Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

At 0.4% Its Size, Singapore Wants More Phone Carriers Than China

  • City-state accepts bids for fourth mobile carrier license
  • Singtel says no need for new player in saturated market

Singapore’s population may be 0.4 percent the size of China’s but the tiny city-state may soon host a larger number of carriers than the world’s largest mobile-phone market.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore said Thursday it received applications for what would be the Lion City’s fourth license to operate a mobile-phone carrier. The idea is that increased competition would bring down phone bills, improve services and help Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong step closer to turning Singapore into a “Smart Nation.”

That may come at the expense of existing carriers including Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., which has said there’s no need to bring in a new player in the face of what’s already a saturated market. At 148 percent, Singapore has the second-highest proportion of mobile subscribers relative to its population in Asia, according to World Bank data. Only Hong Kong has a higher penetration rate.

Based on more recent figures in Singapore, which has fewer than 6 million residents, Singtel dominates with a market share of 50 percent, followed by StarHub Ltd.’s 27 percent and M1 Ltd. taking the rest, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the same number of carriers splitting the market in China, which has more than 1.3 billion people.

Despite its home market’s diminutive size, Singtel has become one of the largest phone carriers in the region in terms of market value after building up stakes of operators in bigger markets such as India, Thailand, the Philippines and Africa.

Among companies that submitted bids for the mobile license were MyRepublic, a local Internet service provider backed by French billionaire Xavier Niel and Indonesia’s Sinar Mas Group, as well as AirYotta Pte, a wireless company led by Chief Executive Officer Michael DeNoma, former head of consumer banking at Standard Chartered Plc, according to separate statements from the companies. A unit of Australia’s TPG Telecom Ltd. also submitted a bid, according to the IDA.

IDA is expected to award the winning bidder by mid-October. The mobile license for the new player starts in April 2017 and the company will be given 18 months thereafter to complete its network.