Singapore spectrum allocation complicated by neighbours

Approach to regulation different to European model followed in New Zealand

Around the world governments are grappling with how to divide the valuable 700MHz spectrum which becomes available with the digital switchover, but in Singapore the issue is complicated by its proximity to its neighbours.

Aileen Chia, deputy director-general (Telecoms & Post) at the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) says that spectrum allocation is done in consultation with governments in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

“700 MHz allocation is still uncertain in terms of how much bandwidth we are able to secure in the switchover because we have yet to finalise the arrangements with our neighbouring countries,” she says.

Chia doesn’t expect the spectrum allocation to occur until at least 2015, but in the meantime her office is working towards an auction framework for industry consultation next year.

The 700MHz band is considered valuable because it will enable the next evolution in mobile broadband technology, LTE, which will 4G services. This will provides for greater network speeds and bandwidth capacity.

Chia says that other bands which have been recognised as enabling 4G are the 2.3 and 2.5 GHz bands and the 1800 and 900 MHz bands.

In New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development is expected to release a discussion document on the 700MHz frequency later this year. Vodafone NZ head of corporate affairs Tom Chignell is advocating that for a cap of 20MHz, which could effectively mean just two mobile operators can roll out 4G services.

Singapore’s approach to mobile regulation has differed from the European model followed here. The city state has three mobile network owners but doesn’t regulate mobile termination rates, the fee carriers charge each other to terminate traffic on their networks.

However, Chia says when the market was first opened up in 1997, the incumbent mobile owner SingTel was banned from offering on-net pricing plans. This policy remained in place in 2000 when a third operator was introduced. In 2005 the policy was removed because the regulator assessed that all three players now have a roughly even share of the market

“Today our mobile termination rates are commercially negotiated among the three operators, we do not come in to regulate because the philosophy is if the mobile operators cannot come to commercial agreement then we will step in,” Chia says. “So far it has not come to that, all three of them have come to a decision on what they should be paid to each other.”

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