Three-way contest for two nationwide 5G licences in Singapore paves way for smart future

Advance 5G technologies promise surfing speeds 20 times faster than what 4G networks offer and the ability to connect 1,000 times as many devices.
Advance 5G technologies promise surfing speeds 20 times faster than what 4G networks offer and the ability to connect 1,000 times as many devices.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - All four telcos here have applied for at least one of four 5G licences up for grabs by the close of the local regulator's submission deadline on Monday (Feb 17), bringing Singapore one step closer to a future of driverless vehicles, cloud gaming on-the-go, and robot-run factory and ports.

Singapore's largest telco Singtel and newcomer TPG Telecom submitted solo bids, while StarHub teamed up with M1 in a joint bid, said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Monday evening.

"IMDA is currently evaluating the submissions, and we expect to award the spectrum by mid-2020," the regulator said in a statement, referring to the airwave licences. IMDA will assess, among other things, telcos' network security design and ability to achieve 50 per cent islandwide coverage by end-2022.

The Straits Times understands that there is a three-way contest for the two licences to operate a nationwide 5G network, with analysts saying that such a licence is key to long-term survival.

The other two licences allow telcos to operate smaller 5G networks that provide spot coverage; at least two telcos are vying for these two licences, ST understands.

Mr Ramakrishna Maruvada, regional telecoms analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets, said: "Having a nationwide 5G licence provides an insurance to long-term survival, especially if 5G networks become commonplace in five years."

Nationwide coverage is limited to only two networks because of the scarcity of certain 5G airwaves for islandwide reach. Also, nationwide reach is possible only in 2021, when the far-reaching 3.5Ghz airwaves currently used for satellite communications by countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia become available.

The smaller 5G networks use shorter-range millimetre airwaves that are in abundance here; these networks can be rolled out as early as this year.

All four telcos declined to reveal details of their business plans. But based on their 5G trials announced previously, analysts expect robot-run factory and ports, and cloud gaming to be the first applications to roll out.

Advance 5G technologies promise surfing speeds 20 times faster than what 4G networks offer and the ability to connect 1,000 times as many devices. They are also better able to support mission-critical applications, such as driverless car navigation and remote surgery, which require a constant connection without lag.

The concept of robot-run factories is being tested by Singtel at JTC Corporation's smart Model Factory in Jurong and involves smart sensors for tracking the location of driverless vehicles on factory floors.

 
 
 

The remote control of port equipment such as cranes and driverless vehicles over a 5G connection is also being tested by Singtel and M1 with port operator PSA International.

With robotic systems, PSA hopes to load and unload more shipping containers round the clock and turn ships around faster. This will pave the way for the building of a state-of-the-art Tuas Port, expected to open from 2021 in stages, and reinforce Singapore's position as a leading port in the region.

Mr Sachin Mittal, head of telco research at DBS Bank, said that these industrial applications will ensure that Singapore is not left behind in developing 5G-use cases even if nationwide 5G roll-out is delayed.

"Robot-run factory and ports provide immediate returns for businesses," said Mr Mittal.

In cloud gaming, Singtel is working with gaming accessories firm Razer to test how 5G networks should be designed in an urban environment to allow consumers to stream and play games with rich visual details using their mobile phones.

The two firms are studying environmental interference from buildings, street furniture, trees and wet weather to ensure minimal lag in the 5G connection for enjoyable gameplay.

 
 
 

Driverless cars are not expected to ply regular roads any time soon due to safety regulations and the cost of production, among other reasons.

But trials are already under way to solve some of these issues.

For instance, TPG is working with real estate firm CapitaLand and map service provider Navinfo Datatech to test cloud-based driverless car navigation at Science Park 1 and 2 over a 5G connection.

The trial aims to reduce the cost of producing autonomous vehicles by shifting the processing of traffic data from an in-vehicle system to the cloud. The trial also involves testing how quickly data can be obtained from sensors on road infrastructure and those embedded in other vehicles for navigation.

Separately, M1 and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are testing the real-time relaying of traffic information over 5G connections for the navigation of shuttle buses and self-driving cars on NTU's campus in a $24 million endeavour supported by the Economic Development Board.