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Full Competition in Singapore's Telecommunication Sector

last updated 03 November 2017

Infocomms is a dynamic global business. Intense competition, rapid technological changes and business innovations have created a plethora of new business opportunities and generated new value-added services. The development of the Singapore economy and also the infocomms industry depends on the telecommunications sector being globally competitive, with many players offering innovative, high quality and cost effective services.

In January 2000, the Government of Singapore decided to advance the introduction of full market competition in the telecommunications sector by 2 years from 1 April 2002 to 1 April 2000. The limits on the number or type of licences were removed, except when there are physical/resources constraints. Licensees are free to decide on the types of networks, systems, facilities and preferred technology platform to offer their services. Licence applications are assessed and granted on the merits of the licence applications. The direct and indirect foreign equity limits for all public telecommunications services licences were also removed. These measures aim to encourage global infocomms players to participate actively in the Singapore market and locate their regional and global hubs here, thereby furthering Singapore's development as a leading knowledge-based economy and vibrant infocomms hub in the Asia Pacific.

Overview of Licensing Approach

All persons operating telecommunications systems and providing telecommunication services are required to be licensed by IMDA. In general, such licensees must be a company incorporated under the Singapore Companies Act, Chapter 50. IMDA adopts a licensing approach which differentiates between facilities-based and services-based type of operations.  The following provides an overview.

Type and Scope of Licences to be Awarded

Facilities-Based Operations (FBO)

Facilities-based operations refers to the deployment and/or operation of any form of telecommunications networks, systems and/or facilities by any person for the purpose of providing telecommunications and/or broadcasting services outside of their own property boundaries to third parties. Such third parties may include other licensed telecommunication operators or the general public. Parties intending to deploy such operations will require a FBO Licence from IMDA. Examples of telecommunications systems that will be licensed will include mobile communications systems (e.g. base stations, mobile switching centres) needed to offer public mobile phone, paging, trunked radio and mobile data services, and fixed telecommunications systems (e.g. exchanges, fibre, submarine cables, frontier stations, international gateways) to offer services such as local and international voice and data services, and leased circuit services.

IMDA adopts a technology neutral approach towards the licensing of FBOs to ensure that licensees will continue to strive to innovate and respond competitively to meet the needs of users. The configuration of the system deployed and the technology platform (wired or wireless) adopted are left to the choice of the licensee, subject to spectrum and other physical constraints.

IMDA will award individual licences for FBOs based on the merits of the applications. Licence fees are payable. The licence duration is set to give the licensee sufficient certainty in its operations. The licences may be renewed for a further period as IMDA thinks fit.

Licensees may also be required to comply with interconnection and access obligations as well as the applicable minimum quality of service (QOS) standards set by IMDA. Depending on the scope and requirements of their operations, services offered and reach of customers, licensees may be designated as Public Telecommunications Licensees under section 6 of the Telecommunications Act (Cap. 323) and will enjoy provisions under the Act that facilitates their installation and maintenance of telecommunications networks, systems and facilities.

Services-Based Operations (SBO)

Operators intending to lease the telecommunication network elements (such as transmission capacity and switching services) from any Facilities-Based Operator (FBO) licensed by IMDA so as to provide their own telecommunication services, or to resell the telecommunication service of FBOs, to third parties, may apply to IMDA for a Services-Based Operator (SBO) Licence.  Operators who have deployed telecommunications networks, systems and facilities within their own property boundaries, but wish to offer telecommunications services to third party residents within their property boundaries, should also apply for an SBO licence.  

The SBO licences issued by IMDA fall under two categories: the SBO (Individual) Licence category, where individual licensing is required for the stipulated types of operations and services; and the SBO (Class) Licence category, where interested parties will only be required to register with IMDA before providing the stipulated types of services. Parties providing SBO operations and services will thus either be individually or classed licensed by IMDA, depending on the scope of the operations and nature of the services. In general, operators who lease international transmission capacity for the provision of their services will be licensed individually. Interested parties should also note that separate licences or authorisation may be required from other relevant government agencies for the provision of certain types of SBO services and operations.

The operations and services that may be offered under the SBO licence include Public Internet Access Services, IP Telephony Services, International Simple Resale (ISR) to offer international voice and fax services, and local and international data services. SBOs can also offer callback and Internet-based international telephony and fax services.

