 2020.

Fitch noted that the regulator plans to assign the 5G spectrum based on the financial standing of spectrum holders and their network security designs. IMDA expects to announce the results by mid-2020.

As per IMDA’s latest call for proposals, the authority will award four 5G telecom licenses. It will award two mobile network operators (MNOs) the rights to operate nationwide networks—as proposed in the public consultation in May—and another two MNOs that will have the flexibility to deliver 5G localized services on a non-standalone basis (NSA) during the initial period. Since a NSA network is less costly, it gives small network operators such as TPG a fair chance to roll out 5G services, Fitch said.

For the uninitiated, Ericsson’s blog explains that non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) are two 5G tracks that communication service providers can opt for when transitioning from 4G to next-generation technology.

5G investment risk will remain low over the next 18 months since two MNOs have the option to offer only localized services in the interim as well as a reasonably priced spectrum, Fitch said.

Deploying 5G services is expensive, as seen from how even telcos in South Korea, the most advanced 5G market, are struggling to boost operating cash flow. This is because 5G deployment requires an entirely new core infrastructure, which comes with a high price tag, Fitch noted.

Despite this, the cost of deploying 5G is reasonable in Singapore. The price is USD 0.07 per MHz per capita in Singapore, as compared to USD 0.09 in Hong Kong. In Europe, the cost of 5G spectrum ranges between USD 0.02 and 0.05 per MHz per capital in Spain, Finland, and the Czech republic. Fitch believes that sufficient and affordable spectrum is crucial to the realization of 5G’s potential.

There are four MNOs in Singapore. They are Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), StarHub, M1, and TPG. Of these, Fitch believes Singtel is best positioned to win 5G spectrum given its strong financial standing.

Singapore has identified 5G as a key connectivity infrastructure that is capable of supporting the transformation of many industries. IMDA said it has partnered with the National Research Foundation to jointly set aside SGD 40 million (USD 29.3 million) to build an open and inclusive 5G innovation ecosystem. The regulator aims to achieve nationwide 5G coverage by 2025, with 50% coverage by 2023, Fitch noted.

Other countries in the region are also in the process of testing and building 5G infrastructure. Viettel, the biggest telco and IT services provider in Vietnam, has been awarded the country’s first 5G trial license. In addition, Maxis, a major Malaysian telco, recently inked an agreement with Huawei to build its 5G network.