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Competition in telco market set for a boost

IDA wants to woo more operators here and offer more airwaves
The Straits Times - April 23, 2014
By: Irene Tham Technology Correspondent
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Competition in telco market set for a boost In a bid to woo more mobile operators to start up here, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) - Singapore's telecommunications regulator - is looking to lay down new rules. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

MOBILE consumers can look forward to more choices and faster mobile surfing, if plans to introduce more telco operators into Singapore's market come to pass.

In a bid to woo more mobile operators to start up here, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) - Singapore's telecommunications regulator - is looking to lay down new rules.

It also wants to offer more airwaves to boost the capacity of mobile networks for faster surfing.

One way for a new operator to ease into the local market is to buy airtime in bulk from the existing dominant telcos SingTel, StarHub and M1.

Mobile operators who do this instead of building physical mobile networks are known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). They are prevalent in the United States and Europe and include players like Britain's Tesco Mobile.

Yesterday, the IDA launched a public consultation to seek the industry's views on how the new regulations could entice more MVNOs to operate here.

For instance, wholesale airtime prices, which are unregulated at present, could be regulated to prevent overcharging. The IDA could also offer discounts on airwaves to SingTel, StarHub and M1 if they are willing to sell airtime wholesale to MVNOs.

To date, there are six small MVNOs here serving niche markets. One is Philippines' PLTD, which bought airtime in bulk from M1 to launch Smart Pinoy prepaid card services, offering cheaper calls to the Philippines.

Together, MVNOs currently account for some 80,000 customers - less than 1 per cent of the 8.4 million mobile lines here.

An IDA spokesman said it wants to "inject more competition in the mobile market, which could lead to lower prices and more innovative services".

"Niche markets could also be better served," she added.

The MVNO model was first introduced here by British entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Group when it launched Virgin Mobile in 2001. It closed down barely a year into operations, citing weak market conditions.

But a lot has changed since then, said the IDA spokesman. "There are more business opportunities now with many people using mobile data."

Fibre broadband service provider SuperInternet has said it is interested in bundling broadband plans with mobile data and mobile talktime. Managing director Benjamin Tan says mobile plans available today are "too similar".

The IDA is also looking to allocate up to 450MHz of airwaves that could become available in the next six years to meet the growing demand for mobile data services.

IDA estimates that Singapore may require more than 1GHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2025. The regulator has allocated 270MHz, or a quarter of the 1GHz Singapore will need, to date.

SingTel, StarHub and M1 are reviewing the recommendations.

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