Licensees may also be required to comply with interconnection and access obligations as well as the applicable minimum quality of service (QOS) standards set by IMDA.

Number of Licences to be Awarded

IMDA allows free market entry and exit and does not pre-determine the number of licences to be awarded unless there are resource constraints. Licences are issued based on the merits of the application. IMDA evaluates licence applications based on, but not limited to, the applicant's commitment in developing and investing in Singapore's infocomm infrastructure, the applicant's ability to deliver its proposed service and/or infrastructure commitments, and the applicant's commitment to quality of service standards. All applications will be treated on the basis of objective, non-discriminatory and transparent selection criteria and procedures. There may however be resource and other physical constraints (e.g. frequency spectrum, land for satellite and cable landing stations) which would inevitably limit the number of licences that could be issued. Where such constraints arise, IMDA will award the licences via a comparative and/or auction-based selection exercise.

Licence Application

All interested parties are invited to apply for the SBO licences online or contact  IMDA if they need further clarifications on IMDA's licensing regime. For FBO licence, the application guidelines can be viewed here.

Key Milestones

Here are some of the key milestones in Singapore's telecommunications sector since 1992: 

DateMilestone
April 1992The Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) hived off its commercial functions to become a regulatory authority for the telecommunications market in Singapore.  Singapore Telecom (SingTel) was granted a 25-year licence with exclusive rights to international and domestic telecommunication services for 15 years and public land mobile radiocommunication services for 5 years.
August 1992Volume-sensitive tariffs for VANs were removed.
April 1993Mobile phone and pager rental services were liberalised.
June 1994A second public mobile data services operator was licensed.
August 1994Satellite uplink/downlink services for self-use or for public carriage of broadcast signals was liberalised. The Audiotex information service provision market was liberalised. Shared use and resale of Private Automatic Branch Exchange within the same building were liberalised. Parallel import of telecommunications equipment by licensed telecommunications equipment dealers was allowed.
October 1994Licensed dealers allowed to sell pre-activated pagers. Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) Services market was liberalised.
November 1994VSAT provision and operation solely for intra-corporate business communications was liberalised.
December 1994Resale of public switched telecommunications services for existing resellers in hotel and service apartment sector was liberalised.
May 1995One more Public Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (PCMTS) operator and three more Public Radio Paging Service (PRPS) operators licensed.  To commence services in April 1997 when SingTel's exclusive licence for these services expires.
July 1995Further liberalisation of the VAN market, allowing VAN-VAN interconnection via leased circuits.
August 1995Resale of international telephone services via customer-owned and operated Coinafons was allowed. Further opening up of resale of public switched telecommunications services, for any company, apart from existing resellers in the hotels and service apartment sector, to apply to TAS for licensing.
September 1995IDD/STD payphone services were liberalised. Two Public Internet Access Service Providers (IASP) licensed to compete with SingNet.
October 1995Resale of services by IASPs permitted.
November 1995Low power multichannel radio sets open for companies' use liberalised. Second Public Trunked Radio Network operator licensed.
March 1996Store-and-forward VAN services liberalised. Intelsat direct access up to level 3 permitted for broadcasters and satellite uplink/downlink licensees.
April 1996TAS announced that it would licence additional operators to provide Public Basic Telecommunication Services (PBTS) from April 2002. Implementation of two-tiered Telecommunications Dealers' Licence scheme, lowering of fees for dealers selling type approved equipment.
May 1996TAS advanced the expiry of SingTel's exclusive licence for PBTS from 2007 to 2000.
July 1996Licensing regime implemented for wiring installers and contractors. Implementation of class licensing scheme for third-party access VANs and bulletin board centres.
September 1996TAS announced decision to award up to two additional licences for the provision of PBTS from 1 April 2000.
December 1996Further liberalisation of TAS direct access policy to Intelsat by allowing investment by broadcasters and satellite uplink/downlink operators in the satellite system. Resale of leased circuit services for intra-corporate communications permitted.
January 1997TAS announced licence fee for PBTS licence, and released the Information Package for the licence tender. Telecommunications service surcharge levied by hotels and service apartments removed.
February 1997Type approval fees for digital cellular phones lowered.
