Pervasive Broadband Access Aim for Singapore

Outlining a five-year roadmap, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) last week revealed big plans for Singapore, and identified key technologies that it hopes will help fulfill its aim to make broadband access available to 2.2 million users in the city-state by 2005.

Singapore's current 45,500 ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) and cable modem subscribers represents only a small percentage of the total number of households, which is estimated to be around 800,000 here. DSL and cable modem are two of various leading technologies in the deployment of broadband access.

Thus, there is a lot of room for broadband service providers to expand in the years ahead, according to IDA. It believes that the two current broadband access providers in the country, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) and Singapore Cable Vision Ltd., will see healthy growth levels in the years leading up to 2005.

According to the Yankee Group, the number of DSL and cable modem subscribers in Singapore will reach a total of 74,050 by the end of this year, growing to 308,000 in 2002 and 512,500 in 2003.

Of these figures, adoption of DSL technology will outgrow that of cable modem, said the Yankee Group, which predicted that the former will enjoy a bigger adoption rate of more than four times that of cable modem in 2002.

But IDA noted that DSL and cable modem are unlikely to sufficiently support interactive broadband multimedia (IBBMM) services, where the local government had, early this year, offered incentives worth S$150 million (US$86.6 million) to stimulate the demand for and supply of such applications.

"This is where we believe fiber-in-the-loop and fixed wireless technology have a role to play in Singapore's broadband landscape in the long term," said IDA.

"Only fiber can offer the limitless bandwidth that will support any IBBMM applications."

IDA is targeting to make fiber available to 25 percent of all buildings in Singapore by 2005, said James Wong, consultant for technology director and standards, IDA. On top of that, the Authority has plans for 15 to 25 percent of homes in Singapore to have 10M bit-per-second (bps) connectivity by 2005, Wong said, adding that all schools in the island will also enjoy high-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) access by 2002.

IDA also identified local multipoint distribution system (LMDS) as another key delivery of broadband access, and will be releasing LMDS licenses by the end of this year, he said.

"Forecasting the number of LMDS operators will be difficult, but there is reason to believe that the Singapore market can sustain 3 to 5 players for the long term," IDA stated.

Local Internet service provider, Pacific Internet, last week announced plans to offer broadband Internet access using LMDS, having conducted trials for the technology over the last six months.

IDA estimates that the rollout of LMDS technology will penetrate 45 to 60 percent of businesses in Singapore in 2001, increasing to 80 percent in 2002, Wong said. In comparison, this technology will penetrate only 20 to 30 percent of high-end residential homes in 2003, he added.

Singapore's LMDS services market is estimated to draw US$26 million in revenues by 2003, he noted, citing figures from the Strategis Group. Besides broadband access, IDA also highlighted mobile wireless networks as an important part of its vision to make Singapore a leading information and communications hub in Asia.

Singapore, which already boasts one of the world's highest mobile communications penetration rates, is expected to house 1.9 million by the end of this year, Wong said. This figure is likely to grow to 2.4 million in 2002 and 2.8 million in 2004, he added.

"For mobile users, we see 3G (third-generation) networks as a strategic investment for data-rich multimedia applications," IDA said. The Authority will be releasing three to six Third-Generation (3G) licenses by the end of this year, according to Brian Chen, chief technology officer, IDA.

"In Singapore, we see 3G technology as an important mobile component to complement our nation-wide broadband network, SingaporeONE," IDA said, adding that commercial 3G networks are expected to start operation in late 2002 or early 2003, depending on the availability of 3G handsets.

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