Why Singapore is going straight to standalone 5G

Singapore's top telecom regulator has explained the country's decision to skip non-standalone (NSA) 5G and go straight to standalone (SA).

Aileen Chia, director-general of telecoms at ICT regulator IMDA, says it's partly for technology reasons, but mostly because it is SA that enables innovation.

One issue for the IMDA was that the standard was new and not all of the features were available.

Additionally, because the city-state was already "highly fiberized," with pervasive 4G and 1Gbit/s capacity to all homes, there was no business case for 5G fixed-wireless access.

Chia, speaking at a seminar on Asian 5G, said regulators had to ask: what can 5G do for us?

"The policy approach for 5G would not be the same as for 3G and 4G, of just making spectrum available and letting the operators roll out the network," she said.

The city-state, which stands at or near the top of most global ICT adoption rankings, determined that 5G would be essential to supporting innovation and the digital economy.

"So we made the leap to say that for nationwide spectrum we would want an SA technology deployment."

Virtually every other 5G adopter has gone down the path of deploying NSA and then upgrading.

"But because of the emphasis on innovation and what the full-fledged capability of SA can bring, we took a slightly different path," Chia said.

"The race is not to be the fastest, but how do you bring a technology that makes sense for innovation for the country."

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She said the other two differentiators of 5G were the role of enterprise customers and the extra human capital requirements.

She said the IMDA had helped foster 5G trials in half a dozen sectors, setting aside S$40 million (US$29.90 million) to support research and use case development.

Chia cited IMDA's partnership with real estate developer CapitaLand in trialing smart building services in housing estates. They had worked with cloud partners like Azure and AWS to gather and analyze residents' building data to manage services such as cooling and water usage.

The government was helping operators to train 1,000 people in 5G-related skills, and with the local colleges and the broader ICT industry to train another 5,000 professionals.

But Chia said that consultations with local businesses on 5G had shown that they expect a much closer relationship with operators.

"They think it's not just a policy shift, but also a business shift – a B2B, B2X shift. The operators need to partner enterprise users a lot more closely to help them develop solutions.

"It's no longer just 'what I offer,' but 'how can I partner you?' to develop solutions for what the enterprise needs. I think that's another shift that the market is asking of the operators."

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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