Singapore’s Experiment with Broadband Open Access

Singapore is running an interesting experiment with its IN2015 (Intelligent Nation 2015) initiative.  Quoting from their website:  “The Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure (Next Gen NII) is Singapore’s new digital super-highway. 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.”

The plan appears to be creating an ‘optical aether’ to enable a separation of services from connectivity.  Simply, a service provider doesn’t need to worry about the mechanics of reliably streaming a 2 hour HD movie at 16Mbit/s to a customer, because the complete movie is delivered within a few seconds.  In reality the core network is the choke point, as router capacity is not there yet….

On the business structure, the Next Gen NII is an attempt to make broadband access a utility like electricity, gas and water.  Their plan is to have a Consortium (under a PPP, Public Private Partnership) run the network and offer a flat rate connection model for customers, at a similar price to current DSL.  The consortium will NOT act as a service provider over that network.  Of course this is where the business model becomes interesting; to offer a completely new fibre infrastructure throughout Singapore, most probably based upon GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network), and make money at a price-point of DSL requires significant innovation.

In Singapore’s favour, is an attractive business market, which is still dominated by SingTel, i.e. there’s ‘margin’ available in the business telecom segment.  It has extensive modern utility infrastructure which can in-part be re-used.  And its population density is ideal for just-in-time deployment architectures and technologies.

A number of business models have been discussed, the chosen one appears to be the Consortium acts as a wholesale provider and retail service providers rent access for their customers (wholesale model).  The analogy I draw is to LLU (Local Loop Unbundling), which has worked very well in Europe, and in particular France where triple-play prices are one third of the US.

However, another option is where the Consortium provides broadband access to customers, and then customers choose their service providers independent of their access provider (retail access model).  Using a utility analogy, as the electricity provider to your TV does not provide the services you watch on that TV, nor should the ‘utility’ broadband connectivity provider to that TV have a monopoly over those services.

Either way it will be an interesting experiment, and possibly worth testing both business models, where one Singapore region uses the wholesale model, while another uses the retail access model.