The 5G Garage provides innovation hub for Singtel and partners
AS 5G in Singapore takes shape, the state telecoms regulator has mapped a plan to provide spectrum allocations in support of at least two standalone 5G networks set to launch in 2020. For more on the national plan and local operator M1’s approach to 5G, click here. Singtel, which is primarily owned by the state’s investment arm, has gained learnings from elsewhere in its service provider footprint and is laser-focused on creating an ecosystem of stakeholders to define use cases that will be relevant to consumers and businesses in the city-state.
Singtel, which segments its business into consumer, enterprise and digital life groups, is the largest of Singapore’s three carriers in terms of subscriber count and the majority of the company is help by the investment arm of the nation’s government. Singtel’s 5G ambitions are not limited to the city-state as the company’s parent also holds 100% stake in Australia’s Optus as well as ownership in Telkomsel in Indonesia, Globe Telecom in the Philippines and AIS in Thailand. All told, Singtels’ various service provider interests serve more than 700 million customers in the APAC region.
Speaking during 5G Asia, Singtel’s Managing Director of Network Tay Yeow Lian said the Singapore system is based “build[ing] 5G use cases–it’s not just about working with the vendors and testing all your virtualization, testing all your massive MIMO, testing your cloud RAN. More important, we believe you need to build an ecosystem around how do we actually grow 5G in the Singapore context.” To that end, the company set up what it calls the 5G Garage, a testbed where enterprise customers and other stakeholders can study things like low-latency transmission and network slicing for industrial contexts.
While the bulk of efforts are aimed at the enterprise market, Yeow Lian also explored a timely consumer use case. The nation hosts the Singapore Grand Prix, an F1 race that takes place at night and winds past many of the metropolis’s iconic landmarks. He said 5G could enable race fans to put on an extended reality headset and enjoy the race from a hotel room while also enabling race crews to get better insight to driver and equipment performance. The key question, he said, is “would you pay for this service on a 5G network?”
He called out specific applications being trialled at the 5G Garage, including real-time 4K video drones, AR/VR remote assistance, cloud gaming and autonomous vehicles. The facility results from a partnership between Singtel, Ericsson and Singapore Polytechnic and includes a test network running over 3.5 GHz spectrum. When it opened earlier this year, the partners called out two primary goals:
- Build and operate a 5G facility where enterprises can develop and test 5G solutions;
- Co-develop 5G solutions relevant to industries such as transportation, logistics, healthcare and manufacturing;
“As Singapore advances its digital economy and becomes a Smart Nation, the benefits of 5G will first be seen in enterprises, especially in their digital transformation when they integrate technology into their processes, services and products. With 5G standards largely established, now is an opportune time for SMEs and enterprises to join us in shaping our 5G future,” Mark Chong, Group CTO at Singtel, said.
In its response to IMDA’s call for proposals, Singtel offered feedback on the concept of allocating spectrum for two standalone networks, which the company said “would result in two sub-optimal 5G networks that are not considerably superior to 4G. A lack of sufficient difference in 5G user experience will significantly temper market demand.” The operator calls for staggering the network launches and allocating a “contiguous 100 [megahertz] of 3.5 GHz spectrum on an unrestricted basis to enable superior 5G throughput performance.”
Singtel also calls out the role 5G can play given the country’s existing status as a “location-of-choice in the region for many cloud service providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.” Couple that with a high rate of fiber penetration, “Cloud services will become a key driver for 5G technology as cloud storage and high speed connectivity will be required to support 5G use cases” like cloud gaming.
While it hasn’t launched service in its home country, Singtel subsidiary Optus, the second largest telecommunications company in Australia, currently offers limited 5G service in parts of Canberra and Sydney with initial launches focused on 5G home broadband.
Optus originally worked with Huawei during its initial 5G home broadband trials, but ultimately switched to Nokia following Australia’s decision to ban the Chinese vendor. Nokia and Optus finalized a deal in January in which the Finnish electronics company will supply the telecom with its 5G RAN and Fastmile 5G CPEs.
Optus plans to build 1,200 5G sites across ACT, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia by March 2020, and in February 2019, signed a partnership with Ericsson to deploy 50 5G sites across the cities of Sydney and Melbourne as part of a multi-vendor rollout.
Earlier this year engineers from Singtel and Optus used Ericsson equipment to conduct an end-to-end 5G video call using an Oppo device. They also used augmented reality to make on-screen annotations during the call.