Monday, March 24, 2008

M1, CTI & StarHub vs SingTel in Singapore's Next Generation National Broadband Network (NGNBN)

A. Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure

The Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure (Next Gen NII) is Singapore’s new digital super-highway for super-connectivity. It will entrench Singapore’s Infocomm hub status and open the doors to new business and social growth for the country. Next Gen NII comprises complementary wired and wireless networks to ensure Singaporeans enjoy seamless connectivity.

The wired broadband network or Next Generation National Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN) will deliver ultra-high broadband symmetric speeds of 1Gbps and above, to all homes, offices and schools, while the Wireless Broadband Network (WBN) will offer pervasive connectivity around Singapore.

B. Next Gen NBN (NGNBN) RFP Launch

The IDA, on 11 Dec 2007, released the Request-For-Proposal (RFP) to all interested parties to submit their bid to design, build and operate the passive infrastructure layer of the Next Gen NBN.

According to the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Lee Boon Yang, the Next Gen NBN is envisioned to offer pervasive and competitively priced ultra high-speed broadband connectivity to business users at the workplace as well as to Singaporeans at home, schools and learning institutions and other premises.

The Next Gen NBN is expected to be available nationwide by 2015, although consumers can begin to look forward to a range of new and exciting Next Gen Services such as high-definition video conferencing, telemedicine, Grid Computing-on-Demand, security and immersive learning applications on the Next Gen NBN from about 2010.

The list of qualified consortium leads for the Next Gen NBN RFP is as follows:
1 Alcatel-Lucent Singapore Pte Ltd
2 Axia NetMedia Corporation
3 BT Singapore Pte Ltd
4 City Telecom (H.K.) Limited (Replacing Hong Kong Broadband Limited)
5 Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corporation
6 Nokia Siemens Networks Singapore Pte Ltd
7 Singapore Computer Systems Limited
8 Singapore Telecommunications Limited
9 SP Telecommunications Pte Ltd
10 StarHub Ltd

C. StarHub, CTI and M1

Hong Kong's City Telecom (CTI) and Singapore's M1 and StarHub (CMS Consortium), on 20th March 2008, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly form a consortium to design, build and operate the passive infrastructure network capable of delivering ultra high broadband speeds for Singapore. The consortium will jointly submit a bid that will meet all the criteria for the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore’s Request-for-Proposal (RFP) for the Network Company (NetCo).

This important development effectively narrows down the field to two key bidding consortiums for the NetCo layer of the Next Gen NBN:
i. SingTel and its financial partners
ii. CTI, M1 and Starhub (CMS Consortium)

The other bidders do not have a serious chance in winning the NetCo layer:

1. SingTel's position as incumbent fixed-line operator and its islandwide telecom infrastructure puts it in pole position to roll out the island wide fibre-optic network. It has the experience, deep knowledge, financial pockets and incentive to roll out the fibre infrastructure in the most economically efficient manner that does not duplicate existing infrastructure and requires the minimum construction of new ducts.

2. If the NetCo contract were to be awarded to a player (players) other than SingTel, there is a very high probability that SingTel would then embark on deploying its own fibre-optic network to compete directly with the NGNBN.
  • The SingTel entity operating the next gen network would be a vertically integrated beast (from infrastructure operator through to Retail Service Provider) that would not be subject to open access obligations and that would have the speed of execution of an independent, single corporation (rather than a cumbersome regulated consortium).
  • SingTel would be able to cherry pick the best and most profitable areas to roll out its network first in order to get a head-start ahead of the NGNBN operators as it is not tied to rollout obligations as stated by iDA
  • SingTel would not be obliged to make its network infrastructure available to the NGNBN operator, potentially driving civil costs much higher for the NGNBN NetCo.
3. It thus follows that any non-SingTel consortium winning the NetCo will have to be a strong, credible force that will be able to take on the SingTel beast in head-on competition and yet be able to survive. The newly formed consortium of CTI, M1 and StarHub fits this bill.
  • CTI will bring its experience of operating a fibre network in Hong Kong to the table.
  • StarHub will bring its deep knowledge & experience with the residential cable networks. It will also bring a strong customer base of payTV subscribers to the table.
  • Both Starhub & M1 will bring their mobile subscriber base to the table and be able to market a new bundled service incorporating the next-gen services of the NGNBN network.
4. Other players do not stand a realistic chance.
  • Any winner of the NetCo layer other than the CMS Consortium will probably be squeezed to death by SingTel, unless the CMS consortium is somehow roped in at the OpCo layer without being awarded the NetCo. This is highly unlikely.
  • Any independent winner of the OpCo layer that operates with open access without SingTel at the NetCo layer (e.g. Axia) will be absolutely crushed by SingTel, which would have a massive customer base to build its own Next Gen offering and no open access obligations.
D. Conclusions

Thus, it looks like the NGNBN is gradually evolving into a two-horse race. Despite the government's grand plans to create open access and to encourage a vibrant RSP market as well as promote competition along various parts of the telecommunications value chain, the economics of telecoms networking means that a multi-player industry structure looks unsustainable and that the current duopolistic structure will remain, with minor players along the RSP fringe.

I am personally open to considering arguments as to how the NGNBN will allow a third major player into the wireline telco landscape in Singapore. However I remain very skeptical of the possibility of a three-way (or multi-way) fight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Singapore just missed a bullet by getting rid of Ricky Wong. Look what he did to ATV. Not only the disruption and chaos that he rained onto the company but he settlement tht ATV had to pay to get rid of him.