M1 adds US$40 million upgrade to GSM network

Singapore's second-largest mobile telecommunication carrier, Mobile One Asia Pte. Ltd. (M1), has awarded a US$40 million contract to Nokia Corp. to upgrade its dual band GSM 1800/GSM 900 network, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Apart from increasing the maximum capacity of the network, the upgrade to Nokia's UltraSite base stations positions M1 to implement new technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution), according to M1 spokesman Chua Swee Kiat.

"We have the framework to launch GPRS services, and we will commercially launch them when we have the handsets ready," he said in a telephone interview. The UltraSite base stations will also be able to support upgrades to EDGE and ultimately W-CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) 3G (third-generation) technology, M1 said.

M1 currently has over 800,000 mobile subscribers and has to upgrade its network approximately once a year to stay ahead of subscriber growth, Chua said.

The deal was announced two days after the deadline for interested parties to submit bids for M1, whose shareholders put the company up for sale earlier in the year.

"The upgrade is planned business and planned investment, irrespective of what the shareholders are doing," Chua said. "It is business as usual at M1."

Reports suggest that the Regional Wireless Company, a joint venture between Australia's Telstra Corp. Ltd. and Hong Kong's Pacific Century Cyberworks Ltd. (PCCW), has bid for M1. Malaysia's Maxis Communications Bhd. has also been linked with M1, but a rumored bid by the U.K.'s Vodafone Group PLC was ruled out last week by Vodafone Chief Executive Officer Chris Gent.

Investors have valued M1 at a minimum of US$1.2 billion, according to local media reports.

M1 is a consortium whose shareholders include Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation Ltd. (35 percent), Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (35 percent), Cable and Wireless PLC (15 percent) and PCCW (15 percent).

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