Advanced Telecommunications Infrastructure

Though the Internet became a buzzword only in the mid-1990s, the Singapore government recognized as early as 1994 that the Internet was likely to have profound implication in various sectors of the economy and on society. Thus, it took a calculated risk to set up the world's first nationwide broadband network, even though the fixed line telecommunications network has been transformed to a digital network and was able to support 56K access to the Internet. Prior to this, the government privatized the national telecommunications carrier, Singtel, and also abolished its monopoly status. The telecommunications market was then deregulated and liberalized in a phased manner, and this saw a number of multinational corporations entering the market to offer fixed line telephony, mobile telephony, broadband access, Internet access service provision, paging and other services.

For the broadband network, a technology-neutral approach was adopted so as to provide major international players an opportunity to participate in national development. Because of the dynamics of the free market, it has been Singapore's experience that competition remains the most powerful tool to realize the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICT). Competition helps to enhance service levels, reduce prices, increase penetration rates, and encourages innovation in the range of offerings by the various operators.

The technical aspects of the landline broadband network have been discussed in detail by Tan and Subramaniam (2000, 2001), but we recount here the salient aspects of the network insofar as they are relevant for this chapter.

Access Technologies for Fixed Line Network

Three independent networks constitute the island-wide broadband network, known as Singapore ONE (One Network for Everyone) or S1. The first is based on Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), the second is based on Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) cable modem technology, and the third is based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM).

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line

ADSL technology upgrades conventional twisted pairs of copper wires in the telecommunications network to broadband networks. It is based on the finding that, while the frequency band for voice transmission on the telephone line occupies about 4 KHz, the actual bandwidth of the line is more than 1 MHz. ADSL leverages on the unused bandwidth outside the voice portion of the line to transmit information using discrete multitone technology. The ADSL standard requires the installation of a special modem at both ends of the telephone line, one at home or the office and the other at the telephone exchange. Auxiliary access networks linked to the conventional telecommunications infrastructure perform the functions of data concentration, protocol conversion, multiplexing, routing, signaling, and network management. For the S1 network, users need a Personal Computer (PC) fitted with an ATM Network Interface Card and connected to the ADSL modem via an ATM 25 (RJ 45) cable. For Internet access, a bandwidth of 512K is available while for S1 access, it is 2500 K, both in a point-to-point network topology. A key advantage of ADSL is that the subscriber does not need a second phone line, as voice and data can be transmitted simultaneously.

Hybrid Fibre Co-Axial Technology

The cable modem technology leverages on the cable television operator's network infrastructure, which is based on Hybrid Fibre Co-axial (HFC) technology—generally regarded as the foremost video distribution network architecture in the world. Its backbone is an optical fibre network, with the local loop to homes comprising co-axial cables. The cable terminates in two sockets at home, one for cable television and the other for broadband access. Users need a PC fitted with an Ethernet Network Interface Card and connected to the cable modem. Each cable modem offers up to 1.5 Mbps downstream and up to 768 Kbps upstream. The bandwidth is shared by a cluster of users in the tree branch configuration. Among the advantages of the cable modem service are continuous access as well as no necessity to install a phone line.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode

An ATM service is also available for content providers, service providers and corporations to obtain leased lines which offer bandwidths ranging from 45 Mbps to 155 Mbps.

The ADSL access network, the HFC access network and the ATM access network are integrated into the existing telecommunications infrastructure via an optical fibre backbone, also based on ATM. It is a high speed, low delay, multiplexing and switching technology that allows voice, image, data and video to be transmitted simultaneously rather than through traffic-specific networks. It also has the advantages of being flexible, fault-tolerant and highly scalable. The cell size is 53 bytes, with a 48 octet payload. Alcatel ATM switches are used and these support bandwidths ranging from 155 Mbps to 622 Mbps.

The ATM backbone is linked to the Internet grid via the Internet Access Service Providers.

As Singapore is a small island, questions may be raised on the necessity to have a multiplicity of platforms for broadband access. Whilst there could be duplication of services, their deployment was predicated by the need to offer businesses and consumers a diversity of choices as well as to promote the spirit of competition among the operators in order to drive penetration rates, raise service levels, and offer affordable access. It is unlikely that any single platform will fulfill all expectations, and thus it is prudent to let the various platforms coexist and allow them to find their own equilibrium level in the market. More importantly, this strategy also guards against platform obsolescence. The diversity in choice of platform is one of the reasons why the broadband market in Singapore is growing (Table 1).

Table 1: Evolution of Broadband Subscriber Base in Singapore.


ADSL Subscribers

Cable Modem Subscribers

March 1999



March 2000



April 2000



June 2000



September 2000



December 2000



January 2001



February 2001



March 2001



April 2001



June 2001



August 2001



Source: and

NA: Figures not available

While it is desirable for existing broadband technologies to be allowed a break-in period to facilitate maturation, there is official recognition that delays in the introduction of new technology platforms can slow down the broadband penetration rates and prevent consumers and businesses from realizing the full benefits of these technologies. Competition from alternative technology platforms will not only help to bring prices down but also help to reach out to niche markets that are not addressed by incumbent operators. Active encouragement is thus given to the piloting of new technologies for broadband access. The current status of these technologies in Singapore is reviewed here.

Powerline Technology

Powerline Technology is an access platform which leverages on ordinary electric cables to deliver Internet access. Effectively, it transforms an electrical socket in the house or office into a network point.

The technology is reliant on the use of special adaptors to connect the telecommunications network to the power grid. Access speeds of 2 Mbps are possible under ideal conditions.

