5G roll-out: Telcos split on number of networks, individuals fear health risks

Telcos M1, Singtel and StarHub welcomed the call-for-proposal approach over having to auction for the airwaves. PHOTOS: REUTERS, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Some industry players want Singapore to free up more 5G airwaves while others believe one single network will be enough to share among all operators.

Individuals, however, are concerned with whether radiation from the 5G radio frequency will be harmful to people's health.

These were the leading responses from a recent public consultation posted on Monday night (July 15) on the website of regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

The IMDA had held the consultation, which ended last week, to get feedback on its approach to assigning 5G airwaves.

It plans to award two sets of airwaves to telcos that put in the best proposals in next year's nationwide roll-out of the next generation mobile network, which promises to make self-driving cars and remote surgery a reality.

Its call drew strong interest and diverse responses from telcos, equipment and network providers as well as individuals.

Of the 62 responses, about 60 per cent were from the industry while the rest came from individuals.

Telcos M1, Singtel and StarHub welcomed the call-for-proposal approach over having to auction for the airwaves, while latest entrant TPG did not offer any specific views on the approach.

But the industry players were divided on whether Singapore needs two 5G networks from the start.

M1, StarHub and virtual telco Circles.Life were among those who supported the regulator's proposal while others such as Singtel, fibre network provider NetLink Trust and the Association of the Telecommunications Industry of Singapore (ATiS) asked IMDA to consider a single network model.

"We understand that most telcos are still recovering the returns from their investment in 4G networks, and that business cases for 5G are still unclear. Therefore, it may be prudent to have one nationwide network as a start," wrote ATiS in its feedback.

There were also calls for IMDA to separate the 3.5GHz bands from the 26GHz and 28GHz bands - also known as the 5G millimetre wave (mmWave) - in the initial tranche of spectrum allocation to telcos.

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"TPG recommends that all four MNOs (mobile network operators) in Singapore be given as much allocation as possible (in equal shares) to drive competition and innovation," the telco wrote in its feedback on the mmWave spectrum.

It also proposed that the mmWave spectrum should be completely free of any license and utilisation fees "so that MNOs can maximise their financial resources for a wider and deeper deployment of mmWave coverage".

StarHub went a step further, asking for both types of airwaves to be given free to operators. The "offer price" should be removed as a consideration for the call for proposal assessment, it wrote.

"MNOs will have to take significant risks given the uncertain business case for 5G. Removing the cost for the 5G spectrum would assist greatly in ameliorating the risks involved," it added.

While members of the public were very active in giving feedback on the deployment of 5G in Singapore, all 25 individuals coincidentally were concerned about the potential harmful effects of 5G radio waves.

Mr Seah Guan Hai wrote: "Can IMDA and MOH (Ministry of Health) jointly declare that 5G frequencies and intensity levels will be safe for our body (sic)?"

IMDA said the ambient level of radio frequency radiation in Singapore is very low, typically below 0.7 per cent of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection guidelines.

It also noted the World Health Organisation has found no convincing scientific evidence of adverse health effects of very low radio frequency exposures on the population or individuals.

"IMDA and the National Environment Agency (NEA) will continue to closely monitor developments and consult health experts as appropriate. IMDA is committed to ensuring that Singaporeans will have high quality mobile services that are safe and secure," it added.

The regulator will announce the finalised 5G policy framework and initiate the call for proposal towards the end of the year. It aims to assign the 5G airwaves by the first half of next year.

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