Singapore, as part of its ongoing effort to become a leading digital economy, earmarked SGD40 million ($29.4 million) to develop what it calls an open and inclusive 5G innovation ecosystem.

To this end, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) late last month announced a series of initiatives, including 5G technology trials for enterprise use cases and a number of open testbeds. It also identified clusters such as maritime operations, urban mobility and smart estates for their potential to push Singapore’s goal to be a global front-runner in developing attractive 5G use cases.

Tan Kiat How, chief executive of IMDA, said in a statement 5G has the potential to be an important enabler for its digital economy, noting “IMDA aims to establish an open and vibrant ecosystem, which in turn supports the deployment of innovative 5G applications for our industries and consumers”.

He said its multi-pronged, collaborative initiatives address infrastructure, legislation and other challenges, and will complement existing efforts to accelerate the city state’s transformation to an advanced digital economy.

Field trials
A number of industry partnerships are already underway, with IMDA and port operator PSA selecting Singtel and M1 to explore the use of 5G technology at the city’s port.

Through the 5G Trial Tech Call collaboration, PSA will provide a live testing ground starting in Q3 to better understand the potential of 5G technology and integration capabilities for port applications including tele-remote control of port equipment, crane automation and enhancing automated guided vehicle operations. The trials will run about 18 months.

The country’s ambition to be a 5G leader, however, doesn’t quite square with the likely timing of 5G network rollouts.

Singapore is waiting to deploy the standalone version of 5G from the start, with plans to allocate spectrum in three bands in December at the earliest. Instead of holding an auction, IMDA will assign 5G spectrum through a call for proposal regulatory process.

Harin Grewal, IMDA’s director of network, technology and resilience, told Mobile World Live in May he doesn’t expect 5G services to be launched until 2021. He believes business models and use cases are far from clear.

While he certainly is not alone in raising concerns about the business case for 5G, Australia-based Telsyte, a research company, reckons 5G has the potential to halt falling mobile revenue, which has experienced annual declines in the country since December 2017, mainly due to price-driven competition. About one in four Australian mobile users say they are willing to pay more for 5G service compared with their existing service, its research showed.

Vodafone UK and Elisa in Finland may have found a way to capture that potential by introducing tariff plans based on speed, rather than the volume of data used. The UK operator, which launched 5G in seven cities earlier this month, said the lowest tier starts at 2Mb/s and increases to the max speed its network can manage. It will be interesting to see if such an innovation can lead to higher ARPU, which will certainly support the case for investing in 5G.

Pressure builds
With South Korea racking up 1 million 5G subscribers in just three months, Phil Marshall, chief research officer at Tolaga Research, believes pressure will build for Singapore to speed up its 5G deployment efforts.

China accelerated its 5G timetable after Korean operators’ simultaneous launch in April, with Chinese operators now planning 5G services in as many as 50 cities this year. The big three are already conducting pilots in about a dozen cities with a population of more than 167 million.

Jake Saunders, VP for Asia Pacific at ABI Research, told Mobile World Live China wants to play catchup and make 5G a platform for the wider industrial development of the country, not just simply for communications.

“The most interesting development is not whether 5G is a success, but whether it can grow on the enterprise side,” he suggested.

Singapore’s hypercompetitive mobile sector has four mobile network operators and seven MVNOs. The three incumbents all started 5G trials in 2018, but none have set a launch target.

At some point one or more will see 5G as a competitive advantage and dig deep to invest in the new mobile technology.

The question is when will the first player make a move? After that, the rest certainly will follow.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.