Last Friday's commentary ("Why the telcos are fighting over a sliver of airspace") reminds us why a fourth telco is important for Singapore consumers.
A little history will also help to complete the picture.
Third-generation (3G) spectrum rights were first awarded to the three existing telcos in 2001.
In 2009, additional spectrum (including the 900MHz spectrum) was awarded to the three telcos by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
With each award, the IDA gave clear indications as to when those spectrum rights would end.
Fast forward 14 years from the first award, and the three telcos are now taking the common position that their customers will suffer if the 900MHz spectrum is not reallocated to them.
The three telcos are not saying that they cannot achieve 3G coverage with their remaining 3G spectrum.
They know they can.
In fact, M1 suggests that the problem stems from "the practical difficulty in acquiring more than 1,000 additional sites".
It is disingenuous, if not self-serving, for the three telcos to say that the networks which they have designed and rolled out over the years now cannot meet consumer expectations without further extension of the 900MHz spectrum.
If the 900MHz spectrum is reallocated to the telcos for their 3G services, it would be effectively rewarding them for lack of planning and reinforcing a sense of entitlement.
This would also be at the expense of the fourth operator that needs the same spectrum.
Limiting the fourth operator is against the interest of consumers and will ultimately reduce the competition that the IDA is seeking to introduce.
The three telcos argue that the entry of the fourth operator would be disruptive. I fully agree with them but disagree that this is bad for the consumer.
In fact, since the IDA first floated the idea of a fourth operator, the three existing telcos have scrambled to improve their service offerings because of the prospect of potential new competition.
Consumers deserve better services and more value, which technology now makes possible.
What Singapore needs is a new entrant that is not just another mobile operator but a disruptive innovator.
Sallim Abdul Kadir
- Forum Note: OMGTel is a contender for Singapore's fourth telco licence