March 1997TAS announced that up to two additional PCMTS operators would be licensed by mid-1998 to provide commercial services by 1 April 2000.
April 1997Licence fee for mobile phones removed. New paging service operators, MobileOne, ST Messaging and Hutchison Intrapage, and mobile service operator, MobileOne, commenced operations.
June 1997Implementation of Class Licensing Scheme for Store and Retrieve VAN services including Audiotex services.
September 1997Lowering of mobile and paging licence fees.
November 1997Liberalisation of Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT). 17 VSAT operators approved to operate VSAT for intra-corporate communications.
April 1998StarHub awarded the PBTS and PCMTS licences.  Another consortium, P2P, was awarded the second PCMTS licence. TAS announced it would not be awarding the PCMTS licence to P2P as the consortium's local partners were not able to form the consortium according to the shareholding structure proposed in its tender submission.
August 1998TAS allowed consumers who purchased mobile phones from overseas to apply directly to mobile phone service providers for individual service connection.
October 1998The Internet access service provision market was further liberalised. Any interested party who meets the minimum criteria could apply to TAS for a public IASP licence. Telecommunications equipment type approval scheme and procedures simplified. Sale of radio communication jamming devices prohibited.
November 1998A new class licensing scheme for equipment dealers selling type approved equipment and equipment exempted from type approval was introduced. Low-power equipment exempted from licensing. A new network licensing scheme replaced the existing individual licensing of radio communication equipment. This was expected to save operators $1.9m annually.
April 1999Singapore initiated the implementation of APEC Telecommunications Multilateral Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) Agreement. Reduction of licence fees for Satellite Uplink/Downlink licensees and Terrestrial Telecommunication System licensees who carry only broadcasting services. The provision of Public Chain Payphone service was liberalised.
June 1999The provision of International Internet Exchange Services was liberalised.
July 1999The transmission of Value-Added Network traffic over the Internet was liberalised.
September 1999The foreign equity limit on IASPs and IXSPs was lifted.
November 1999The Telecommunications Act and Postal Services Act were revised.  IDA Act was enacted.
December 1999TAS and the National Computer Board (NCB) merged to form IDA.
January 2000The Government announced its decision to fully liberalise the telecommunications sector on 1 April 2000.
April 2000Telecommunications sector fully liberalised on 1 Apr 2000.
September 2000IDA introduced the Code of Practice for Competition in the Provision of Telecommunication Services.  SingTel and Singapore Cable Vision (SCV) were designated as being Dominant Licensees.
January 2001IDA approved SingTel's Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO). IDA announced 3G licensing framework and spectrum auction rules.
April 2001IDA issued three provisional 3G Spectrum Rights to SingTel Mobile, StarHub Mobile and M1.
July 2001IDA announced allocation framework for 2G spectrum.
August 2001IDA announced LMDS licensing framework and spectrum auction rules.
June 2002IDA approved StarHub's merger with SCV.
March 2003IDA issued advisory guidelines for prepaid international calling cards.
November 2003IDA exempted SingTel from all dominant licensee obligations for the wholesale International Telephone Services (ITS) market; and tariff filing obligation for the retail ITS markets.
December 2003IDA designated SingTel's local leased circuits (LLC) service as a mandated wholesale service.
July 2004IDA announced the licensing framework for market trials.
January 2005Launch of 3G services by the mobile operators.
February 2005The Telecommunications Act was revised. IDA announced licensing framework for Wireless Broadband Access (WBA) and spectrum auction rules. IDA issued the revised Code of Practice for Competition in the Provision of Telecommunication Services 2005.
April 2005IDA exempted SingTel from all dominant licensee obligations for the International IP Transit, Leased Satellite Bandwidth, VSAT, DVB-IP, Satellite TV Uplink/Downlink and Satellite IPLC markets; and ex ante dominant licensee obligations for the International Managed Data Services market.
May 2005IDA conducted an auction on WBA spectrum.  6 operators were successful in their bids.
June 2005IDA announced the policy and licensing framework for IP Telephony and Electronic Numbering.
July 2005IDA introduced lifetime licensing for six Class licence categories which do not require the use of radio frequencies. IDA launched its Telecom Licensing System (TLS) Portal, an online portal which allows suppliers and providers to register their telecommunication equipment and apply and pay for licences via the Internet conveniently.
September 2005IDA issued Guidelines on Reclassification and Exemption from Dominant Licensee Obligations and Guidelines on Telecom Competition.
November 2005IDA approved SingTel's revised RIO. As part of the security review undertaken by the Government, MHA and IDA required mobile service providers to register all their prepaid mobile cellular subscribers.