This report provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and developments in telecommunications and digital media markets in Brunei Darussalam and Singapore. Subjects covered include:
This report looks at two of the telecommunications markets in South East Asia - Brunei Darussalam and Singapore. While both can be described as well developed markets, it is Singapore that has been more successful in promoting itself an IT hub and a place of excellence when it comes to telecommunications. This is a role within the region that Brunei surely covets.
With strong leadership from the government and good support from its telecom service providers, Singapore has continued to maintain its status as both a regional leader and a global player in telecommunications. The island-state certainly generates a positive outlook in its local telecom sector. The country has built a high quality and extremely progressive telecommunications regulatory regime that has, in turn, resulted in a richly competitive market. All restrictions on direct and indirect foreign ownership within Singapore’s telecom sector have been lifted. In such a progressive commercial environment, over 98% of homes have fixed-line telephone connections and about 20% of the population have two telephones at home. In fact, Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a 100% digital telephone network.
Although incumbent Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) continues to play a major role in the country’s telecom sector, liberalisation has seen a host of new operators entering the market, helping to exploit the competitive situation. In the lead up to officially liberalising the market, the government issued five facilities-based and 29 service-based licences. Prompted by the arrival of strong competition in its own backyard, SingTel decided to expand offshore and in what turned out to be a successful strategy the company has established a considerable presence in regional markets, including the ownership of Optus, the second ranked mobile operator in Australia.
Some years back Singapore’s mobile sector was being described as a mature market. This was clearly a premature call. Ignoring the label, the country has continued to grow both its mobile subscriber base (127% penetration by February 2008) and the range of value-added services. Particular interest has been focused on Singapore since the launch of 3G services. Following a period of what could only be described as hesitancy in the market about the potential of 3G and a slow start immediately after launch, there has subsequently been a strong upsurge in demand. No doubt this has been helped by the wider availability of more affordable, high feature handsets. By early 2008, there were 1.8 million 3G subscribers in a country which had a total of 5.8 mobile subscribers. While the 3G numbers represented 31% of the total subscriber base, significantly this was 58% of the total prepaid subscribers.
Singapore has also been especially active of late on the broadband Internet front. While it was the first country in the world to deploy DSL commercially back in November 1997, Singapore initially moved slowly on the large-scale adoption of broadband access. Following a major effort to expand its broadband services, however, the country has become a serious player with almost than 80% of Internet households having broadband access by early 2008. The government is heading up a major effort to make Singapore a clear leader in large scale broadband access. A comprehensive optical fibre-based broadband network is to be part of Singapore’s Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure (Next Gen NII) project; the strategy will also include a wireless network. The country is therefore well positioned for the development and adoption of a full range of triple play and NGN services.
Singapore government’s continuing vigorous support for the ICT sector saw the launch in 2006 of a 10-year Infocomm Master Plan, labelled the Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015). The country’s sector regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority, announced in April 2008 that S$1 billion (US$725 million) had been allocated by the government to support the building and operating of the proposed National Broadband Network. In the meantime, Singapore’s Wireless@SG initiative had already put in place more than 5,000 public hotspots around the island. It was evident from the level of intense activity that the iN2015 master plan was on track to be fully implemented.
Brunei, a small wealthy nation in South East Asia, made early moves to ensure that it was delivering up to date telecommunications services to its population. The target of 100% digitalisation was achieved in 1995. Telecommunications throughout Brunei are of a high standard and the country ranks well in Asia in terms of penetration and infrastructure. Brunei’s mobile penetration, which stood at a reasonably healthy 32% by end-2001, continued to grow strongly and by end-2007 had reached 90%. (During 2007, some inflated figures for mobile subscribers were published, but the Authority for Info-Communication Technology Industry (AiTi), the country’s telecom regulator, was quick to deny the accuracy of these higher figures.).
It is not surprising that the citizens of Brunei are strong consumers of telecom services, given the level of encouragement from the government. Despite this, if the country is to continue to maintain the pace required to be globally competitive, it must further restructure and generally liberalise the local telecom industry. The AiTi was established and has been operational since January 2003. The local market continues to be dominated by Jabatan Telekom Brunei, the incumbent telco that is still a division within the Ministry of Communications. In March 2006, the Department of Economic Planning and Development announced that the corporatisation of JTB had been approved. A step in the right direction; however, much remains to be done in the area of sector reform.