4th telco hopeful wants to be data-led firm

Airyotta, a company virtually unknown until it threw its hat into the fourth telco ring early this month, has huge ambitions for the telecommunications sector in Singapore.

A company spokesman told The Business Times: "We do not see ourselves as just a fourth telco, but Singapore's first data-led telco."

It plans to roll out the Republic's first 4.5G Advanced Pro network, with a topology and architecture that will form an "important infrastructure prelude to 5G". The most advanced standard for mobile telecommunications today is 4G.

The spokesman added: "This will bring unparalleled data and connectivity to consumers … and is in response to growing demands and trends of mobile usage in Singapore."

When asked how much money airYotta has raised for the bid - reports have put the minimum required amount at over S$300 million - the spokesman would only say that the company is backed by a single-purpose fund dedicated to wireless ventures and fully regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The spokesman noted that the fund, which will offer airYotta "committed and progressive" financing, "shares the vision of the critical role a data-first telco will have in Singapore's digital future".

He assures that airYotta "will be fully funded" to put in place a fully built-out 4.5G network. Unlike MyRepublic (also in the running for fourth telco), airYotta has not unveiled any indicative mobile plans.

The company was officially registered on Aug 25, only a week before the close of the spectrum auction on Sept 1.

Interestingly, airYotta is helmed by two former top executives of OMGTel, a subsidiary of homegrown broadband services company Consistel which had in March confirmed to BT that OMGTel would compete to become the Republic's fourth telco. OMGTel, however, did not submit an expression of interest in the auction.

OMGTel's former chief executive officer, Michael DeNoma, and former vice-president for networks and infrastructure Philip Heah are now CEO and CTO (chief technology officer) of airYotta, respectively.

Mr Heah was also previously from the IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore), where he led the Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network Project.

He had resigned from OMGTel "to lead airYotta with Michael Denoma", said the spokesman.

He added: "Philip's experience in rolling out Singapore's Next Generation Broadband Network, along with Mike's experience in complex assignments and highly-regulated industries, was a starting point for the makings of a formidable data-led telco."

Notably, Consistel was fined S$300,000 last month by the IDA for breaching licensing obligations when it signed an unauthorised agreement to sell the Sports Hub's telecommunications system to another company. IDA has also lodged a police report.

Asked if airYotta is a cover for the troubled Consistel, the spokesman said: "Absolutely not. airYotta is a new company and aims to be Singapore's premier data-first telco. We have plans to launch Singapore's first 4.5G LTE Advanced Pro network if we are successful in the bid."

The world is at an inflection point with demand for data clearly exceeding supply, he says. "Not only is there a distinctive need for a player that could meet customers' needs today, but also one that will pave the way for a 5G world."

airYotta had recognised the opportunity to fill that gap, the spokesman adds. "This is a defining moment for telcos in Singapore to rebuild the customer and business proposition once again."

Wu Wei Shi, an ASEAN telecoms analyst at BNP Paribas, tells BT that there is "sufficient marketing appeal in a data-led telco" for a company to carve out its niche in the telco sector here. She adds that there could be further pricing adjustments by incumbents going forward.

"That said, the telco business is one that benefits from scale, which tends to generate a positive cycle of financial stability, sustained investments in the network and new technologies, and customer loyalty."

The IDA will soon hold a spectrum auction to determine Singapore's fourth telco. Aside from MyRepublic, airYotta will face competition from Australia-listed TPG Telecom, which offers fibre services in Australia.

This article was first published on Sep 12, 2016.
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