The Singapore regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), recently released a consultation paper on the spectrum framework for 4G. The spectrum is for the 2.3GHz and 2.5GHz bands (also commonly known as 2.6GHz in Europe). The consultation will run until 7 June 2010. This move signals the IDAs desire to promote NGA deployment, both through fiber and also through wireless high-speed broadband using LTE. But the commercial launch of LTE services in Singapore could be delayed, given that under the current plan the 2.3/2.6GHz spectrum will not become available until 2015 at the earliest. With this in mind, the IDA may have to consider an alternative approach to release spectrum as early as 2012.
So far WiMAX has not proved popular in Singapore
The 2.6GHz spectrum band in Singapore is primarily reserved for 4G services using either LTE or WiMAX technology. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan have already auctioned spectrum for the provision of broadband wireless access (BWA) services. In India, which has only just concluded its long-delayed 3G license auction, the government has recently announced that it will turn its attention to 4G licensing. In Europe, several countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland have already auctioned the 2.6GHz band for mobile services, and in Germany the auction is under way. Similar auctions in the Netherlands, Austria, and possibly the UK are planned to take place in the next two years. So far, announcements around the world of 2.6GHz auction plans have shown that there is high demand for 4G frequency spectrum in this band.
In 2005 the IDA auctioned the 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz bands specifically for WiMAX services. Six successful bidders were awarded portions of a total 50MHz in the 2.3GHz band and 90MHz in the 2.6GHz band. However, there have not been any commercial WiMAX launches to date, despite the rollout obligations for the successful bidders. The IDA initially intended to extend the licenses of the existing licensees for eventual LTE deployment, but is now considering holding another auction to ensure that this spectrum is awarded to those who value it the most. This is especially crucial given the limited amount of spectrum available, and the comparatively small size of the Singapore market.
The consultation will increase regulatory certainty about the spectrum suitable for LTE
Currently all three of Singapores mobile operators SingTel, StarHub, and MobileOne are conducting trial LTE services in the 2.6GHz band. We anticipate that during the consultation, these operators will clarify their opposition to further restrictions on the underlying technology (WiMAX) for 4G deployment in the 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz bands. Due to technical limitations that make WiMAX unsuitable for certain areas of Singapore, and limited device availability during the trials by the three mobile operators, WiMAX has not been attractive to local players. As a result, after the rollout obligation period, which stipulated publicly available services within 18 months in the case of the 2.5GHz band and 36 months for the 2.3GHz band, WiMAX has not proved popular. We expect all the operators to bid for 4G licenses and launch official LTE services when the spectrum becomes available. Given the regulatory clarity around spectrum for LTE, the operators may be encouraged to invest in network rollout in the 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz bands.
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