Home Asia-Pacific II 2001 The Development of Singapore’s InfoCom Industry Since Liberalisation

The Development of Singapore’s InfoCom Industry Since Liberalisation

by david.nunes
Khoong Hock YunIssue:Asia-Pacific II 2001
Article no.:12
Topic:The Development of Singapore’s InfoCom Industry Since Liberalisation
Author:Khoong Hock Yun
Title:Assistant Chief Executive Officer
Organisation:Infocomm Development Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore
PDF size:20KB

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Article abstract

Singapore has long recognised that technology and connectivity are key economic drivers and, in a connected world, free-market competition is paramount. Singapore has been taking steps since 1992 to prepare for liberalisation and privatisation of its market. In 2000, Singapore began welcoming facilities and services based operators. Consequently, nine facilities-based, 186 services-based operators, a second Public Telecommunications operator and third cellular operator have entered Singapore’s market.

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The fact that technology and connectivity would become increasingly important as an economic driver is well known, but the pace at which growth occurred was unprecedented. Singapore had been working towards introducing market competition in all segments of the telecommunications sector since 1992 when Singapore Telecom (SingTel) became a corporation. However, in May 1996, regulators cut short SingTel’s exclusive licence for basic telecommunications services. This acknowledged the fact that for Singapore to become a global city at the crossroads of Asia in a connected world, free-market competition was paramount. The Liberalising Move The red carpet of liberalisation officially rolled out on 1 April 2000, and Singapore immediately began welcoming facilities and services-based operators to the technology-savvy island, two years ahead of schedule. At the same time, regulations against foreign ownership of all public telecommunications services were lifted with immediate effect. A total of nine facilities-based and 186 services-based operators have entered Singapore’s market, including Flag Telecom, QALA Broadband, Davnet and WorldCom. Cable & Wireless, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Equant have also procured licences. Even as these companies were formulating their game plans, the forces of competition were already at work. April 1, 2000 also marked the launch of StarHub, the country’s second Public Basic Telecommunications Services operator and third Public Cellular Mobile Telephone Services operator. StarHub joined Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), the incumbent operator, and mobile operator, MobileOne (M1), to provide consumers and businesses with a greater range of telecom services. Level Playing Field Some countries in the region have liberalised their telecommunications sector since SingTel’s exclusive license ended in 1996. Some have taken a complete laissez-faire approach and left the future of the sector completely to market forces. Singapore took a modified approach. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), the Singapore government agency leading the liberalisation, worked closely with the industry to ensure that new entrants would have a level playing field. A framework was developed that gave infocom companies maximum flexibility and speed in determining their product offerings and technologies to be deployed. Operators have a free hand in determining networks, systems and facilities they will develop and the types of services in response to market demands. These services include International Direct Dialing calls, local leased circuits, international leased circuits, mobile telephone, paging, trunked radio and mobile data services. However, measures have also been taken to ensure that new operators have open access to the incumbent firm’s network. Until recently, services-based operators had to negotiate the right to access SingTel’s network in order to roll out their services. While operators must still reach an interconnection agreement with SingTel, the incumbent’s government-approved Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) paves the way for speedier negotiation, allowing operators to roll out their services more quickly. The RIO outlines the basic price, terms and conditions under which the incumbent must offer interconnection to other telecom licencees. The RIO is part of Singapore’s Telecom Competition Code, developed in close consultation with the private sector to ensure fair competition and practices in the telecom marketplace. While the code recognises the value of commercial negotiation and market forces, it defines minimum requirements for operators in order to prevent anti-competitive behaviour and protect consumers. Infocom Gateway to Asia Singapore aims to attract telecoms and technological innovators from around the world. Beyond a rapidly expanding domestic market, Singapore has an integrated infrastructure, pro-business policies, global connectivity and multi-cultural global infocomm workforce. This business environment is necessary for Singapore to become an infocom launch pad to Asia, and hence an ideal place to form global or regional partnerships. Although just a dot on the map of Asia, Singapore is already wired for the connected world of the future. The country’s local telephone network became fully digitised in 1994, and fibre optic cables link its 27 telephone exchanges. There are three international digital telephone gateways, three Satellite Earth Stations and a sophisticated, upgraded submarine cable network which offer connections to the world beyond. The cable network includes three analogue and five optical fibre cable systems that connect Singapore to Japan, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. As envisioned in its Infocomm 21 masterplan, Singapore wants to be a place where the 21st century feels like home. It encourages widespread adoption of the Internet for entertainment, commerce and learning. Singapore’s total international Internet connectivity increased by 284 per cent from 393 Mbps to 1,510 Mbps between March 1999 and August 2000. Internet users benefit from direct high-speed Internet links to more than 20 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Japan, China, India, Europe and all the ASEAN countries. One of the most wired nations in the world, Singapore’s broadband network covers 99 per cent of the island’s homes, businesses and schools and offers more than 200 interactive and media-rich applications to its growing audience. Both the private and public sectors have been actively involved in building the country’s network. Nearly 300 companies and organisations are participating in the broadband industry, and the recently formed Broadband Media Association, offers all participants a forum for the discussion of industry specific issues and topics. Wired With Wireless The digital revolution has just begun, but the public and private sectors are already preparing for technologies that are poised on the horizon, waiting to be deployed. One such technology is Third Generation (3G) mobile services. Fixed wireless broadband (FWB), which uses Local Multipoint Distribution Service, is another. The IDA recently offered four 3G licences in an auction, opening the doors to a new wave of sophisticated wireless technologies. Some of the industry’s biggest names have already been hard at work testing the technologies on the island. In 1998, Sweden’s Ericsson established its Cyber-lab in Singapore and has since used the Cyberlab to test 3G applications and terminals. At the close of 2000, Ericsson made public its plans to implement a 3G simulation test bed for the development of applications, including those that rely on Bluetooth technology. Ongoing efforts to develop wireless solutions for businesses and the public will enable Internet technologies to be more readily accessible Yet this is not enough. Singapore realises that to further encourage infrastructure developers, access service providers and content creators to develop the various components necessary for a robust wireless environment, more support was required. ‘Wired With Wireless’, a US$200 million programme, was launched in October 2000 to boost the development of wireless products and services. Conclusion: Equally important is the convergence of opportunities and creative energies within this island. Located at the crossroads of Asia, Singapore’s open immigration policy has attracted talents from all over the world and the multi-national workforce contributes to a vibrant and cosmopolitan business environment. In the span of three decades, Singapore has forged a commercial environment that is business-friendly. The aim now is to be a business accelerator for global infocom companies who are searching for a launch pad into Asia. Singapore is building a conducive business environment where global partnerships can be formed at the gateway to Asia. With a firm foundation laid, Singapore’s private sector is quickly adopting the latest technologies, learning the language of the Internet, and penetrating global markets to position itself as the predominant driver of Singapore’s agile, tech-driven economy. It’s already been a year since market liberalisation, but to Singaporeans excitement of the infocom revolution has only just begun.

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