Singapore Telcos Demand Rethink of 5G Standalone Plan

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark
7/29/2019

Singapore's biggest operators are pushing back against the government's ambitious plan to launch 5G with standalone networks next year.

SingTel, the biggest local operator, has told regulator IMDA that "there is no confirmed roadmap for chipset and network equipment for mmWave devices on a [standalone] 5G network architecture."

In launching a consultation on 5G licensing in May, the IMDA stipulated that to "achieve the full benefits of 5G, standalone 5G networks that do not ride on existing 4G networks will be required."

It wants the operators to deploy kit based on standalone specs that are expected to be finalized early next year.

"5G deployments in many countries today are based on 'non-standalone' specifications, which leverages on existing 4G networks for connectivity. Such deployments are limited to higher speeds and will not support the full suite of 5G capabilities," it adds.

The regulator proposes issuing 3.5GHz, 26GHz and 28GHz spectrum for just two 5G licensees, with the aim of rolling out and deploying as early as 2020.

In its submission to IMDA, SingTel said so far all 5G deployments and the app development ecosystem have been based on non-standalone (NSA) technology.

"In light of this, SingTel submits that the IMDA must take NSA into consideration and facilitate a roadmap to transition from NSA to SA network architecture," it urges.

StarHub, the number-two operator, warned in its own submission that 5G is a new technology with an unproven business case.

"If the authority wants 5G to flourish, the winning bidders must be allowed to deploy 5G based primarily on commercial considerations," it said. "If onerous regulatory obligations are imposed on the 5G winners from the outset, this will undermine the business case for 5G."

The GSM Association (GSMA), an organization that represents the interests of mobile service providers and their suppliers, has lent its support to the Singaporean operators, arguing that the 5G SA-only condition would represent "a rollout handicap" for licensees.

"We encourage IMDA to consider the cost benefits of imposing such a license condition, and recommend issuing full technology-neutral licenses," it said.


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However, on another contentious issue -- the timing and size of spectrum allocation -- SingTel and StarHub are split.

SingTel argues that spectrum allocation of just 100 MHz in the 3.5GHz band "would result in two sub-optimal 5G networks that are not considerably superior to 4G."

It suggests allocating more spectrum to the first network and staggering the deployment of the second network, "which can commence when more 3.5GHz spectrum becomes available."

But StarHub is strongly opposed to any such move, stating that "to allow meaningful competition for 5G, both spectrum parcels must [Starhub's emphasis] be equal in size."

The IMDA has separately begun another consultation dealing with legacy spectrum in the 800MHz, TDD 1900MHz and FDD 2100MHz bands.

It proposes setting aside the 800MHz band for enterprise private networks.

After completion of the consultations, IMDA will prepare a beauty contest process to allocate the two 5G licenses. Only the four incumbent MNOs will be eligible to apply.

Its selection process will give a 40% weighting to network design and resilience, 30% to rollout and performance, 15% to financial capability and 15% to spectrum price.

Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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