Singapore has invited bids for 5G licenses with the aim of starting rollout in the second half of next year.
As promised when it began an industry consultation earlier this year, regulator IMDA will license two operators by mid-2020 to build nationwide 3.5GHz networks.
Following a five-month consultation, it appears to have caved to industry lobbying, however, and will offer additional licenses for localized deployments.
But it has not backed down on its demand for a rapid transition to standalone 5G.
The Asian city-state, which ranks second behind the US in digital competitiveness, wants to be "among the first wave of countries in the world" to deploy standalone 5G, IMDA said Thursday.
Operators must commit to providing full-fledged 5G standalone capability over at least half of Singapore by end-2022.
"Only standalone 5G networks have the capacity to support and deliver full-fledged 5G capabilities, such as network slicing, ultra-reliable low latency communications, and massive machine-type communications," it said.
By contrast non-standalone (NSA) networks "leverage existing 4G networks, and thus only offer higher speeds."
IMDA said each of the two national licensees will be awarded 100MHz in the 3.5GHz band as well as 800MHz of millimeter wave spectrum.
Only two licenses would be issued because the limited spectrum available would not support more than two networks able to "deliver the full potential of 5G," it said.
To enable retail competition the two nationwide players will be required to wholesale their 5G networks to other operators and MVNOs.
The licensees will be expected to achieve at least 50% outdoors standalone coverage within two years and aim for nationwide coverage by end 2025.
"The proposed network architecture is expected to be able to support 5G use-cases requiring eMBB experience, uRLLC and mMTC, as well as network slicing, amongst other full-fledged 5G capabilities," IMDA said in a background paper.
It said the reserve price for a single 100MHz lot in the 3.5GHz band would be S$55 million ($40.3 million). It will not charge an auction price for the 26MHz or 28MHz spectrum.
All four local operators -- Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG -- are invited to apply for licenses, which will be awarded based on a combination of spectrum prices and rollout plans.
The two MNOs that fail to win national licenses will be assigned two 800MHz lots of mmWave spectrum.
IMDA said because the roadmap for the mmWave standalone equipment was not yet mature, it would allow operators the ability to choose standalone or NSA deployment for those bands as an interim measure.
But operators who choose NSA must deploy standalone 5G "within 24 months from when the ecosystem is ready."
To avoid interference from satellite broadcasters in the 3.5GHz band -- a headache for 5G across southeast Asia -- IMDA said it had begun to move users away so as to free the spectrum up from 2021 onwards.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading