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Singtel makes Australia its proving ground for wireless 5G

Company braces for tougher fight as fourth telecom provider enters Singapore

Singtel is boosting its 5G efforts in Singapore to gain a competitive advantage over other players as the city-state is gradually moving away from 4G to 5G technology.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singapore Telecommunications is using Australia as a proving ground for 5G service, bypassing the expensive connection of fiber to homes with wireless technology.

The drive to introduce 5G in Australia and its home market in Singapore takes place against a backdrop of increasingly fierce competition, particularly in the city-state.

In January, Singtel subsidiary Optus launched Australia's first commercial 5G service in Sydney and Canberra. The service will give customers access to 5G speeds through wireless home internet, including mobile phones and laptops. Its 5G network will cover 1,200 sites by March 2020, according to the company. 

Bill Chang, CEO of Singtel's group enterprise division, said Optus's 5G services are "a very different use case" from that of Singapore. "In Australia, we rolled out in 5G in fixed wireless access because some of this fiber access is not available in some locations in Australia," he said. Singapore, by contrast, has an islandwide high-speed fiber network.

Optus paid 185 million Australian dollars for 47 lots for spectrum for 5G services, according to an announcement by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in December. Three other bidders also paid for 5G spectrum.

In August last year, Australia banned Chinese mobile equipment maker Huawei from the country's 5G market, citing security concerns. That move forced TPG Telecom to abandon plans to launch 5G service.

While Singtel has not commented on the effect of the Huawei ban on its business in Australia, the company said it works with a number of vendors to provide services for its customers. These vendors include Nokia and Ericsson.

Singtel is also trying to get a jump on its rivals in 5G in Singapore as the city-state shifts from 4G to 5G technology.

Together with Ericsson and Singapore Polytechnic, Singtel launched Singapore's first live 5G facility in January, which serves as a training center and a test bed for Singapore's 5G ecosystem. The partners will also develop 5G applications for transportation, logistics, health care, manufacturing and other industries.

The telecom company faces stiffer competition as a fourth provider, TPG, prepares to enter Singapore this year. Mobile penetration already exceeds 100% in the city-state and some experts say even three providers may be too many for a market of 5.8 million people.

Singtel on Thursday announced its earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31. Its net profit fell 14.2% on the year to SG$823 million from SG$959 million. Lower contributions from its affiliates, the increasing shift from voice to data services and intense competition in India were the main reasons the company gave for the decline.

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