Singtel extends 5G to North East Line MRT tunnels; StarHub, M1 aim for nationwide 5G coverage in 2022

Currently, MRT tunnels are covered by 3G and 4G mobile networks. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Telco Singtel said on Monday (May 9) that it has extended its 5G mobile network to cover the underground MRT tunnels of the North East Line (NEL) from HarbourFront to Punggol stations.

Singapore's largest telco said this is the first 5G roll-out for an MRT line, and that its 5G indoor coverage is spread over 300 locations across the island, including all malls along the NEL. 

Singtel added that 5G brings uninterrupted streaming, gaming and voice calls to MRT commuters, and that its 5G network covers 75 per cent of the country – both indoors and outdoors.

When contacted, StarHub and M1 said they were on track to roll out 5G services to MRT tunnels in the next few months and reach nationwide outdoor 5G coverage this year. 

It was unclear, when asked, if Singtel has similar nationwide coverage plans.

StarHub said its 5G network covers “virtually all populated locations”, and the telco is rolling out 5G services to more indoor areas, including major shopping malls and town centres. The telco had said in March that its 5G network covered more than 75 per cent of Singapore outdoors.

M1 said it has achieved 75 per cent outdoor 5G coverage, spanning the Central Business District and key town centres.

Currently, MRT tunnels are covered by 3G and 4G mobile networks. 5G is said to offer speeds 10 times higher than those of today's 4G and allow more devices to be connected.

Singtel said it could deliver 5G speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. At such a theoretical maximum speed, a 15GB Blu-ray movie could be downloaded in less than two minutes.

Response times on 5G can also be two times faster than on 4G. This enables smoother image streaming.

The three telcos’ 5G coverage of 75 per cent or more across the country is ahead of their initial target of 50 per cent by the end of 2022.

The Government had said in March that the country was on track for nationwide 5G coverage by 2025.

Mobile coverage along MRT tunnels has traditionally lagged behind coverage elsewhere.

In 2013, Singtel announced upgrades to its mobile network on some train lines, such as stronger 3G connections and allowing the use of the faster 4G network.

The telco had said it was working with a train operator for more maintenance sessions to speed up the upgrading of the mobile network on MRT lines.

The work in train stations and along tracks took a long time as it could be done only during the few hours that trains were not in operation.

Extending 5G coverage on MRT lines appears to be harder as well.

On Monday, Singtel said that providing 5G connectivity on underground train lines "is more challenging, given the complexities involved with enclosed spaces as compared to above-ground deployments".

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