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Industry players split over 5G airwaves

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Some want S'pore to free up more airwaves, others say one network is enough

Some industry players want Singapore to free up more 5G airwaves while others believe one network will be enough to share among all operators. Individuals are concerned with whether the radiation will be harmful.

These were the leading responses from a public consultation posted last night on the website of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The consultation ended last week.

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

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

Telcos M1, Singtel and StarHub welcomed the call-for-proposal approach over having to auction for the airwaves.

But the industry players were split when it comes to whether Singapore needs two 5G networks. 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 most telcos are still recovering the returns from their investment in 4G networks and 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 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.

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

StarHub asked 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 enthusiastic about the deployment of 5G networks, all 25 individuals were concerned about the potential harmful effects of 5G radio waves.

IMDA said the ambient level of radio frequency radiation here is low. It noted the World Health Organisation has found no convincing scientific evidence of adverse health effects of low radio frequency exposures.

It said: "IMDA and the National Environment Agency will continue to closely monitor developments and consult health experts as appropriate."