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Singapore Makes FTTH Strides

Catherine Haslam
News Analysis
Catherine Haslam
6/16/2009
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SINGAPORE -- CommunicAsia 2009 -- Singapore's plan to deliver every home and business with a 1-Gbit/s fixed broadband connection is ahead of schedule, despite the economic downturn, according to the island state's authorities.

Dr. Tan Geok Leng, CTO of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) , told the media at a special briefing here that the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which is part of the government's iN2015 initiative, is still very much on track. (See Singapore Unveils Digital Hub Vision.)

IDA representatives also provided an update on the technology deployment plans for the NBN, and revealed the initial wholesale tariffs for residential and business services.

The NBN is being developed by two separate entities, known as the NetCo and the OpCo: OpenNet (the NetCo), a consortium comprising Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY), Axia NetMedia Corp. (TSE: AXX), Singapore Press Holdings, and Singapore Power Telecoms, which will provide the passive infrastructure; and Nucleus Connect (the OpCo), a wholly owned subsidiary of StarHub , which will provide wholesale connectivity to multiple retail service providers. (See AsiaWatch: StarHub Lands NGN Role and OpenNet Scores Singapore Deal.)

The companies are working on parallel rollouts that are required to deliver 100 percent coverage by January 1, 2013, and are actually ahead of schedule, with 95 percent coverage promised for June 2012 instead of the 80 percent required in their license conditions.

The wholesale rates have now been set for the initial 100-Mbit/s services that will run over the NBN: 15 Singapore dollars (US$10) per month for residential connectivity, and SG$50 (US$34) per month for non-residential connections, from the NetCo to any OpCo; and SG$21 (US$14) per month for residential services, and SG$75 (US$51) a month for non-residential services, from the OpCo to the retail service providers.

While OpenNet is the sole provider of passive infrastructure, Nucleus Connect could face competition from other providers. Any future wholesale rival, however, will not receive any of the SG$250 million ($172 million) government funding available to the initial OpCo.

Andrew Haire, deputy director-general of the IDA's Telecoms and Post unit, noted at the briefing that, as there are currently 46 service providers in Singapore, it's unlikely that Nucleus Connect will remain unchallenged as the only OpCo over time.

Nucleus Connect is deploying GPON equipment for residential access and a mix of GPON and point-to-point Ethernet to reach commercial buildings. Two speed options will be made available initially: Residential users can choose a 100-Mbit/s downlink and 50-Mbit/s uplink, or 1-Gbit/s downlink and 500-Mbit/s uplink; and non-residential customers will choose between symmetrical 1-Gbit/s or symmetrical 100-Mbit/s access lines. Four classes of service have been identified, ranging from A (real-time) to D (best-effort).

Dr. Tan explained that uplink speeds will become more and more important as applications such as video uploads to social networking sites become increasingy popular. "We want to be ahead. The infrastructure we are building is not just for today, it is ready for tomorrow," he stated. In addition to FTTH, the iN2015 initiative includes a national WiFi network that has been in operation for longer than 12 months and which now boasts more than 7,550 hotspots. These have been developed by three companies -- iCell, QMax, and SingTel -- and provide free, island-wide coverage in public areas.

To date, there are 1.28 million subscribers, of whom 480,000 are regular users, Khoong Huk Yun, assistant chief executive of Infrastructure and Service Development at the IDA, revealed. He added that about 40 percent of users access the network using mobile smartphone devices. That's significantly higher than the 10 percent the IDA had predicted, and a trend that has caused users to request the introduction of username and password login capabilities, something Khoong said the IDA was "fixing," though he didn't provide any details.

Singapore's authorities are hoping the iN2015 initiative will help the island become the Internet hub for the Asia/Pacific region in the coming years.

It is also providing the IDA with an opportunity to boost the reputation of Singapore and its indigenous IT and communications sector overseas through the work of its wholly owned subsidiary, IDA International, which is selling its services to other government organizations around the world.

Launched in February 2009, IDA International is now working with government bodies in China, the Middle East, and South America to plan their e-government and network strategies. These operations provide revenue and boost the export potential of the Singaporean companies involved in the iN2015 program.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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