Better mobile phone coverage in the pipeline

Revised rules will aid telcos in putting base stations in buildings

A revised building code to be issued by the middle of this year looks set to remove some major hurdles telcos here face to ensure good indoor mobile phone coverage - and provide relief for subscribers plagued by poor mobile reception.

Telcos have been hampered by a lack of space to install base stations and the high rentals they pay building owners to house them.

Currently, it takes between three months and a year to get a new base station - which improves mobile coverage - up and running in a building.

Upcoming amendments to the Code of Practice for Infocommunication Facilities in Buildings (COPIF) aim to shorten this waiting time. The main change: making it mandatory for both private building owners and the Housing Board to set aside a fixed amount of space on their premises for the base stations and other mobile telephony equipment.

Such spaces can be located in designated equipment rooms, carparks or rooftops.

No rent will be charged either, unless telcos request additional space. This means no more time wasted on haggling over rent.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said it is likely to launch the amended code by the middle of this year.

The new rule will apply to both new and existing buildings. For building operators who have existing lease agreements with telcos, the amendment will kick in only after the lease expires.

But the revised code is not likely to address a major bugbear telcos face: access to buildings.

Telcos told The Straits Times there is often resistance from commercial landlords and condominium management committees, who are reluctant to allow them to enter buildings to install or maintain equipment.

At times, telcos also need to deal with multiple government agencies, such as the HDB and Land Transport Authority. If rooftop access is involved, a police escort needs to be arranged.

The IDA said that while the upcoming revisions will not likely address access issues, it is working with telcos and building owners, including the HDB and town councils, to streamline the process for access to new buildings.

The revised code comes on the heels of a new set of indoor mobile coverage standards kicking in today. Under the new rules, telcos have to ensure at least 85 per cent of an entire building can receive mobile phone signals - or face fines of up to $50,000 a month. The rules apply islandwide.

Previously, this standard was applied only to public access areas, such as lobbies, basement- level foodcourts and carparks. Exceptions are made where building owners have refused to give access to mobile operators.

Already, telcos are progressively upgrading their networks by installing more indoor base stations and antennas, as well as updating their software.

According to the IDA, the number of 3G-related complaints has halved from about 200 over the last two months of 2012, to about 100 in the first two months of this year.

Similarly, the number of complaints lodged with the Consumers Association of Singapore against telcos has dipped - from 129 in January to 85 in February.

Sengkang resident Teo Young Soon, 36, who is still suffering from spotty mobile reception in his Fernvale flat, hopes the upcoming changes will pave the way for better mobile reception at home.

"It's terrible when my calls drop and reception hovers between one and two bars all the time," said the design director.

"We're not living in a jungle; this is Sengkang."