The ubiquity of electrical sockets in homes and offices translates into a potentially large subscriber base of broadband users for power companies. This is one reason why the national utilities company, Singapore Power, has jumped onto the telecommunications bandwagon.

Trials for powerline technology started in Singapore in November 2000 at a local polytechnic. Using technology provided by Ascom Holdings of Switzerland, it has been possible to attain access speeds of up to 2 Mbps during these trials. The access speed depends on the number of users online at any moment as well as the presence of any interference-causing electrical appliances nearby. Trials were completed in late 2001.

The potential of powerline technology to influence the broadband landscape in Singapore is promising. Singapore Power has formed a subsidiary called SP Telecom to exploit this opportunity. In the process, it has divested its 25.5 percent stake in the telco, Starhub, in order to avoid conflict of interest. With its nationwide power transmission grid permitting it a low cost entry into the telecommunications field—since there is no need to lay phone lines or any other cables, it is poised to become a serious contender for leadership in the broadband market. That the technology is viable can be seen from the fact that Communications Tega of Canada and Swedish power company, Birka Energi, have launched the world's first commercial powerline services in Sweden in August 2000.

Plans are now underway to promote powerline technology as another alternative platform for broadband access.

Wireless Wide Area Networks

Whilst the landline-based broadband telecommunications network constitutes the fundamental architecture on which the e-commerce wave is riding, it was felt necessary that wireless networks should not be overlooked as mobile phone penetration rates in Singapore have started to increase. In this regard, the emphasis was on putting in place a broadband wireless network. The status of this is summarized here.

Local Multipoint Distribution Service

Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS) is a wireless broadband service. Relying on high frequency radiowaves in the 24 to 40 GHz range, it transmits data from base stations located atop tall buildings to receiving units in the vicinity. LMDS requires line-of-sight for operation and the effectiveness of operation can be affected by rain. The theoretical range is 5 km but the practical range is about 1.5 km. Access speeds of up to 155 Mbps are possible, but in practice, 8 Mbps is about the norm.

LMDS is a particularly potent technology for new entrants. There is no necessity to lease optical fibres from incumbent telcos as well as no necessity to dig roads to lay cable. The network can be set up within a few weeks using low cost equipment. Buildings in the central business district are particularly suited for the deployment of LMDS. The cost of the spectrum is, however, on the high side.

LMDS is currently being trialed in Singapore by three operators—Keppel Communications, Pacific Internet and i-Net. Trials started in June 2000 and equipment from Netro and Alcatel are being used.

The telco regulator in Singapore has assessed that the country can support three to five players in the LMDS market. Auctions for the spectrum were conducted in September 2001. By December 2001, more than 50 percent of the central business district has been covered by LMDS.

Cisco Internet Mobile Office Initiative Technology

Asia's first wireless broadband network was launched in Singapore in July 2001 by Davnet. Riding on the Cisco Internet Mobile Office Initiative technology, it offers high speed Internet access to professionals on the move as long as they are within the vicinity of any one of 48 "hot spots" in Singapore. Areas designated as hot spots include high population density areas such as the central business district and libraries. Currently, there are two hot spots in the central business district.

To ride on the system, the subscriber needs to install a Cisco Aironet Wireless LAN Card on his hand-held computer. The LAN card functions as an antenna and links up to a nearby base station via radio waves. Typically, access speeds of up to 11.1 Mbps are possible.

3 G

Third generation (3G) mobile phones represent a migration to packet switched networks and promise high speed Internet connectivity (144 Kbps to 2 Mbps) as well as delivery of multimedia content. Though the actual deployment of 3G will be in late 2003, it has generated significant interest in recent times.

Four licenses for the following frequency bands were auctioned in Singapore in April 2001:

  • 1920–1980 MHz (paired)

  • 2110–2170 MHz (paired)

  • 1900–1920 MHz (unpaired)

The two 60 MHz bands in each of the paired spectrum are factorized into four blocks of 15 MHz bands while the single 20 MHz band in the unpaired spectrum is divided into four blocks of 5 MHz bands. Each license is for the assignment of two 15 MHz bands in the paired spectrum and one 5 MHz band in the unpaired spectrum.

The three incumbent operators—national telecommunications carrier, Singtel; Mobile ONE, a consortium in which Cable & Wireless (USA) and Cable & Wireless HKT (Hong Kong) have significant equity stakes; and Starhub, a consortium in which British Telecom and Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation have significant stakes, were assigned their respective frequency bands. The S$100 million license fee for each band is in lieu of the annual license fees payable by each operator. As part of the conditions for the issue of the license, all three operators will have to roll out their networks by December 31, 2004.

The Singapore government has announced that it will be using S$200 million from the proceeds of the 3G auction to stimulate the wireless market, and thus promote the growth of 3G. Indeed, Singapore is the only nation in the world to have announced that it will pump part of the 3G auction proceeds into the wireless market. This initiative is testament to the commitment for the growth of 3G in Singapore.

Of significance to note is that a transitional technology between 2G and 3G, called 2.5G, has been trialed in Singapore. Operating on the General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) network, trials were completed in 2000, and GPRS networks were set up in 2001. Pending the commercial launch of 3G, it is likely that the mobile Internet will ride on the 2.5G platform and give consumers a foretaste of what is in store in 3G. More significantly, 2.5G can act as a price check to ensure that 3G services are competitively priced. This will aid in the evolution of the 3G market.

Intelligent Enterprises of the 21st Century
Intelligent Enterprises of the 21st Century
ISBN: 1591401607
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 195 © 2008-2017.
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